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It’s just air. Until you need it.

9 Sep

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Regular readers will know that I like to take time out to go camping for a few days in the summer just to clear my head and think about what’s coming up. Regular readers will also know that I had my motorcycle stolen, which rather limited my plans. And my son took his tent back up to Edinburgh, which left me tentless.

So, what to do? The obvious answer, of course, is to cycle 50 klicks to Rutland Water, stay overnight in the open and then cycle back. What do you mean, that’s not obvious? It’s obvious to ME!

I got off to a late start, mostly by messing around doing stuff that didn’t need doing. Finally I had a bag packed with the stuff I thought I might need – but not so much stuff that I couldn’t get it in a backpack. Probably not the RIGHT stuff though. And off I went. A mile out and the puncture I had just repaired started to fail. I cycled home, since that’s where things like sinks full of water are. (To check where the leak is, for those who haven’t done this before). Puncture repaired, I set out again.

There are a LOT of hills between Oundle and Oakham. I have mentioned this before, but I feel that it is important to mention it again.

670px-Mend-a-Puncture-in-a-Bike-Tire-Step-6-Version-3Round about 30 kilometers out, the repair failed again. But I had brought a spare inner tube! Ta-Da! I fitted the tube and set off again, conscious that time was against me. By the time I reached Hambleton peninsula, my goal, it was getting dark… which means I had no real idea where I was setting up camp. I decided a bench overlooking the reservoir would be ideal, although I was keen that the sheep didn’t disturb my repose in the night.

Rutland Water is a very spooky, quiet body of water. The water is quiet, tranquil, ruffled only by the wind. Somewhere under there lie abandoned villages, fields and farms. On the peninsula in the middle it is almost eerily silent, the only noise being the lap of water on the shore, and the occasional hoot of an owl.

I settled myself down, lit a fire and boiled some water for coffee, as I watched the moon set over the water. Above me the stars came out, and I was treated to a beautiful display of stars set against a gentle veiling of clouds. I stretched out on the bench and gazed peacefully up into the darkness, letting the quiet and the solitude soak into me, bringing a sense of true peace and calm, as I snuggled into my sleeping bag. Memo for next time – if you have a shaved head, bring a beanie.

As I dozed I was suddenly shocked awake by awareness of a presence next to me. I am not sure which one of us was more surprised – me or the deer that had wandered up to check out the strange apparition in the darkness. Startled, it scurried off into the forest, and I settled down to sleep as best I could. This is not particularly easy when you’re 5’10” and the bench is something short of 5’, but stuffing my feet out the end solved that problem. Benches also tend to be slatted. This is not comfortable, so I began my usual approach of rotating like a washing machine until sleep overcame me. I woke a lot in the night, and watched the progress of the stars across the sky. Finally something like sensible sleep gripped me, although by this time I was completely buried in my sleeping bag…

…which was why I didn’t notice the rain that started around 5am. I scurried to collect my stuff together, by which time I was wet and the rain was over. So I sat and watched day break over the water, the sky gradually lightening as the sun rose behind me, painting my vision with bold strokes of blue and gold, red and yellow, orange and grey.

Time for breakfast. A 6km ride into Oakham, and I hit Costa just after it opened. I debated buying another inner tube (somewhat seduced by the idea of self repairing tubes), having used my spare, but decided not to bother. Of course, this would prove to be the wrong choice. I mean.. I have a repair kit with me – and for heaven’s sake, my tyres are lined with Kevlar! 

Suitably refreshed, I set off to circumnavigate the reservoir. And around 10km into THAT, my earlier poor decision making skills bore evil fruit, as I got another puncture. Undeterred, I had puncture repair equipment with me and I set to fixing the problem, while I was overtaken by all the cyclists I had jauntily whizzed past on the way. This puncture was not going to be easy, as it was too close to the valve, and I had to surrender. I could return to Oakham, or walk on to the cycle hire shop on the North Shore. I decided to press on, and was confronted with a 5 km walk with a grumpy bike.

Finally arriving at the hire place, the sales assistant and I decided that given my luck so far, the purchase of an extra spare would be advisable. This proved to be one of the better decisions of the day.

