Not Quite Swallows and Amazons...pt 1

I have occasionally wondered whether many of you actually read these scribbles that I produce. For I cannot offer any accounts of great riding, and anyone looking for skills, or wishing to be impressed by my riding will find little or nothing to sustain them. But I do still like the idea that a relative novice can post in here, and with luck, be read. Sometimes I feel I could just as easily be describing a walk. But then I think about the other more skilled rider/writers and to me the main interest in their prose is the writing itself and the descriptive pictures they produce. The unicycling is secondary, no matter how skilled they are. I do feel that others read them for the entertainment too. For those who do not read ride write ups, I confess to being just as guilty as you, for I admit I never read the trick descriptions at all.

Mikefule adds variety to his writing by including a quiz, which certainly gains my interest. I have occasionally wondered whether I should add a quiz myself. But would Mike feel I was treading in his ground? Or would he appreciate the chance to compete with the rest of us? I once created a car based treasure hunt, when I was still an active member of a sports car club. I was told at the end that I had a weird and evil mind and a decidedly odd sense of humour, and that was why most entrants only scored about 4 out of 25, whilst getting lost in the process. Yet one couple got full marks, all 25 correct, so what did that say? Even I never thought anyone could get full marks. So if I ever did a quiz in here, it would have to be different, very different from Mike’s, and it might be interesting to not even tell people that the quiz exists. Or should I completely forget the idea of a quiz and erase it from my thoughts?

The morning dawns clear, and the stream invites me to follow it. Who was
it made that famous quote about an invitation to follow a stream whether that stream be a pond, a river or a lake? Was it Walton? I don’t remember, and cannot recall the exact quote, but the truth of the words drags me down to the pathway along the banks of the River Mersey. (That is not a quiz, but if anyone does know the answer I would appreciate it.) I am intending to ride a section of the Trans-Pennine Trail. I contentedly grin to myself, for I know that this section could not have a rise or fall of more than a few metres in total along its entire length, but somehow just riding a trail named after a significant range of hills adds kudos to the day and to the ride. I like my hills flat when unicycling, and today my wishes will be granted in profusion.

Someone recently asked me why I usually ride alone and near water. And I do, I like that early morning solitude, when I am free to ride as I choose, or ferret around the river bank turning over stones, or indeed just to walk, at my own slow pace. Others are far too keen on the ride, always wanting to get somewhere else, and far less interested in the flora, fauna and scenery around them. And all of this is usually so varied near the water. This is what makes the ride for me, far more so than the unicycling. The unicycle propels me at a speed slightly quicker than walking, makes me feel different, but still restricts my speed, so that I miss as little as possible. It is its very low speed that makes it my ideal transport along the riverbank. Maybe this is the real reason I have never yet been anywhere on the Coker. Nothing at all to do with my going rigid with fear as soon as I sit on it.

 I start to ride just downstream from Stockport town centre, near the canoe launching pad. I do think "Maybe I should be in a one wheel canoe", for,  less than half a mile upstream, the river runs underground,  below the shopping centre for some hundreds of yards, and I would dearly love to see the river below the shops. But now in front of me there is a shallow weir , running at an angle across the river, with maybe a foot or so of water drop. The dirty Mersey of the past is gone, at least with respect to water quality. Not so many years ago this place would have looked far bleaker. The water level today is  low, and runs with very little sediment, so is clear and I can see at least a couple of feet into the water.  There are fish too, small fish that I believe to be gudgeon, for they stay very close to the river bed.  They swim jerkily in the stream.

 The long streamers of weed are almost day-glo , so bright is their green.  Their tails wave about in the stream and small fish are gathered in shoals immediately below them. These fish,  from 1 to 3 inches in length, play in large shoals near the bank. I do not know what they are, they are too deep in the water, but I  have seen a few bigger fish splash on the surface. Nothing huge but much bigger than the gudgeon would ever become. There will surely be other species to identify, if I look hard enough. So the river now holds significant breeding fish populations, a sure sign of its cleanliness. The banks of the river are sandstone cliffs, making this section very inaccessible, with few places where the water could actually be fallen into.  The place is very pleasant indeed, but could be even better.  The inaccessibility means that removal of old tyres, shopping trolleys and other junk is very, very difficult here. And so they remain, visible, but are not too intrusive once your mind manages to filter them out. I might still broach the subject of a clean up with my local councillor. But would the next river spate then just bring more junk downstream from the shopping centre? 

