As I cycle up and down the hills and valleys of my local area I’m reminded regularly that it’s by bike that you truly get a feel for a place; you see, hear, and smell things that you probably wouldn’t through the windscreen of a car.
You also truly appreciate the ups and downs of the road; there’s a famous Hemingway quote along these lines: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them…”
Over time, I have come to associate particular places – towns, villages, rivers, hills, junctions, bumps in the road – with certain sights and sounds.
So, if I think about riding out across the coastal flatlands towards Pilling and Eagland Hill, I’m reminded of the Border Collie on a short rope waiting to jump out at me. If I ride to Kirkby Lonsdale, even before I set off I can already feel the air vibrate with the primal roar of a dozen motorbikes shooting past me (because in Kirkby Lonsdale, the cyclist is trespassing in biker country).
And there are countless others too; the Sea Bass fishermen lining the banks at Sandside; the wandering rural visitors eating ice creams and stepping into the road unannounced at Scorton; the geese honking in V formation over the farmland at Stakepool and Scronkey (I know, great name isn’t it?); and the cruel battering headwind (or kind and welcome tailwind) of Morecambe seafront.
One of my favourites though, has to be the ducks at Dunsop Bridge.
The village of Dunsop Bridge in the Trough of Bowland is a quiet rural idyll and a favourite spot of mine where the peace is only broken by weekend walkers, cyclists…oh, and a village green which is inhabited by approximately 7 million ducks!
Ok, maybe not quite 7 million, but enough to disorientate your average cyclist and make a head count all but impossible.
As you enter the village you hear their cacophony well before you see them; if such a thing as a carpet of ducks exists, then this is it. These ducks are ALWAYS there. ALWAYS. And so even as you semi-shout over their incessant quacking to make your voice heard to your riding companion, or you idly feed them the final crumbs from whatever mid-ride snack you’re nibbling on, they are so ever-present that before long you barely register their presence.
And then one day as you enter the village you think, ‘strange, seems quiet today, where are the ducks?’ And the village green is just that: green, and duck free. And in a strange and forlorn way you miss them, perhaps because it seems sinister; how can 7 million ducks disappear? Where are they?
That is a lot of ducks to conceal.
If they were simply out for a swim in the river the water would be a teeming mass of duck. But it isn’t. So where are they? On a menu somewhere?
And then you return to Dunsop Bridge a few weeks later to find 7 million ducks – surely the same 7 million? – very much present and correct and jockeying for position on that cramped and crowded village green.
I’m not sure ducks was what Hemingway had in mind when extolling the virtues of travel by bike, but either way, it’s a mystery.