New tube fitted, I rode off – the exertion of the previous day now starting to take its toll (and, come to think of it, earlier rides in the week). All I really wanted to do is to head home, which (probably due to the aforementioned hills) is not really a straight line affair. Choosing not to duel with lorries and BMW drivers on the major roads, the only options were to zigzag home through pretty little villages.

I may have mentioned the hills. But I feel it’s worth mentioning them again.

I decided on a shortcut. You can already tell that this isn’t going to end well. Part way through the shortcut, another puncture struck. I had to use my precious spare, still a good 35k from home, to fix this, as I couldn’t actually locate the hole. At this point, every single bump in the road felt like the tyre was going down again, shredding my nerves with every jolt.

I was now hungry and thirsty.. I began an approach of zigzagging from village shop to village shop, buying water and snacks to keep my flagging muscles moving.

Finally, the welcome sight of Oundle church spire hove into view. Redoubling my efforts I soared home, incident free, and collapsed. Until I remembered that I have to cycle out to feed my son’s animals later….

But lesson for the week… having declared a desire to become more intuitive, perhaps it is wise to listen when your intuition says ‘buy an inner tube’.

On retreat . . . to move forward

4 Sep

Every year I decide to take myself off for a couple of days away from everything, to get my thoughts back in focus, to chill out, relax and reconnect with the essence of who I am – and to reconnect with Spirit. Just time to be alone, and recharge my batteries – and find new vision.

While I might wish to do this in Maui or Tahiti, my usual retreat is to go up to the shores of Rutland Water, to a little camp site at Lydon Top (£7 a night, tell Arthur I sent you when you get there. And the Indian in Uppingham delivers. Apparently). Just basic amenities, but a lot of solitude and an AWESOME view.

I take minimal technology and take time to listen to the voice of my heart, and to inspiration.

Usually I motorbike up, but this year I decided I would cycle it. It’s only about 30km, but North Northants and Rutland between them serve up some pretty mean hills, especially with a 13kg pack on my back.

This is me.

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It didn’t help that I confused myself and set off in the wrong direction.

It was cool when I left, so I had my coat on… then I got hot, so I took it off… then the heavens opened. With no cover worth speaking of, I ploughed on into the rain. Arriving at the camp site, I struggled to get dry – or warm – and the fact that I had left the coffee at home did little to help. I’d decided to eat little that day anyway, just to kick start the thinking process.

But I had this view to inspire me . . .

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A night on hard ground then, working hard to stay warm… and then a quick bike ride into Oakham to get coffee and write a few notes.. allowing some of the things that had been spinning round in my head to come together. And then a 50km bike ride round Rutland Water (and a few detours).. it’s a spooky yet beautiful place, England’s largest reservoir (by area): I can’t help but think what it was like before it was flooded, and imagine the Hambleton villages that lie beneath.

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Oakham meant I could stock up on food as well as giving me more thinking time.. so that evening was a far more well managed hot and warming curry… which I sat and ate while pondering.

Lots of thoughts spinning round.. lots of new ideas, lots of possibilities to consider. Some of them will see the light of day over the next couple of weeks, I’m sure… while others might take a while to germinate and grow. But it feels like a corner has been turned, and something has shifted. For me, I always need to get away from it all to really listen to what’s going on – away from all the voices that scream for attention, from the distractions, the conflicts… just time to centre, ground and believe again. The last few days have been truly awesome.

For those who are interested in these things…

Here’s how I got there….

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(note setting off in completely the wrong direction. Only 50m climbs but it felt worse! 31km and 338m total ascent)

…round the reservoir…

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(yep, made a couple of unnecessary detours there. I get confused easily. I COULD have carried on… but coffee was calling. Oh yes, and a cycle back to the pub for the purposes of recharging my phone. Honest.) (49km and 255m total ascent. I thought this was going to be the easy day! The official cycle track is only 37km)

 

…and getting home…

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(38 km and 258 m ascent)

The reasons for the diversions? A little bit of caching. It helps motivate me to go further, to work harder.. and discover lovely places. Nothing particularly interesting this time out – a cache attached to a rope to stop it floating downstream.. another cunningly inserted into a signpost so it looked as if it really belonged… and a lot hidden in scratchy nettly places – but with some gorgeous views..

