Re-enchantment

Carlessness sculpts the contours of Sue, Bobby, Flo and my everyday lives, and our cycling fills in much of the detail. I don’t want to hold us up as a model, but I think it’s interesting nonetheless to reflect on what difference to our lives a car-free and often bicycle-based mobility pattern makes. After all, this blog is rooted in a belief in the bicycle’s capacity to re-make the world in fair and sustainable ways, one revolution at a time.

Flo & Sue

We spent last week in Sedbergh, a small town nestled in the Howgill Hills mid-way between the Cumbrian Lakes and Yorkshire Dales. It sits almost as close to the River Lune as does our home in Lancaster, thirty miles downstream, so that here and there feel connected. Some Sedbergh residents travel to work in Lancaster, and many of Sedbergh’s children were born in Lancaster’s hospital. I sometimes pass through it on my longer rides, but Bobby had been there only once before and Flo never at all. The nearest train station is ten hilly miles away at Oxenholme, and the bus service as poor as rural districts everywhere. So as a family it’s felt a place beyond reach.

Yet it’s a lovely place in a splendid setting. The surrounding countryside is threaded with some perfect cycling lanes and laced with footpaths I’ve been itching to tread. And now they’re older thirty miles, even hilly ones, is a distance Bobby and Flo can manage relatively comfortably. So for half-term holiday we decided to ride to Sedbergh and make it our base for the week. That way two good bike rides would sandwich six days spent getting to know the area on foot as well as by bike.

Dropping down to Sedbergh

As lovers of this corner of the world we often holiday locally, but this would be the first time we’d made the whole journey from home each on our own bike. We stuck as closely as we could to the Lune’s left bank. This is a hillier way of reaching Kirkby Lonsdale, a little over half-way to Sedbergh, but one less disturbed by cars; I wanted our trip to be carefree, not stressful.

Without my really having noticed both Bobby and Flo have become stronger, better riders. Bobby danced ahead with every rise, making them look ridiculously easy as Sue and I laboured behind. And for the first time Flo took hills in her stride, accepting them for what they are – an inevitable, even agreeable, part of any longer ride across beautiful ground.

Cycling amidst the cow parsley

We stopped for cakes and ice-creams in Kirkby Lonsdale, enjoying them in glorious sunshine on a bench in the churchyard. Then we aimed straight north, still on the Lune’s left-side until crossing it just short of Sedbergh. We parked our bikes by the bridge and dropped down to play by the river. Of course it’s very different here to the one we know well in Lancaster, almost at its mouth. At this higher point it cuts down hard through the hills and feels more a part of them – their rock, soil and trees.

Bobby in the River Lune

From our Sedbergh base we walked fresh paths and enjoyed as a family views from hills we can see but not easily reach from home. And we rode lanes which for a long while I’ve wanted to show the kids. The back road between Sedbergh and Dent is particularly special – it’s gated, carries almost no traffic, and stays close to the river, which we played alongside and probed as we went. Perhaps one day we’ll ride such places together as a day trip from Lancaster.

Whatever, I felt happy finally to introduce Bobby and Flo to this special part of the world, and this part of my cycling world. They were of course wonderfully blasé about it all, but I’m fairly sure that the magic of riding and walking such places casts its spell, if in ways which for now remain mysterious to us all.

Our backyard is beautiful, but easy to miss if we’re off elsewhere. I love exploring distant places, but more local exploring deepens and extends the boundaries of our ordinary lives. Last week not just our private explorations as a family, but also our public encounters with people in and around Sedbergh – farmers, shopkeepers, other walkers and cyclists, the neighbours of the cottage where we stayed – deepened our understandings of, and I think our bonds with, this part of the world, making it more part of our own world. In a small way people’s stories became our stories, their land our land. This seems right – after all, we share a territory and our lives are connected by a river in perpetual flow.

I thank carlessness and cycling for many things, but one of their greatest gifts is the incentive they give to staying local, and coming to know that local too. So I guess my wider point here is how life with bikes instead of cars might bring us all closer to home and, without wishing to get too romantic about it, enable a sorely needed re-enchantment of that home.

On Arant Haw, the Howgills

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12 Responses to “Re-enchantment”

  1. Kaighin, Chris JF (NE) Says:

    Hi Dave

    My small step towards that enchantment this week came from Ronan showing the first signs of Tour fever and buying this year official (always hooks him in, that label) guide, along with the wall chart which is now up and waiting to have the daily results entered. This also means he is keen riding his bike again and the small step was riding out with him to CAton and in on the back road. He also used cleats and SPD pedals for the first time. He certainly felt that to be a nice wee step towards proper cycling. So I’m now hoping that the weather holds out so that we can do more and longer evening rides together.

