North Country

Heading south to pay a visit to the north country. Drifting off the ferry in a sleep-deprived daze and heading up the hill on autopilot. Riding in a puddle of light and easy familiarity in the silent blackness, red lights blinking atop the wind turbines I can’t see, beacons out across the coastal plateau. Knowing when to change down and when that corner tightens more than expected. Almost riding into a ditch whilst distracted by the sound of turbine blades cutting the dark air above. Birdsong and the smell of rape colours in the black. Light eases into the sky as the lanes become unfamiliar on the way to somewhere familiar. A bakery open early, one pastry eaten on the corner, the other tucked in a pocket for later.

Riding a fault line between clay and chalk. Recognisable features and spiraling skylark song, the same as home but different. The pays de Bray and the pays de Caux. Mud and lime. Twisting sharp climbs and flowing waves of downland. A hare gallops through a field, following a cropped line. An owl launches itself across my path and glides low and disguised against the brown earth, it sweeps into the trees on the field’s edge, dislodging a couple of startled pigeons.

Riding between church spires and dog bark tag. Scrap yards and derelict barns. Hot chocolate at half distance. It turns a bit Belgian spring classic as I ride between fields into a wall of drizzle and headwind. I even find a bridge of cobbles. An impromptu coffee stop in a sad looking town, a closed fun fair on the main street. Primary colours vibrate against damp grey. A man smokes a cigarette under the café canopy whilst the kid from the dodgems orders a morning beer. A solitary carousel spins its tune into an air of melancholy and rain.

The route corkscrews around the hills, in and out of valleys and through the forest. The same place names appear on signposts, the direction and distances changing: The ebb and flow of a convoluted and twisting route. In and out of the wind. Wattle and dawb houses indicate what lies below my wheels on this side of the river. Legs tire over the final climbs as sun breaks through the cloud. I swoop through farmland to the valley floor to spin the last few kilometres back to the port.

Route

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