We made it. I have to admit - as I told A. last night after we'd got the tent up and the supper was cooking - that I had been getting scared. It's a couple of years now since we toured the Scottish Highlands on our bikes with full kit (tent, beds, stove, grub, foul weather gear and lashings of fluids); and in that time there have been outbreaks of creakiness in the lower limbs. (No names, no pack-drill as they old soldiers used to say.) Pedalling a bike with four panniers up hill and down dale can be damned hard work, and I was honestly beginning to wonder why two adults with a combined age of .... ahem, 120+... would want to do it. The answer starts with the photographs. How's that (above) for a camp-site?
I'm going to keep this brief. We only got back from our ride (in the hills around Consett) an hour or two ago and I have to start work on the sample chapter I received back from Mike Pannett and his better half on Friday. But here are a couple more pictures I took along the way - most of which was along disused railway lines. I should mention that the biggest single factor in raising my spirits over the weekend was that the sun finally came out after seven hideously cold weeks, and the temperature started to rise. May is absolutely my favouite time of year; there is so much happening, and to know that the trees and fields are changing so rapidly, so many old friends putting in their seasonal appearance - and yet to feel almost terrorised by the weather - has been really quite painful.
I chose this picture because it so typifies the contrasts at this time of year: the rape field in full flower, the ash tree resolutely refusing to put out its leaves until it feels the time is ripe. I once saw an ash tree (this was when we lived 500 feet up on the bleak Lincolnshire Wolds, nothing between us and the North Sea but... more bleak Wolds ) that didn't come into leaf until June 18th.
This old friend is Jack-by-the-hedge, also known as garlic mustard. If you catch it young and pinch put the growing tip it has a sharp, refreshing taste - of garlic and mustard. A week or two from now the flowers will have gone and it will suddenly be quite nondescript, barely noticeable. It's simply an old favourite, and I love to see it every year.
And then the fresh young leaf of one of my favourite trees, the beech (fagus sylvatica). Good enough to eat, although I wouldn't recommend it.
Neither can I resist putting up this picture of a conifer (I'm not good at naming them, I'm afraid) making next season's cones.
Okay, I should really start work - I guess I mean paid work - although I must just mention that amazing clean sweep achieved by York City and Chelsea: four finals in two weeks, all won. Chelsea are the kings of Europe (are you listening, Barcelona?) and York are now back in the Football League after eight years in exile, having beaten Luton 2-1 yesterday afternoon (God, they must detest us: we've won four and drawn one of the five meetings this season). Let joy be unconfined. I received 28 updates by text message during our bike ride yesterday, six from six different friends at full-time.
Yes, yes, yes: work.