Pandemic pedalling….

Pandemic pedalling is an eye-opener. My rides have evolved into a whole new experience, multi-faceted and mind-expanding. Which is weird. I’m retired and, therefore, the new normal is the old normal for me. I ride when I like. But there has been a subtle change, a realisation that the time I have at my disposal should be used constructively, that simply testing my lungs and legs to destruction while allowing my peripheral vision to catch the odd wildlife moment is no longer appropriate.

And the result has been remarkable. I have wallowed in the great outdoors in an entirely different way, taken my time, taken my binoculars and taken a lesson from nature.

I should have known better. I should have taken a lesson from other difficult times that stopping, listening and looking is nourishment for the soul, that speeding through the countryside and ticking off siting’s in a tiny oxygen deprived area of the brain is paying lip service to the wild.

Thirty years ago, following a motorcycle accident, walking any distance was painful. I forced myself to utilise the healing power of Burbage Valley, one of my favourite places in the Peak District. Having limped in as far as I could, I laid down amongst the boulders that I’d usually climb and felt the tension drain from my body, my heart rate drop and my eyes open.

Above me, swifts were performing aerobatic feats of such artistry that I was transported. Time stopped, I became part of the valley, immobile yet in a state of heightened awareness. That experience has stayed with me ever since and whenever times are tough, Burbage is my haven.

Now, with unlimited time on my hands, I’ve re-established that subtle bond with the natural world. The last eight weeks have been a litany of wildlife encounters, roe deer, lapwing, mountain hare, curlew, ring ouzel, wolf spiders, peregrine falcon, red deer, ashy mining bee and many more. But it hasn’t just been a tick in the book, I’ve spent hours watching and learning. Watching mining bees create their tunnels, a lapwing soaring and calling to intoxicate its mate, a ring ouzel striving to disguise the exact location of its nest.

Better still, every outing has involved discussions with the other lucky folk who have managed to rely upon the Peak District for lockdown distraction. I’ve ignored the look of surprise when they discover that a mountain biker has knowledge of the local species and enjoyed it particularly when I’ve managed to help them have a wildlife epiphany too.

Most of all though, I’ve been overjoyed to see so many youngsters out there, many for the first time. The pandemic is appalling but if it helps a new generation of kids engage with the natural world for the first time, then that’s a serious silver lining to this covid cloud. Let’s hang on to the valuable lessons we’ve learned, it could change everything.