Like this view.

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Or this one

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Or these charming cottages.

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Or this unexpected village duck pond

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Or this viaduct (I love the Welland Viaduct… it’s over a kilometre long and has a total of 82 arches… it’s quite breathtaking how it crosses the Welland valley.)

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Or a dog that wanted to share its teddy bear.

Or a roadside sandwich bar.

You know, life is damn good fun.. when I just stop and enjoy what’s going on all around me.

Just… breathe… listen… and be happy.

 

 

Find out more at www.timhodgson.org

Haste to the wedding

23 Aug

Northamptonshire (where I live, for those new to the story) is quite pretty, in a gentle, rural way. Rolling hills, lots of fields, pleasant towns – a place of spires and markets as my old headmaster used to say. It’s a long, narrow county with the River Nene as its tranquil backbone, which miraculously changes pronunciation north of Thrapston, a navigable waterway that (when it’s not in full flood) has its fair share of pleasure cruisers, barges and canoes. It’s a pleasant contrast to the merciless flatness of the Fens, where the Gods gather to drink beer and play billiards, or roll cabbages in crown green bowling.

But if you want drama in a landscape, then you have to go West, young man, in search of peaks and mountains, escarpments and gorges. In truth, you could go NorthWest and SouthWest too (for the purists amongst you)….and this time the adventure leads to Derbyshire.

So, to Buxton, home of spring water, for a wedding. I get invited to one of these every year, and each year we predict who the lucky ones will be. This year sees the turn of Paul and Caroline to step out on a life of joy, happiness and more cake than you can shake a stick at.

But what would make it an adventure? What would make it unique? What, in short, would be mad enough for it to get mentioned in the groom’s speech?

What about cycling there?

DSCF7237Well, short of absolute lunacy, perhaps some reason needs to be added to the plan. For me to cycle to Buxton is going to take several days… so perhaps we’ll use the train as well. So, rising early and off to Corby station. Early experience reveals several new pieces of information. Firstly, it’s much harder cycling with a 20 kilo pack on my back. Secondly, Corby is pretty much 90% up hill. While heartening for the trip home, the trip out isn’t going well, particularly since I have also miscalculated the distance. Pedalling furiously, I scream into the station just in time and collapse onto the train.

Of course, negotiating the station platforms is fun too, but eventually I alight at Matlock station ready for the next leg of the journey. I just wish my legs would co-operate.

So, an afternoon cycling along the Derwent. For the non cyclists amongst my readers, the word ‘along’ is a preposition beloved of the two wheeled fraternity, like its companion, ‘down’. ‘Along’ means flat, gentle and calm. Of course, I’m following the river up stream, so there is an insistent rise to the terrain. I arrive into Bakewell, home of the Pudding and the Tart, along with the Rain. This is enough excuse for a coffee and a scone as I watch hikers pour off the Monsal Trail – the fortunate ones  have umbrellas or newspapers to fend off the deluge.. the less prescient have lopsided and sheepish grins and look very bedraggled.

CampSite (6)The final few klicks introduce a new word into the vocabulary. ‘Steep’. This is the description of the final push to the campsite, where I unpack my tent (see right) (and suddenly the pack seems much lighter) and collapse onto my mattress. Eventually I unfurl myself enough to walk to Monsal Head for a pint – suddenly realising that this is the first alcoholic beverage I have had since March.

CampSite (2)Next day a stroll along the Monsal Trail, 8 miles of disused railway line and a flat route (if I had but known it) from Bakewell to my camp site. ‘Flat’ is another good cycling word, and a plan for my return unfolds.

(this is the view from the camp site. Nice, huh?)

 

 

Nr CampSite (9)Nr CampSite (8)

(left hand side – Monsal Trail viaduct – right hand side – River Wye)

And then to the wedding. The road down to the river Wye is speedy and fun, but another adjective describes the route up to the wedding venue. ‘Vertical’. Convinced that no-one can attempt that particular hill without crampons and rope, it’s time to walk (slowly) up hill. I’m very early, and the staff are somewhat confused as they aren’t expecting wedding guests to be wearing muddy shorts and looking quite so dishevelled. But after recuperation, I change into the suit that I have been carrying for so many miles, and look reasonably presentable.

