As winter approaches and daylight hours become precious and rare, more and more cycling takes place in half-light or full darkness. At this time of year the failing light forces us to concentrate hard and keep our wits about us. Armed with lights, reflective clothing and blind good fortune, we’re at the mercy of potholes, puddles and commuters hurrying home – but along the darkened lanes of Lancashire I find myself under attack from nature itself.
As I negotiated a lonely country lane last week, the sun heading towards the horizon, a rustle in the bushes could be heard above the sound of steady exertion and tyres on tarmac; ‘a rabbit’, I thought to myself, and pedalled on. A second later the vegetation to my left rustled and swayed and a dark coloured lump flung itself into the road, squawking, happy to be free of the undergrowth.
I swerved desperately, missed the lump, entered and exited a pothole, and clung grimly to my handlebars. I was still upright and glanced back to see…a peacock!
Further down the road a more familiar beast presented itself in the gloom – a single sheep, munching grass, unaware of the peacock incident. Sheep are a common foe, and so I was ready for its unpredictable response to my approach; it looked up startled, turned, and skittered headlong down the tarmac away from me, before skidding to a halt, and diving left. I went right until the sheep, spooked, panicked and went right too.
I slammed on the brakes and my woollen friend made like a rabbit, frozen in the beam of my cycle light. And suddenly we’re both still, inches apart; a brief meeting of minds before my adversary frolicked to the grass verge, and vaulted a small wall in an adrenalin fuelled escape.
Chuckling, I continued my ride and headed for home, alert for signs of further wildlife. As the last of the daylight hung in the air I heard honking above. Heading in my direction, low flying in v-formation was a carpet of geese heading north-west, full of noise and energy. The evening was still and the honks cut through the air like conversation.
I pulled to a halt and gazed upwards, transfixed by the movement and purpose; just me, the bike, and the geese…the peacock and the sheep forgiven.