Where am I going? Who knows.
Landing at Bilbao airport (the smoothest landing I’ve ever experienced – and on time), I think “what on earth am I doing here?”; Bilbao is surrounded by mountains – and I’m still recovering from a skiing back injury. Looking on the bright side, the weather is perfect and the scenery wonderful.
I could actually go anywhere but my minimal examination of terrain and interest had set my mind on a South Westerly exploration into the Montes de Cantabrica. The only problem is ….. Bilbao’s in the way. How to get through it? I know – Google maps, the cycling option and earphones. An hour later, still in the outskirts of the city (having had to retrace my steps …. back a steep hill, to avoid cycling through a busy, mile long dual-carriageway underpass) I’m starting to regret my decision. Half an hour later my spirits quickly rise when I finally make my escape up a beautiful valley.
Why do we make the choices we do? Are they really free choices at all? Are our lives simply predetermined to follow particular paths, come what may. In the days of the supremacy of Newtonian mechanics it seemed entirely plausible that the grinding predictability of cause and effect would doom us to lives with no scope for independent thought or decision-making. Thank God (I’ll come to him/her later!) for the discovery of quantum physics with its inherent uncertainty. But does this entirely save the day?
We all possess unique neurological imprints deeply embedded in our DNA. To what extent does this predetermine choices and decisions we are likely to make in particular situations? To give a specific example, nobody tries to “cure” autism – it is clearly a neurological condition through which autistic people experience the world in their own unique ways. We should make no judgements of better/worse – it is simply different. There is no doubt however, that choices and decisions are significantly channelled by these differences. We may feel that autism is a particular and perhaps extreme example. But I wonder whether it actually is. We may be unaware of the myriad subtle ways in which our own decision making is not as free as we might like to think. Enough, for the moment.
Continuing up the valley I discover a cycle path running parallel to a tumbling stream; what the hell – let’s go for it. Fantastic! I should say that I have seen many cyclists on the road; probably running into three figures; it seems that Spanish cyclists are well looked after. Along the lane I encounter a “snowstorm” of dandylion fluff; its piled up at the sides of the road
Onwards and upwards to Artziniega where I stop for a leisurely snack. No hotels here; I’m not sure I’ve seen any. A key choice of route to be made: continue south into the deep interior; or cut north-west to Balmaseda – which seems to provide more chance of finding accommodation. North west it is. (Was that actually a free choice?).
But hang on a minute – it’s uphill, steep and long. Reaching the top I enjoy a fantastic sinuous descent. Through a village then … uphill again! Finally I enjoy a long descent into the small town of Balmaseda; and yes, it has got a hotel, a converted convent.
And my room has a bath; what more could I want? A plug, perhaps.
I improvise with a glass and plastic bag. Bliss!
Distance travelled 37 miles
Elevation gain 3185 ft
Average speed 9.5 mph (not bad, everything considered.
Season of mists and wistful listlessness.
Summer now gone, ‘though golden leaves rejoice its former glory;
hov’ring kestrel and white-arsed jay lift my spirits on this dull grey day.
Memories seep from field, from tree, from stream
of recent days when summer flowers bedecked the roadside verge and
courting couples lazed beneath the sultry sun.
Those summer nights, when birdsong marked the early dawn
of days, which stretched through noon towards an eve
of heavy-scented air, with acrobatic bats upon their prey.
This season has its charm of course, for when the sun shines bright
upon the land, true peace descends upon our hearts and minds;
autumnal tranquility now prevails.
A time for looking back – but also through approaching winter
to the coming spring. Spring! That time of resurgent growth; of life reborn anew – full of vivid colour, full of hope.
If seasons are a metaphor for life, autumn is happily where I now reside
with love and wisdom stored through spring and summer;
autumnal tranquility now pervades my life.
One difference though, I share with all mankind – whilst after winter
I’ll rejoice the coming spring, a metaphor of seasons clearly means
that each must be employed, enjoyed in full …… with no return.
The Lake District
Water, water everywhere, enough to make you blink
with awe and wonder.
It earns its name – born and shaped through years of ice and rain.
Drawn in as always, when on bike or foot, by senses sharp.
A beckoning feast,
I soon submit to all the natural pleasure they impart.
I hear it first – the rush of brook cascading down the beck;
it stirs my heart.
