Outdoors again at last: a first real walk, run and cycle as lockdown eases

Since the lockdown began almost two months ago, I’ve been off the bike other than for weekly shopping trips and short rides around the block with my young children. Instead of the lightness of being that comes from riding a bike, you have to endure futile pedalling, profuse sweating and a profound and spirit-sapping boredom. The latesthometrainers offer online access and have a display of virtual roads to ride, mountains to climb and other people to race – but it never compares to the real thing. We’re still required to stay local (unlike in England) but I live on the edge of the Black Mountains and there is plenty of great riding on my doorstep. As I freewheeled downhill the sensation as the wind cooled my body and ruffled my overgrown lockdown hair was curiously cleansing. In two hours, I rode 25 miles and camehome on a mental and physical high – deep calm and contentment displacing my growing cabin fever. During quarantine bike sales have been booming as people rediscover the pleasure of riding around their neighbourhoods on roads with 1950s levels of traffic. Emerging from lockdown, cities such as Paris and Berlin are installing pop-up bike lanes to give commuters an alternative to crowded public transport. As we rise to the challenge of the coronavirus, cycling can play itspart as a cheap, efficient, healthy and pleasurable way to travel. Noticing a large population of hedgerow elms is one thing, but my son hasbeen itemising the roadside litter, and we have stared at an epic pothole as if the remains of an ancient temple had risen through the asphalt. I don’t want to drive to go for a walk – that seems unfair – so we take a familiar route insearch of views and light: from Raithby, across the Skegness Road, to the hill at Langton by Spilsby and back – eight or nine miles. It begins with a meandering mile down the Sausthorpe road, over the gentle contours of the land and crossing the choked remains of the River Lymn. Sausthorpe straddles the Skegness road: on one side is a Victorian church with a spire that looks like Thunderbirds was invented by the gothic revival and, on the other, a faux half-timbered village hall. Further on, the road takesdoglegs past bosky little woods and coverts and, squeezed by grassy banks, rises into Langton by Spilsby. It is a pool of limpid pastoral, its fields and valleys set with intriguing,snugold farm buildings and spreading oaks, golden with new foliage and flowers. I have never seen such a clear horizon here, without the smudge of orange that is the traffic of the east Midlands There’s a steep quarter-mile walk to the top of Langton’s hill, passing through a tunnel of skinny ash and sycamore, among which lurk slender elms that have suckered from ancient stumps and shine eerily with the samaras, the green communion wafers that house their seeds. Through the private woods to the right is an idyllic dip called Callow Carr, and the top of the hill ismarked by a thick-boled beech with a thick trunk on which many lovers – and a few second world war airmen – have carved their initials, their names growing bigger, but less distinct withthepassing years. A footpath leads onto the escarpment of Northdale Carr, a gentle green cliff dotted with cowslips that faces west across open country towards Lincoln. The queues of busy white clouds have shuffled off east to the sea, and the lighthere is dazzling, almost liquefying as the sun begins to descend and the blue turns mauve at its margins. Every blade of grass and fresh leaf below flashes with the light, as if carriedawayin a flood that is flecked with the spume of mayflower. After a hilltop circular route of a couple of miles viafarmland and stony track, we are light-hearted also about compromises and contradictions still to be lived through. The day is closing when we walk down through the shadows of Langton by Spilsby, where the blackbirds are scurrying under the hedgerows and the rabbits are making their evening congregation. Near home, I see a barn owl, like a huge white moth, and my son finds a hedgehog – the first he’s ever seen and the first live one I’ve seen for several years. Each piece represented two lengths of my back garden and by the time I’d jogged each one from a bucket by the backdoor to another by the shed, I’d have clocked up 26.2 miles – and completed my first (and without doubtlast) backyard marathon.