Despite resolving to spend the Bank Holiday weekend writing short stories, the weather was too nice to stay indoors all day, staring at a screen.
On Saturday it was late afternoon before my boyfriend and I could motivate ourselves to leave the couch, so we weren’t up for anything too adventurous, but we still fancied doing something different. Our usual fall back is a cycle ride round Attenborough Nature Reserve, but when we’re looking for a change we get out the map.
The map is a free one produced by CycleCity Guides for Nottingham City Council and I’d recommend it for anyone living in Nottingham and wanting to explore it by bike. It shows all the city’s bike paths and roads with cycle lanes, and quiet side streets are marked in yellow. You can order a copy or download an electronic version from the city council website. The map goes on all our cycle rides with us and it’s starting to show. The creases are tearing in places and it is crinkled from getting wet in the rain.
It is usually the fringes of the map, the green spaces with paths instead of roads, that call out to me. Although these green spaces probably have local names, those names were not known to the map makers and so they remain unmarked. These unmarked spaces always remind me of that line from Moby Dick:
It is not down in any map; true places never are.
Not that the places we leave behind are any less true, but sometimes it is good to get out of the city.
After mulling over the map for a while we finally settled on a cycle ride up to a nearby farm. The farm sits in a triangle of housing estates on two sides and a busy A road on the third. In the distance you can see the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, that beacon around which all our cycle rides seem to orbit. There is, however, one stretch of country lane that is surrounded on all sides by hedgerows and houses. As we cycled along it I could almost image that we were far out of the city and cycling through a country village.
Eventually the lane opens out on to fields and we stopped for a while to enjoy the view. As I was taking it in it occurred to me that I was thinking of myself as outside the city, looking in, but perhaps I only think that way because I’m a city dweller. Perhaps if I lived and had always lived in the countryside, I would feel as though I were looking out from the inside. Perhaps my true places are the ones down on the map.
From the farm we cycled down to Attenborough. And it really is down – down a very steep hill. From the top of the hill we could see over the rooftops to the spire of Attenborough’s church. Again I found myself ‘countryfying’ the view in my mind.
Once we reached Attenborough Nature Reserve we stopped at a bench by Tween Pond. Most of the day’s visitors had left and behind us the sounds of cricket and clapping drifted from the Village Green. I kept my eyes open for anything interesting. At one point a Great Crested Grebe surfaced near the shore, but every time my boyfriend tried to get a picture of it, it would bob under the water again and reappear further off. We played spot the Grebe for a while.
We also saw a family of Egyptian Geese with seven goslings. They swam up to the shore to rest and the parents protectively honked at anyone – duck, goose or human – that came too close.
On Sunday we decided to do a slightly more ambitious cycle ride. We got out the map and again I felt myself drawn to the edges. We settled on a village on the outskirts of the city called Strelley, which takes in part of the Robin Hood Way – a 105 mile long walk across Nottinghamshire than covers the historic sites associated with Robin Hood.
The first part of the cycle ride went along Route 6 and through Bilsborough and Strelley housing estate – a large post-War estate that is separated from the older village by the A6002. Crossing over the A road into the village was a slightly surreal experience and felt almost like crossing into another world. In many ways the village and housing estate are different worlds. They share the same name, but they are divided by wealth.
The houses got smaller and quainter as we got further in to the centre of the village and one cottage in particular seemed to leap right out of a vision of idyllic, English country life. It had small wooden windows and low ceilings. There were roses climbing up an arched gateway and the front garden was bursting with flowers. I instantly found myself imaging my life in that tiny cottage.
It was an image of a better, less busy life. A life where I could sit by the window looking out over a beautiful garden as I write (ignoring the fact that I would have to be the one tending the garden). It was an image of early morning walks along quiet country lanes (ignoring the fact that I’m incapable of getting going before 7am) and an image of simplicity (whatever that means).
We turned off the Main Road and on to the Robin Hood Way.
Fields, stretching to the horizon, could be glimpsed in the gaps between the trees and hedgerows, which were full of butterflies, birdsong and cow parsley. At times the path was completely in shadow and encased in overarching trees and steep banks. I wondered how long the path had been trodden. It seemed as though it had been worn away by thousands of boots.
We had to keep our eyes open for a turn-off and at first we thought a gated off track might be it, but then I realised: No, this is England, there’ll be a sign. Which there was, when we reached the actual turn-off – a little green arrow with the words ‘Robin Hood Way’ on it. The path has probably been trodden a lot longer than there have been signs and little arrows on it.
After the turn-off the path opened out on one side with a view over fields of Rapeseed. That sea of yellow has a certain beauty about it. Perhaps the part of me that thinks the field of Rapeseed is beautiful is the same part of me that thinks the coal-fired power station has a beauty to it. It is industry, disguised as nature.
I tried to savour the sound of birdsong and the quiet of the lane before we hit road again, but no amount of stopping for photographs could make the lane any longer. Sometimes you just have to stop stopping and really enjoy the moment, instead of trying to enjoy it.
Eventually we hit tarmac and the A road again, which took us down to Bramcote Hills. We decided to stop at the park for a picnic (of oranges and apples). The park is home to a collection of 200 year old trees, including a beech tree, which collapsed last year. The tree had been fenced off prior to its collapse and now the fallen tree trunk will remain in the park to decay and offer new habitats for insects and wildlife. Its great to see a tree being allowed to take its natural course, rather than being chopped up and cleared away.
After our picnic it was home again, home again and a weekend of cycling was at an end. I’m looking forward to exploring some more of those green spaces on the map, and some of the less green ones too.