The Journey

Invading England

I like to keep track of just about any riding I do that’s more than a jaunt through the city. So, here are a few pictures from last weekend’s ride out to Dyrham Park, near Bath. It’s a quick 50-or-so miles from Penarth, with most of the riding on the motorway and therefore not terribly exciting. 
But any riding is better than none.
Dyrham Park
I was happy to get out of the house. With The Long Dark now fully under way in Britain my annual depression has been growing ever more difficult to keep in check. I find it harder and harder to get out of bed. But on Sunday morning the sun was shining and with Jenn planning to have lunch with a friend I had excuse to wander off and do my own thing.
The first time I ever went to Dyrham Park was with my friends Jenny and Chris, who live in Bath. Not to be confused with the Jenny and Chris that are my wife and me. Indeed, this first visit came well before I ever met Jenn, at a point in my life that was terribly unpleasant; my first wife had just left me.
These pictures don’t quite do it justice.
That first visit came at roughly the same time of year as this one. I had taken the train out to Bath to visit with Jenny and Chris for the weekend, and we had gone to Dyrham Park for a walk. Jenny had brought along a flask (a) of mulled wine and some mince pies. The three of us sat on a giant log and consumed these winter treats whilst looking out across the wide Severn valley and all the away across to the hills of Wales.
So, it is a very special place to me. It is a place of healing, of remembering what it is that I love about the United Kingdom. And it is because of Dyrham Park that I am so religiously fanatical about the National Trust.
There were some deer hiding in these trees.
I was on the road by midday, zipping comfortably along the M4. Logic suggests that I should feel a little more apprehensive about hurtling along at 80 mph (b). But in fact, I feel pretty comfortable. Motorway riding actually removes a number of the variables one has to encounter on UK roads. There are no pedestrians or cyclists, cars don’t leap out from alleyways, there are no roundabouts to navigate, and so on. Generally, my biggest complaint is the wind. But on this day it wasn’t too bad.
It was rather chilly, however, and by the time I got to Dyrham Park there was a fair bit of ache in my hands and I was once again making promises to myself about heated grips. At the gate house, when I went in to show my membership card, one of the women there asked if I wanted to leave my helmet on a shelf, rather than having to carry it around. I almost wept at how considerate that was and in my head launched into yet another very long discourse on how much I love the National Trust.
Looking toward Somerset
I walked across the grounds taking in the autumn chill and the sight of families wandering around — two sisters racing each other, a little boy shouting in Italian, a brother getting stroppy because his sister got to carry a backpack, and on and on. Life. There’s a character in one of my books who says: “You put livin’ and dyin’ in a fair race and livin’ always comes out ahead.” I too often struggle to remember that truth.
Moments like these help. I sat on that same log I had shared with Jenny and Chris so many years before, and now drank tea from a flask I had brought, eating a Snickers and gradually feeling so much better about everything. I stayed there taking in the view until the tea began to test the limits of my bladder and the sun was setting.
Nos da, heulwen hydref.
I packed up, collected my helmet and got back on the road. It was dark now, colder, and I had spent the past several hours sitting outside, so it wasn’t long before I felt the need to pull off the motorway into a services, to get some French fries and warm my hands. But thereafter it was an easy ride home, speeding happily into the crisp, cold darkness of night.
“This is why I put up with all the rest of it,” I said into my helmet. “For moments like this.”
(a) In the United States we would commonly refer to a flask as a Thermos. Britons also use ‘flask’ to describe that same object that Americans think of, so you are left to guess the actual receptacle based on contents. 
(b) As always, if you are a member of UK law enforcement, please remember that this is an exaggeration. I am a good boy and I never ride faster than the speed limit.