A sound that delves primeval mind for memories lurking deep.
I see it soon – around the bend it grinds the stones so smooth
they almost shine.
The water spits and sparks as on its downward path it falls.
On Dollywaggon Pike I count the lakes and tarns I see:
they number nine.
And in the distance to the west through haze, I see the sea.
I touch it now – a chill-thrill through my fingers, up my arms
and to my heart.
It sends a shiver up my tingling spine towards my brain.
At last I drink! So pure and sweet upon my lips and tongue –
it tastes divine.
No wine or beer could match its power to quench a thirst so deep.
I end my walk along the stream that runs to Patterdale:
the sun now shines.
Since first I trod these paths in sixty-two not much has changed.
So water water everywhere – it makes me stop to think
of cost and worth;
the things we surely need in life, we often value least.
Fingers of Fortune
Whilst out today on bike in wind and rain
I pause to ask a question lurking low:
where am I going?
“The elephant in the room” I hear you say;
why start a journey if you do not know
You may indeed be right, but I would claim
that life itself is full of many paths
that take us …… where?
A signpost! Yes, that’s surely what I need
to point the way to where I want to go.
But that’s no use.
From Bedham – yes, I know I’ve come from there,
but that’s no help for me to pinpoint yet
my journey’s end.
A choice in hope, that’s all that I can do;
the route my instinct tells me I should follow –
to Wisborough Green.
In life, it’s surely often much the same:
a choice we make with heart as well as head
to lead us on.
There is, of course a difference ‘tween the two –
on bike it matters little which we choose;
in life it’s key.
The signpost on the road it seems to me,
although it has some use, is nonetheless
a finger of fortune.
On bike, in life there is one common thread
whatever the route; the ultimate destination –
I’m coming home.
The farm – a page in history no less;
written in the sweat and toil of men
who laboured hard to tame the wilderness.
With scythe and plough they cut and clawed their way
through stubborn shrubs and stone, until long last
emerged the nascent shoots of wheat and hay.
These early hillside farmers knew full well
that should the harvest fail through blight or drought,
famine would hastily pave their road to hell.
But now, from in our ivory towers we see
a different picture of the gentrified farm,
as food arrives from Waitrose, trouble free.
A visit planned beyond the farmyard gate,
will likely be with child, to stroke the lambs;
or walk alpacas while the farmers wait.
When maize is grown for maze and not for food,
those early farmers might well feel betrayed
by this dramatic, modern change of mood.
Their spirits, though must try to bear in mind
the flow of history throughout the centuries past
builds only on the progress left behind.
The magic of a lane for me when cycling
in rain or shine; it lures me further on,
Now in the wood, and then along the shores
with shrieking shingle churned by tide and wave,
the wild sea pours.
A turn – which way to go? It matters not,
for each will charm me in its unique way;
I know not what.
Is that the top? “You’re joking” moans the hill
in voice lugubrious, mocking the upward toil;
a bitter pill
to swallow. But it does me good, for when
the top ‘fore long looms large, I shout for joy
– a climb well done.
Whilst cycling ‘tween a Kentish oast and mill
I spot a kestrel hovering in the sky;
he hangs so still
while searching down below for movement slight,
that may betray a mouse or scuttling bug;
then stoops with might
Swift most gone, the swallows scooping low
dissect the fields in search of insect fare
before they go.
And so the country lane once more, for me
holds pleasure as it draws me further on
Love it or loathe it, try as we may
The topic of rainfall now hangs in the air.
Whilst trapped in a heatwave, week after week
Our zest for good weather is fading away.
After a night with a downpour so welcome,
I’m out on my bike in air that’s so fresh
That, though the sun’s shining, it’s ten degrees cooler;
Nigh on perfection for trundling to Telscombe.
With farmers on tractors and campers in vans
I’m sharing the road rising up to the dyke;
Each with a weather eye cast to the sea
Wond’ring how any rainfall may alter their plans.
With nettles hung high on the bank o’er the lane;
With fresh bales of hay toppling down to the sea;
With knapweed and blackberries fringing the fence,
The sensuous messages rush to my brain.
So, when we are constantly talking of weather
Our views about rain will rarely concur;
Though heatwave and sunshine are good for the goose,
We mustn’t forget what’s good for the gander.