    Cen

    • Dave Horton Says:

      That’s great Cen. I’ve met quite a lot of people, the last few months, who ‘confess’ to recent British cycle sport success enthusing them to start cycling, or get more serious about cycling; and I reckon that effect is likely to be greatest with our kids’ generation, eh? Let us know if you fancy heading out for a pub ride with Ronan whilst this weather lasts, and we could join you? (Flo has promised to come on a longer-than-usual (The Redwell Inn?) pub ride with me, after I bought her some fantastic new pink handlebar tape a couple of days ago!)
      Catch you soon I hope, anyhow
      Dave

  2. John Grantham Says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog, Thanks, John

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks for letting me know John (always appreciated). And of course, you’re very welcome.
      I hope you keep reading (and commenting 😉
      Cheers
      Dave

  3. Don Says:

    A thought-provoking and uplifting article. And quite useful, as I am staying in Sedburgh with the family for a week in August, with bikes! A couple of good tips there, thank you!

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Don. Let me know, probably best via my email, if you want any specific recommendations for rides, though frankly you can’t go wrong around there. But two of my very favourite roads should not be missed – Mallerstang, and the A683 (called an A road, but carries very little traffic) between Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen (though you might want to turn off before it joins the A685 for the last couple of miles into Kirkby Stephen, as that road carries considerably more traffic, and is steeply up/down hill). Have a great holiday. All we need for holidaying in this part of the world is the weather, so my fingers’ crossed for you.
      Cheers
      Dave

  4. David Stockburn Says:

    Hi Dave, love your missives on cycling. I find it hard to get out of the clutches of Sydney on the bike, so I have to be satisfied with a to work and back, and Sunday Eastern Curcuit type of cycling.thanks Dave.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Dave, much appreciated. Sometimes it feels like I write and post into a void; it’s really hard to get a sense of what impact, if any, what I’m doing is having (other than number of hits, which is very crude). So I really appreciate knowing that people are reading! (That said, I guess people who think I’m writing a load of tosh are less likely to pipe up?!) I should probably do a survey at some point ‘-) Enjoy your cycling; it’s been years since I rode in Oz, and I’d love to get back over there at some point (I lived in Sydney for a few months back in 1991, and Sue and I lived in Adelaide for two years between 1993 and 1995).
      Thanks again, and very best wishes
      Dave

  5. georgie Says:

    Cycling has meant I’ve explored more & more of the region in the last few years as I share adventures with my other half. Holidaying locally is a wonderful thing and means most weekends feel like I’ve really been away from the daily grind. I wish more people would brave it and realise how freeing a bike can be

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Thanks Georgie, I guess we’re the pioneers?! I don’t know about round your neck of the woods, but around here there do seem to be more people getting out and about, particularly at this time of the year. One of the coast-to-coast routes (starting in Morecambe) goes along some of my regular riding roads, and there’s barely a ride goes by, during Spring and Summer, when I don’t encounter a group tackling that.
      Thanks for reading and commenting
      All the best
      Dave

  6. janehopresearchlog Says:

    Thanks, Dave – a great article. At about the time you and your family were re-enchanting your local area, I, also, took off from my home city, Bristol, to visit my son and daughter-in-law, in Frome, Somerset (about 40 miles). Usually, I travel by train or Dan comes and picks me up in his car but, this time, I took to my bike, via the Bristol/Bath cycle way (already well known) but from there onto the new Colliers’ Way route to the outskirts of Frome. This is mostly cycle path and includes two spectacular tunnels on the edge of Bath and was glorious. What was so enchanting was riding through familiar country but seeing it from a completely new perspective provided by the cycle path and feeling really part of the landscape I was travelling through.

    Unfortunately, I’m too old to find anyone to ride with – I’m too slow for my younger friends and my older ones don’t cycle! But, hey, there is nothing so wonderful, as you know, as bowling along or, even, climbing that big hill, with no-one to have to listen to except the birds, the breeze in the trees and, perhaps, the gurgle of a nearby stream.

    • Dave Horton Says:

      Wonderful Jane, absolutely wonderful. I assume, from your lovely description, it’s a journey you’ll do again.

      Just imagine our countryside laced with such super cycling routes? I know we have that already, with the network of lanes, but – even if, as we are, now that they’re older, you’re prepared to take children along lanes, they’re not quite the same as having routes on which no motorised traffic is absolutely guaranteed. I remember our first family cycle-touring holiday in the Netherlands, and realising we were cycling along routes no cars could ever reach, seeing views and experiencing pleasures simply unattainable to the motorist – it made me feel special, and that was enchanting too.

      But these are the most glorious days of the year for cycling, aren’t they, really? The countryside looks superb, as you say the birds are singing, and the air is warm (er!). Let’s make the most of them!

      Thanks ever so much for reading, and sharing your experiences too. Keep riding.
      Best wishes
      Dave

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