It was not easy, putting down that book, with only 40 pages or so to go. But I had a growing awareness of something strange in the air, drawing me, begging.
From behind the bedroom curtains there was only silence. No rain battered the window; no wind rustled through the leaves to find gaps in the window sealant. There was a clarity to the light, unhindered by cloud. So for the first time in many a long month I had to answer the call of The Grasshopper. Few things can beat an early morning ride, as they say. Such has been the paucity of good riding this year that I realised that I have yet to take to the roads in anything as daring as short sleeves. Another day like this and we might even have to invest in sun-block.
As I pottered round the roads, realising what I had been missing, it dawned on me that the days of excuses were coming to an end. Within a week or so The Urchins will be back at school and my time will be my own once again. And even this weekend there is no excuse, for they head off to The Northern Wastes, leaving only an aching silence; that and a list of chores.
Wagtails danced on the road ahead, bouncing away from the onrushing beast – rushing is used by licence here – and on the hedgerows the chaffinches danced together. Swallows gathered on overhead wires, travel plans to discuss. The buzzard was out too, rising slowly from the reeds, breakfast swinging from his beak. Poor wee moose.
And on we went, familiar roads, with legs unused to the toil. I paused after the climb to the Uncut Gem, views to take in, water to slurp. It has a hard walk up that hill, pushing a heavy bike. Ahead the wind turbines massed, like Ents on the march, turning languidly in the softest of air. Homewards another cluster stood still, as if that Man of La Mancha had them at last, and I heard Rosinante whinny across the still valley. In reality they await testing and commissioning, but on still and calm days the mind wanders…
The downhill came at last and there was the stoat, out-running the grasshopper, diving for cover in the undergrowth. It is August. The roadside verges have yet to be cut. Grasses and nettles are at full growth, heavy with seed-heads, and blocking the lines of visibility on every bend, every dip. The roads close in, yet tractors and lorries are the same size, and The Grasshopper cowers.
Pink blossom confirms ripening hips amongst the hawthorn. And those hedges grow wild, unkempt, half a metre and more of new growth in this fertile and damp season. I am minded of two things. Firstly that the flail will be along one day, and the roads then carpeted in thorns. Puncture season approaches. And there is a hawthorn hedge back at The Towers too, also unkempt. It will feature on that list for the weekend; and it rises ten feet and more. Dwarfed it is though, by the maple hedge which too demands attention. The hedge-trimmer needs used every bit as much as the back-to-school hair clippers.
And all too soon it is home again, that stiff climb to the gates. That was quick. A voice emerges from the back of the car, half-packed. Short, is perhaps a better description, one gasped.
Next weekend the roads will be thronged, for it is the annual Round Strathaven 50. I can promise that The Grasshopper will not be holding up any real cyclists, for I’m committed to a high-viz vest for the day, stewarding, and a few tray-bakes for the feeding stations. Time yet to get your place amongst the 500, but not a lot. And when you get to the feeding stations there will be fuel a-plenty, tables groaning, to take you on to the next leg. The sun might even shine, again.