And what a marvellous wedding. Much happiness, a beautiful bride, lots of romance, witty speeches, plenty of confetti, marvellous cake, nice people and cheesy 1980s dance music. Not, perhaps, a time to dance the blues, although both Paul and I briefly push the modern jive boat out.

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Although I am quite looking forward to the hill this time (the word here is ‘down’ along with ‘whizz’) my friends take pity on me and whisk me back to the camp site, where, mercifully, sleep claims my weary body swiftly.

And then, a gentle cycle home. Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no, if mountaineers climb mountains ‘because they are there’ then the same thing applies to a cyclist confronted with a flat trail. So before I set off down the Monsal Trail to Bakewell, it seems only appropriate to see where the other end leads. Which is, of course, nearly to Buxton. And, after a wild mountain side ride down to the trail – it’s all uphill. Fun though – although later on the trail will be full of cyclists, walkers and joggers, it’s quite in the morning as I pass abandoned platforms, disused mills and cycle through old tunnels, and pass the abseilers gearing themselves up ready to leap off the bridge. Time then to relax briefly before turning round..

Monsal Trail (27)Monsal Trail (9)Monsal Trail (5)Monsal Trail (3)

Disassembling the tent I repack my bag, wishing yet again that I had a one man tent and not a three man (weight, it’s all in the weight) and set off back to Matlock. Which should be downhill. It doesn’t feel that way, but I do seem to be faster arriving back, despite being overtaken by weekend cyclists who want to emulate Boardman and Hoy (or they’re late for Sunday lunch).

DSCF7236The train (not, I have to say, this train, which is the Peak Valley Railway) zips me back to Corby and then the final ten miles. Mostly downhill. It’s been a good, fun weekend.. but I think I’ll stick to walking for a bit. And I’m beginning to see the attraction of the unremitting complanate velodrome that is the Fens…

 

Although a plan to rollerblade round Edinburgh next week is beginning to evolve….

 

(all photographs © Tim Hodgson 2012)

(‘Haste to the Wedding’ is an Irish jig. It seemed appropriate somehow)

Oh, those distances:

Oundle to Corby – 10.8 miles

Matlock to the camp site – 10.7 miles

Camp site to Cressbrook – 1.7 miles

Camp site via Monsal Trail to Wyedale – 13.5 miles

Camp site via Monsal Trail to Matlock – 13.5 miles (and I took a bit of a detour on the way back)

Corby to Oundle – 10.8 miles

So 61 miles in total.

Treat yourself to a sunset

25 Mar

DSCF7087One of the things we need to do is to take time out for ourselves… look after ourselves a bit. Maybe kick back, relax, let the world pass us by. Maybe treat ourselves to something that makes us feel good. One of the recommendations for those of us seeking to be wealthy and successful is to set aside 10% of our income as a ‘play’ fund – to be spent on those things that make us feel good. Like a massage, or a manicure – or maybe a nice meal, or… well, you get the idea.

DSCF7075And then there are the other things, too, the things that sometimes come for free… a walk by the river, a date to see the sun rise, time out to just watch nature going by. Time out to let your heart speak, to enjoy a truly spiritual experience as this beautiful planet shows off to an audience of one.

DSCF7085Yesterday, I watched the sun setting over Barnwell Park near Oundle – just a few minutes walk from my home and a beautiful setting to watch the sun slowly disappear in a explosion of coruscating orange and red, throwing the pale blue sky into sharp contrast. The swans and geese glide across the lake, while ducks play fight and a moorhen scuds across the surface for the sheer exultation of it, never quite flying but not really swimming either.

Tonight, I didn’t have my camera as I took a twilight stroll to think some things through and let some dreams settle – to let go and release some stuff that had been troubling me, while letting the new begin to excite my spirit. As I stood on the bridge overlooking the river, and as the sky slowly shaded from softest blue into gentle coral pink, I felt my heart start to relax and let go. The new moon was just a slender crescent suggesting the shape of the disc behind, while Jupiter and Venus watched like proud parents standing guard over their newborn child. On the river a pair of swans glided silently yet purposefully up river, while all around dozens of bats cavorted and danced a wild pirouette through the evening sky.

