I am doing a thing where I open a weather app on my phone and scroll through the days ahead. Five days, seven days, 10 days of sun symbols line up from left to right across the screen. I try the BBC app and get the same, but worth comparing. This has never happened ever in April since I had a phone that did Apps and may never happen again not in April or any month ever.
April promises so much and then lets you down by snowing or blowing a gale to rip blossom from the trees or both. Even this year we have put veg plants out that have been frost nipped with -3’c despite huddling under a blanket overnight. I can not remember when it rained last. We come back from rides with bikes covered in a thin film of dust rather than the thick coating of mud that is normal. I am trying not to get used to this, but fail.
These perfect days are even long enough now with enough hours of darkness to enjoy sitting and reading with a fire lit for an hour or so. Full on summer light can wear you out this far north just as much as a winter wind that goes on for a week or more. Lockdown and we have the best April weather anyone can remember and at the moment which is a very good thing.
The garden is now the focus of our lives without the bike holiday business to work on. Potatoes are popping up the first shoots along the rows and the greenhouse smells of warmth and growth and plants. Shut your eyes and it is like the best ambient music. Then there is news of Swallows near by. These may not be ‘ our swallows ‘, but just passing through on their way back from South Africa. Nothing in the village for a week and they are all around us popping up on social media. Then one morning a flash of cobalt as I open the bedroom curtains, a Rhonehouse Swallow. Two more that day, April 17th, remember that for next year.
I got almost every stove that I own out from the loft and cupboards and I set myself the project of making a coffee in the garden with every one of them. I even get out a Primus paraffin stove that we last used about 20 years ago when we rode the Great Glen cycleway. It is a thing of beauty a thing of precision and perfection of form and function that you would expect with Scandinavian design. I polish it and sit and admire it and then light it using muscle memory rather than looking it up. It lights first time.
Other stoves remind me of why they got put away, but the whole project is a wonderful trip down memory lane. Even when I burn a hole right through our picnic table with one of the stick stoves that I thought had been put out. This would usually make me quite cross but this is such a freak that I think I could not have known that a small stick stove with almost no fuel could burn through 3cm of protective wood and then 2cm of picnic table. Coffee outside always smells and tastes better than its indoor twin.
We see almost no one on our Boris Rides and the more off road the less people we see. We are not going near anything that is beyond or even close to the margins of our not so fantastic bike handling skills, just exploring the maze of tracks that fan out from home. Drove roads, military roads, logging roads and coffin roads that lead to remote churches. Tracks down to beaches and tracks that end in cliff top picnics and flask coffee.
There is one long gravel route we needed to check that will be for a local outdoor event – The Autumn of Endurance. It is penciled in for this autumn and I said I would work out a gravel route that can be done by a range of abilities. It may need to be finalised and publicity done before lockdown ends, so it is lucky that we can check it from home.
Up to the Raiders Road and then along Stroan Loch to cross the Black Water of Dee. I need to make sure that the route uses the right crossing point, so we ride up with the GPX file loaded. We see no one and the deer are tame and closer to the road than normal, we have the perfect day. The route is world class, demanding but with few or no risks and stunning views and variety. Galloway is gravel heaven. We stop for flask coffee and flapjacks at the Otter Pool, there is no noise the world has stopped, reset pressed.
I check the nest boxes in our garden since I cleaned them out and made them ready for new guests. I was worried that being in the garden more than normal would be too much disturbance, but this morning there are signs that one has been visited. This makes me more happy than it should with all the worlds problems at the moment. It won’t be anything exotic but it will be very welcome.
We get an email about a project that we proposed. Every so often you apply for some funding for an idea only to wish you had not bothered when you are on the third or fourth day of filling in the funding application. I almost did not bother, but we got it. A grant from Spot-Lit Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme to enhance tourism through literature. All of a sudden I am doing press briefings from my garden about our proposal to create a bike route and information experience for our unsung local hero, Kirkpatrick Macmillan the inventor of the bicycle.
We take our guests to visit the grave and most are surprised that it is almost unsigned and such a man is unknown and not even on our bank notes. We plan to make him a little better known. So we have a project to be getting on with, which is wonderful. So thank you European funding, we will miss you.