Sunday, 9 August 2020

The Summer

On the fourth day of autumn (Lughnasa happened on Tuesday), summer put in a surprise appearance. In the north of this Atlantic island, summer had been absent for most of the past two months. And without a sick note, unless you count the tract that had been nailed to a tree down the road: ‘Repent for the days of Noah are upon us.’ Meteorologically, it had seemed to be true enough. We’d got used to a blanket of dark skies, cool northerly winds and squally rain. So the sudden appearance of the bright sun in a clear blue sky came as quite a shock. I put away my Vitamin D supplements, hunted around for my sunscreen, rescued my short-sleeved cycling top from the bottom of a drawer and went out for a good bike ride.

As usual I started at Scarva and headed up the canal towpath. The boost to cycling that lockdown gave has been continued in these strange beyond times. I’m glad to say that it is no longer unusual to see whole families out on bikes. Although, I’m careful when small kids are coming towards me on their little bikes, for they are often wobbly and unable to keep going straight on. But the only way to get better at riding a bike is to gain experience, and the towpath is a safe place to start.

At Portadown the towpath takes you almost into the centre, so you have to ride carefully. Along the path there will often be gangs of teenagers jostling one another, piles of broken glass (usually in the underpass) and a group of adults swigging cider. This is all concentrated in the last half mile of the towpath, and once these challenges have been negotiated there is only another mile of city streets to do before you reach back-roads and fields.

I followed the cycle route to Maghery, had a break and turned inland towards the Argory and Blackwatertown. These are quiet roads through undulating country, farms and small villages. In the fields contractors were cutting silage. A heavy mower is followed by a large vacuum machine that picks up the cut grass and blows it into the back of a huge trailer that is being driven alongside. But beware, the big trailers are always driven at high speeds along the narrow roads between the field and the farm. Contractors are paid a fixed price for the job, so the sooner they are finished, the sooner they can start earning at the next job. They take no prisoners on the road and drive their huge tractors at full speed, expecting everyone else to get out of their way. On a bike it’s easy to hear them coming.

I did a loop, almost to Armagh, and then turned back towards Loughgall. The drumlins are steeper here and covered with apple trees. It looks like it’s going to be a good harvest, for the trees are heavy with fruit. It was warm, around 26 degrees. Plenty of people were out working in their gardens. There are few little shops around here, so I stopped at a house and asked for water. They almost seemed glad to have an excuse to pause and refill my water bottle. After a break, I headed past Crowhill, a striking white house sitting on top of a drumlin, to rejoin the return route towards Portadown and Scarva.

On the way, I stopped for a chat with Lila, who lives alone in a small roadside cottage. Despite being 85, she’s always out working in her garden or painting the walls white or the window-frames red. She’s tough countrywoman who hates being idle. The sky was still blue and the sun remained strong. Portadown and the towpath were fairly quiet. I got back to the car at 6pm. It was still 20 degrees. I’d had a great day out, done 70 miles with over 2000 feet of climbing. And it had been summer all day.

 



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