Eventually the sky grew to an inky black, outlining the stars and the silver white shard of the moon. Sure, I had no camera, but the feelings and the images lie precious and close to my heart… and somewhere, it seems that Truth has spoken and something else has become clearer – and I feel as if my life is in safe hands…

Buns of glass, legs of jelly

26 Feb

So, time for a different adventure – having had my bike released from captivity, having been kidnapped by builders who said they would store it safely and bring it back the next day… three weeks ago… it’s time to get some exercise – and what better way to do that than by cycling over to see little brother (who is, by some genetic mismatch, bigger than his big brother). I’ve got his birthday presents to deliver – although it won’t actually be his birthday for four months. The last time I set out on this epic journey, my pedal fell off after two miles, so it’s with a bit of trepidation that I saddle off and ride off into the sunset. Perhaps a bit early for sunset, but I have a sneaky feeling that the ride back might be in the dark…

The first six or seven miles pass uneventfully enough, although I am convinced it’s mostly uphill – a sensation supported by the simple fact that I am climbing out of the Nene Valley. I’ve cycled this way before, and pass the familiar landmarks until I enter uncharted territory at Aldwincle.. and the gentle rolling slopes of the Nene Valley turn into the savagery that is Islip Hill – and the peace of the Northamptonshire countryside is punctuated by main road traffic. But this is half way, and piling on the pace I emerge triumphant at the top of the hill, ready for the drop down into Barton Seagrave. The road is pretty familiar, apart from one minor complication – the A14 has carved its way across the landscape, slicing across minor roads with gay abandon. The shortest distance between two points is the old railway line, but sanity takes me down the old roads and suddenly I am completely confused… convinced I’ve taken the wrong turning, I backtrack only to decide that I was right first time (regular readers will see a pattern emerging here – check back to a post from Thailand HERE).

Following the wind turbines proves a sensible navigational aid, and finally I sail, rather later than expected, into little brother’s driveway, with a sore rump and jelly legs, to find him spitting feathers at Liverpool’s performance against Cardiff in the Carling Cup (1-0 down at this point). Sustenance is on hand in the form of coffee with far more sugar than usual, and a Muller Corner yoghurt. 17.49 miles in 1h53 is a bit off my top score.. but I made it. A pity I have to get back as well.

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So, leaving Liverpool 1-1 and in extra time, it’s back onto the bike, pulling on my London Marathon sweatshirt for warmth against the evening chill. The light is fading fast as I weave my way through the short cuts around Barton (got them right this time) and out into the Northamptonshire twilight. Over my shoulder, the thin sickle of a crescent moon looks over my shoulder from a hazy wintry setting, with Jupiter and Venus in attendance to add extra glamour to the scene. Rather than the detour, and with my heart in my mouth, I decide to brave the shortcut down the A14. I’ve had scarier rides on my bike, but it’s with relief that I pull off the A14 and head into the countryside. From the other direction, Islip hill is a whoop whoop exhilarating ride downhill, and the corresponding slow grind up the other side takes me steadily into the darkness. The moon and its acolytes still hovers over my shoulder, while around me the stars are coming out to play. I’m grateful for the extra layer of warmth against the chill – and for the reminder that I’ve overcome this kind of challenge before.

In the darkness, the landscape is eerily different. Skeletal trees loom large against a pale sky, and hedgerows form fantastical silhouettes against the skyline. Here and there small communities gather together against the darkness, while churches and the local stately home form way-points on the journey. All the cues to distance have changed – hills seem interminable with no indication of when the summit will appear, while sudden inclines spring up unexpectedly forcing a rapid gear change lest I fall off the bike.

A startled bunny ducks for cover. I apologise profusely, realising that I’ve missed my turn and driven into Aldwincle Playboy club. But the night is spookily dark and quiet, just the sound of the gear chain and the soft roar of rubber on tarmac to disturb the silence as mile after mile of country road falls beneath my wheels.

