You know how it is when you’re returning to Blighty having been abroad to somewhere hot on holiday?
You’ve had a week or two of sand, sea, parched-looking potato fields (I’m thinking Cyprus) and dusty tracks and you’re gawping out of the little window of the aircraft at beautiful Britain laid out below and feeling inordinately fond of it with it’s patchwork fields and lakes and stuff and as the plane descends for the landing you can’t believe just how very green it all is?
Well it was like that today when we were cycling in the Forest of Dean. I kept saying, inanely “I can’t believe how GREEN everything is! Just look at the green. No, but seriously, it’s really REALLY green. Beeoooootiful and green.”
Well DT man can only put up with so much of that stuff and eventually dropped behind me so that he was out of earshot. But I didn’t care. I just kept thinking it anyway. This time of year is the most spectacular time – when all the young leaves and fresh ad vibrant with colour, the big soft foxglove leaves are out and the bluebells have pushed up and are a haze of subtle blue with buds coloured up and waiting to burst open.
It wasn’t as wet as expected in the Forest – no smell of damp leafmould – only a few puddles here and there and only lengthy tracks of amazingly red mud where forestry vehicles had been to and fro clear-felling one of the hillside plantations.
Those horrible chewed-up sections of mud caused by big forestry vehicles always make me smile. I remember the furore when the Forest was first promoted as an area for recreational cycling. People moaning about a few skinny tyre tracks – about rampant mountainbiker gangs careering all over the woodland, menacing hikers and small children, frightening the sheep and butchering lambs with their cool tools (I lied about the butchering).
It was arrant nonsense put about by people who had never taken the trouble to understand the spiritual peaceful nature of off-road cycling and had probably never been on a bike.
Quite simply, the people who do the most damage to the trails in the Forest are the people employed by the Forest Commission itself – contractors driving fuck-off huge vehicles and leaving empty plastic containers littering the undergrowth.
Yet there is rarely need to worry because nature is a pretty good healer and where there are nasty muddy sections this year, next year will be dry and civilised and the following year will be all verdant again.
Where did we go? We went along to Parkend, up to Coleford, passing the remains Dark Hill Iron Foundry built in 1811 where they first experimented in large-scale production of steel and steel alloys. Gorsty Knoll or thereabouts.
Followed our noses to Broadwell – if we ever move to the Forest it will be to be of these houses. They are pretty ordinary but I don’t care what the house actually looks like. I just want to be able to ride from the back garden gate straight out into the woodland, preferably with a dog running alongside. Just heaven.
Thereafter we were cycling over semi-familiar territory – for this was the area where no 2 son used to take part in junior mountainbike races held regularly. I remember him lining up on the start line for the first of such races; a little chubber on a chunky Raleigh in a new helmet and a too-big jacket (yes, it was for him to “grow into” hah!) looking rather serious among about thirty others of varying ages and sizes.
I found a spot to watch the race not far from the end. It looked up at a more or less a sheer drop off into a long single-track downhill. Hideously steep. I didn’t see how he could do it. I certainly couldn’t do it then – or now. The first couple of riders came down, and then another, and another and then the boy! I was just so relieved when he got to the bottom in one piece. He didn’t win, only just came in the top 12 but my God, from that day on I knew he had bottle.
Today there was the usual variety of conditions – riding over crackly dry oak leaves under newly-leafed trees was probably my favourite. We also discovered a disused mine that I’ve never seen before. A lovely bit of stonework around the mine entrance and the railway tracks still visible.
A lone woman walker laden down with two walking poles and a bulgy rucksack flagged me down at one point. She sounded Swedish. Very pleasant and relaxed, wanting to know the way to Coleford.
“About two miles back over there,” I pointed. “Er kind of north west until you hit the houses and then you’ll see signs from the main road.”
“Thanks,” she smiled. “I do have this” she held the compass briefly which was dangling around her neck “but..you know..the map is in my bag…and anyway, I have all day.”
I so love that in a person; that laid-back can’t-be-arsed-to-read-the-compass-because-who cares-if-I-get-a-bit-lost-because-everything-will-be-ok kind of attitude.
We discovered from the top of Sallow Vallets, that they had clear-felled a section so that a brilliant view to the other side of the Cannop Valley was revealed and you could see the famous Speech House at the top in the trees – where the ancient Verderer’s Court is still held.
The track was pretty muddy and rutted but it gave way to exciting downhill – except there were a load of people blocking the track. We’d seen them earlier – bunch of kids on scrambler bikes polluting the forest with their diabolical exhaust fumes.
They were having a little breather on a particularly steep bit of track. I dismounted, and walked through, unwilling to give them the amusement of seeing middle aged woman going A over T at their feet. Fortunately there was still a good section of downhill to enjoy.
We crossed a main road. I wasn’t totally sure which one. To be honest, the route today was completely haphazard – so haphazard that even DT man had to check once “Do you actually know where we are?”
“Roughly. We are up the back of the cycling centre.”
By happy chance, we actually were. We came across a group of boys, done up to the nines with knee pads and downhilling gear all lounging around sitting or leaning against their bikes chatting. A kind of inverse law applies to these kids. The ones wearing the most in the way of protection with the most spiffy, expensive bikes, will be the ones you’re least likely to see actually downhilling.
Never mind. It’s not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The cycling centre was a frenzy of two wheeled activity.
“Fancy hiring a tandem?” I ventured. “No” was the reply. “Right now I just want a beefburger.”
Another time then. I’m going to request a tandem ride (me steering) for my birthday. Reckon he’ll find it hard to refuse.