 The river banks have a long history of industrial use, and much of the 

bed of the river is coated with old bricks, where most other rivers would have gravel. But for a town centre, very nice indeed. Downstream the river is divided by an island, and a heron is standing in the far channel.
It is to be the first of more than a dozen herons I see by the river this morning. Fantastic. And better here than near my pond. There are swallows and yellow wagtails, in addition to the usual suspects. This is how I pass the first fifteen minutes of my ride. Sitting on the grass. Only the cucumber sandwiches are missing. A robin comes, landing on the unicycle only a few inches from my feet. He puffs out his feathers, thus becoming quite a chubby little fellow. I suspect he too would have appreciated the bread.

Eventually I climb back up the steps, get on the unicycle...I would 

hesitate to use the word mount, which would imply a score of at least 4.5,
rather than the 1.2 I somewhat generously give myself. Almost immediately I get off again, curious, for the sandstone cliff that forms the far bank has
a line of 4 or 5 caverns carved into it. One looks like an old sewer, long
disused, and with brickwork which arches across its top. But the others are
interesting, several 4 or 5 foot high tunnels disappear side by side into
the sandstone. 10 or 12 metres up, and now with no sign of an access or way in without climbing gear. No brick or stonework lines them. What were they for? There are tunnels and caves low down too. All very interesting and tantalisingly out of my reach just across the water. The sort of place that people would tell me is far too dangerous to go and investigate. However I store the location for possible future investigation.

Back on the unicycle. The pathway is very smooth tarmac, and I feel that I might manage without any UPDs today.  Wrong!    I pass a dogwalker,  I don't like dogs and his animal unnerves me, and I fall off safely.  The guy is wearing cowboy boots and a check shirt, a remnant of last night's line dancing?  Under my breath, in a poor attempt at a John Wayne accent, I murmur "Hey Hombre". A moment later he disappears, my words unheard, around the corner, and so my 4 failed attempts to freemount also go unobserved. 

The path, the river and I now pass under the motorway. This early in the
morning the traffic noise is negligible. Listening carefully I can just detect music. There are faint strains of a hymn or psalm on the wind from an unseen nearby church. The music seems as if it should be there. The graffiti should not. Underneath the bridge the wall displays numerous artistic and literary offerings. One catches my eye: “Chaz an Will woz ere”. The grammar is appalling. Should that not have been “Chaz an Will werz ere”? Plural. The past tense and the early hour ensure that we do not meet.

Do you mean Bill Walton? I think his famous quote was more about following the Dead, and wishing he had done more, not less, of it.

Perhaps it was Thoreau, who lived on and wrote about Walden back in 1854?

Well Naomi, it may not be Swallows and Amazons, and it doesn’t have a quiz, but I loved reading of your dawn adventure. It reminded me very much of Geoffrey Household’s novel “Rogue Male”, in which he wrote fondly of the early hours. Observing that the hours of 3 to 7 are a time for those on the very fringe of society to move through the world unseen, a world of daylight before the bussling masses stir from their sleep. I too ride alone in the early morning. For me, the mornings are clean-scented periods of peace and serenity, free from the noise of traffic and outbursts about my “missing wheel”.

The grafitti, though it should not be there, is a reminder that there are worse times to travel that way; and that even rough places have their moments of tranquil beauty.

Arthur Ransome would be proud.

Addition of Part 2

Following an excellent suggestion by Norry, I am posting part two as a reply here, so that both parts will remain together.

Not Quite Swallows and Amazons Part two

The river banks now are much lower, and the river flows more slowly and
deeply between the occasional rapids. It reflects my own progress. Short
stretches of riding interspersed with lazier spells when I stop to look at
something or other. That something now is a large brick structure on the far bank. It has to be one end of an old railway bridge that must once have crossed the river here. I must look on Google earth to see if there are other signs to confirm it later. Progressing, the far bank changes to farmland, and a line of cows is making its way across the field. They have fuller udders than usual and so I guess they are en route to the milking shed.

Another dog walker, and his initially gruff expression changes to a smile as
he sees me riding towards him. He asks politely whether I am from the
Chinese State Circus. Maybe I ride much better than I think. My truthful answer disappoints him, but we make conversation for a few moments. After he leaves I pause to watch some butterflies. A number of small white ones, wings tinged with orange and gray, linger on the hawthorne flowers. I read that hawthorne are not supposed to be flowering just yet, and that some see it as another global warming phenomenon. There are small blue butterflies too, small jewels flitting in the undergrowth…or are they moths? Two other brown mottled butterflies are engaged in what seems to be a mating flight. They encircle each other at astonishing speed, and with great precision. How can creatures like this, so light with merely a couple of bits of coloured tissue paper for wings, fly with such speed and accuracy?