Landmarks come and go until the welcome sign for Stoke Doyle appears… the final village before home. Across the valley, the welcoming lights of the Oundle School houses beckon from the centre of town. After the challenges of the Northamptonshire contour map, Stoke Hill is of little consequence and I sail triumphantly into Oundle.

So, a total of 32.77 miles and 3 hours 31 minutes of cycling later… it’s time for a hot bath, and a very late breakfast….although whether I will be able to move very far tomorrow remains to be seen….

Big Water

28 Dec

Carsington Water (10)After a night parking near Carsington Water, it’s time to explore the reservoir. It’s been an interesting night – parking on a hill causing me to roll out of bed from time to time.

 

Carsington Water (11)This time of year the reservoir is only 1/3 full, and there are few visitors. A walk round a reservoir is always fun, and I am still working through my personal challenge to cycle as many of them as I can. But the bike is still in storage, so I set off on a 9 mile walk round the reservoir. One of the benefits of a reservoir walk is that, by its nature, there aren’t many hills involved… a fact that appeals to the leisure cyclist too. There aren’t too many of those out today, and those that are politely ring a bell to alert me to their presence. I’m overtaken by a power walking trio, the clatter of their walking sticks eventually fading into the distance.

It’s time to think, time to dream – time to let go of some things to allow the new to occupy me. Time to wonder what 2012 will bring, and to consider the changes that I need to make. Another adventure is ready to unfurl itself as I step into the new – even if some of that ‘new’ feels like a step back.

(By the way, I’ve decided to take a flat back in Oundle, Northants, for a while in order to create some stability and to get familiar with some of the things that have been in storage for a long time – time to get on and create while I also simplify my life and reconnect with my family.)

Carsington Water (1)But for now, the reservoir is a place of peace, the calm surface only occasionally disturbed by a yachtsman out for a quiet autumn sail. Meanwhile, the sun hardly tries to rise above the horizon, staying low in the sky and casting a wintry and feeble light over the landscape.

Eventually, the welcome sight of Bessie in the distance causes me to hurry back – time to explore the sleepy town of Ashbourne, and grab some power (although sadly no internet) in the library before dinner.

A Winter’s Tale

3 Dec

Nr Atherstone (2)Another night in the van – although I have a whole host of invites from people to stay, it feels important, somehow, to give myself space to be myself.. perhaps it’s been so long on the road that I need that independence, that looseness of commitment.

Tonight, the moon hangs low in the sky, framed by the branches of a wind swept tree, a skeleton of branches where only a few short weeks before the vibrant colours of autumn had drifted gently and softly to the ground. The moon itself is an icy cold shard of frosty white – gone is the warmth of the harvest moon, to be replaced by a crescent that gazes down with cold accusation, threatening to reveal hidden secrets in its dim illumination. Its counterpoint is a dark blanket of sky, not yet black yet scattered with the dim pinpoints of light from galaxies that are light years away – light that has fought its way through forbidding space to reach me. Tonight, the stars hold the promise that the moon refuses to bring – the promise of success against overwhelming odds, the certainty that even across impossible distances, light will always be light, and will always find its place, and the certainty that even if I was the only observer, that light would have still found its target.

Nr Atherstone (1)The sky itself is framed with the murky orange flare from a thousand streetlights, the warmth of the sodium flare muddied by the Black Country air as its light stumbles upward, only to finally fade away as it finally and inevitably loses the battle with nature’s overpowering darkness. The sky is beautiful tonight, and its savage chilly beauty wraps the fields and hedgerows in inky blackness. Yet strangely that blackness casts shadows that throw the details of the landscape into sharp relief – silhouettes that the brief blaze of a car’s headlights can only briefly wash with light before the darkness recovers its grip on the hills and bushes, the coppices and woodland scrub that pockmark the grasslands.

Steaming mug of coffee in hand, and beanie firmly on my head, I snuggle deeper into the sleeping bag as I read, looking up from time to time as the headlights of a passing car wash over Bessie and briefly light up the van – as the slipstream of the passing car rocks the van, as if attempting to lull me to sleep, and as the tail lights disappear into the distance as echoes of a brief moonlit encounter. More precious are the moments when I look up into a sky that seems only to echo promise and opportunity, and that glitters with a billion miracles that simply whisper ‘Believe’.

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