The very first signs of new life are obvious. This northern part of the world tilts itself up to face the sun, and the light and warmth bring out the spring flowers. The UK is long, with it’s feet by the fire in the warmth, and us up here in Scotland in a Nordic climate. The first lambs are a good sign of the new bike season. I swing around on my rides down the coast to pass a farm that usually has the first.
This year I have tried to pay more attention to the next phase of the season. I sleep with the window open and catch the dawn chorus for almost a month now. It starts with a dark sky and a moon still bright. Some unknown cue. It is territory and breeding rights being claimed, and it sounds like hard work.
Many of my local rides start at sea level here at home, and can quickly get into the hill roads at over 1,000ft. You have to dress for 2 or 3 degrees lower temperatures and the possibility of riding up onto iced roads. Curlew and Lapwing are up there now, a sure sign that summer is close. Snow is tucked into the folds of the hill as new lambs are born to these tough hill sheep.
It has been 3 weeks since I swallowed my first insect and the second one was the weekend just gone. I always try to leave a dreg in the bottom of my final water bottle just incase this happens late on a ride. Two rides have been warm, both long in a search for early season fitness. You feel that have cheated the stats, won a lottery, possibly just a small raffle to get these early miles. The sun has even been strong enough for us to return with red noses from rides.
The first Bumblebee of the year tried to get into the house a couple of weeks ago. I chased her out for her own good. It is almost certainly a her, likley to be a Buff Tailed bee, and was certainly huge. I guess anything smaller would struggle with the low night temperatures. It hung around our pots of Daffs and other spring bulbs and then went on her way.
The next thing to look out for are Bluebells. A cousin of the Hyacinths in the pot by our door. Down south these are a spring fellow, but not here. The big online bike retailers have had their sales of winter clothing over a month ago. This works out just fine for us as we get another two months of use out of them. I know where the first Bluebells will show, and will make a point of passing soon.
There have been times when the risk of ice was too great to venture much beyond the roads that fringe the coast. These are the roads that the chain gangs of roadies use, and I try not to be on them much. We zig and we zag and never stray far from the warming sea as we pick up the quiet lanes and beautiful fishing harbours. These rides are the meat and two veg of bicycling through the winter here.
As the clocks went forward, we could start to pick up longer rides and more saddle time. We take the bikes down to Lauder and ride a loop into the countryside of the borders. There is no possibility of keeping the bikes clean. Filthy, with unhappy noises from every part of the transmission after just a couple of miles. The area has had a record wet winter. Bridges have been swept away, and even now after half a dozen dry days, fields have standing water and streams run brown and fast. More than 2 hours of bike cleaning follows the next day.
We go exploring the high roads that fringe the Lammermuir Hills. There is still snow, but the morning has been warm enough to lift the frost from even these high roads. You can see Edinburgh, the capital off around the coast. So close, but a million miles away. There are standing stones and signs of history. The cottages feel remote even now. I would live in any one of the pantile steadings in a heartbeat.
Two weekends running, we host a coffee in the woods at Humbie Wood. Out with the Kelly Kettle and stove for tea, coffee and pancakes under the Beech trees. It is great to get people out.
We had to raise the distances. We have a early 200K Audax booked and that sort of distance requires respect. Rides became training and confidence boosts and equipment tests. The high roads to Peebles and back home over equally high roads. It coincided with the first true day of warmth and fingerless gloves. The countryside looked as good as anywhere in the world. A knapp of green on fields rolled for summer growth and a near constant Skylark accompaniment. A great ride.
The Moffat Toffee was hard. A muddy, rolling, wet total of 130 miles of remote border roads. It was the first Audax for our friend Chris. He could not have picked a harder baptism. It was great to see him get through the highs and lows of the emotions and energy slumps of such a long ride. He went very quiet after 100 miles and I tried to raise his spirits by telling him he would probably be the first ‘ginger ‘ home. Another great ride.
So, now I am waiting for the first Swifts or Martins in the sky around our home. I always wondered which would be first. Swifts first, Swallows follow, goes the memory aid. They should be soon. There have been false alarms, with tight turning or fast moving birds. All false, so far. We need to get out camping. OI have a plan for a bivvy on a special hill. I want to wake to a view of my cycling kingdom. My home range, from sea to hill to close to halfway across the narrow waist of Scotland. It will be soon.