A heron comes in to land about 50 metres downstream. The fishing spot is
already occupied though, and I see the interloper chased away downstream by a second heron. This resident returns and, as it flies slowly back it seems
far larger, silhouetted against the river surface, than it really is. It lands at the top end of a small sidestream that flows along one side of an island. I marvel at how a bird that huge, plain as a pikestaff to see when in flight, could disappear so completely once it landed near the willows.

I know I should ride on but a voice in my head says “Hello, a chance to
stalk a heron.”, and so I abandon the unicycle, hiding it behind a bush, and
decide to try to get close to the bird. I am trying to be as stealthy as the
heron, which is stalking small fish as it eases its way down the sidestream,
but herons are quite shy birds and so I fail to close the distance to less
than about 15 yards. It often changes direction, and I can only move when
it is facing away from me. The bird quickly has a success and I see it
swallow a small fish, maybe another gudgeon, catching just a glimpse of silver as it is turned in the beak before being swallowed. I trail it as it continues the full length of the streamlet, which is about 100 metres long. It catches one more fish, I know because I see it swallow, but do not see the fish. It makes several more stabbing attacks, all of which miss, I think, and finally reaches the main river, where it wades left and out of my sight. There are paw prints in the riverside mud. I would like to think otter, and there is absolutely nothing in my training as a tracker to say it is not. It may be relevant here to say that I have no training at all as a wildlife tracker.

I retrace my steps back to the unicycle, disturbing a gray squirrel. I think
it was just squatting in the nearby bush rather than making a serious attempt
to ride the 20". Gray squirrels are classed as vermin now in the UK. Tree rats, say some. Regrettably I have never seen one of our native red squirrels. Pictures suggest they are much prettier than the gray.

I manage more consistent riding from here on, there are far less bankside trees, and fewer other interesting diversions. So I have to concentrate on the unicycle, and I ride with ease the rest of the way. No UPD’s, no difficult moments, few wobbles. Oh apart from the bug. As I ride it flies into my mouth, causing an obnoxious tickle back of my throat before I manage to spit it out. It is a shield bug, green and brown, tough looking individual, and seems not to have suffered from the experience, horrible though it must have been for it. Would it have been more ladylike for me to have swallowed it? I wash my mouth out and drink the rest of my water quickly. I do not enjoy this one bit. Being at one with nature is all very well, but eating it is not.

The banks here are fairly featureless, manicured, with playing fields to both sides, but to compensate the river has far less junk in it, no shopping trolleys have swum so far downstream. The reality is probably just that, being accessible here, the river can be cleared out so much easier. Eventually I reach the main road at Parr’s Wood. The location of a pile of empty cans suggests that the nearby bars have considerable success in their attempts to vend a certain brand of Australian lager to kids from the local school. Maybe they just like the implication in the brand name. I know where I would site the next waste bin. Whether I would bin the tins or the kids is a harder question.

It is time to go, too many people around now. A family of 6 are walking towards me, the kids are arguing. One shouts abuse at her brother. He, raising the bar, bellows back at her, and so it continues, the volume increasing. The parents consider it all part of the sounds of the countryside. Oddly they don’t seem to notice me ride past. I cannot fail to notice them, as will most of the wildlife.
I ponder taking a different route home, but my legs, despite the easy riding, are quite tired now, too tired to ride back home ( and it is a considerable uphill from here) so I use my “phone a friend” lifeline to arrange a pick up from the car park. I could have walked, but would have had to run the
gauntlet of people asking whether I could actually ride the uni. I feel a
bit guilty for today I have done far more walking, watching and generally
messing about than riding. But the riding was non too bad. I had only three
UPDs, and aced most of my freemounts.

Nao

Well to be honest the link was more Amazon/Mersey rather than Amazon/ Ransome. But thanks for the kind words.

Nao

[QUOTE=TomBlackwood]
, No, sorry but I was thinking more Isaac Walton, as Martin Philippis said. However I looked up the Complete Angler in Gutenberg, and Walton was not the source of the quote.

Lovely descriptive write-up Naomi.
I too have had those fly catching moments.
Not very nice, are they?

Great write up Naomi.

I’ve been on a few rides recently and what has struck me most about the countryside this time of year is the smells. The smells of elderflower, cows parsley and something else which is thick and cloying too. I’ve really enjoyed the smells of spring.

(I admire you very much for riding early in the morning. I have never managed it myself)