It was one of those days when, as the newly risen sun, backed by the onset of summer, pushes aside whatever vast blanket of cloud threatens fragile moods, to reveal a promising field of blue – it strikes you: I need to head out!
This is a day for activity under the warmer sky, or rather, for basking in a rare lack of activity.
This is what I found myself thinking on a Sunday, before booting up, grabbing keys, gloves and helmet, loading my trusty rucksack with water, book and camera, and stepping out with directions to Cleeve Common loaded and ready on my phone.
I live on Bath Road in Cheltenham, so the journey was a comfortable 15-minute zip out of town and along quiet, winding country roads – perfect for riding this time of year – up to Cleeve Hill Golf Club, one of five main parking locations for accessing Cleeve Common. Jiffy stand out, bike switched off, leaning, clicking and cooling in the shade of the surrounding trees at the golf club’s parking area, I made my way past a small crowd of parked cars up to the cattle grid which gives entrance to Cleeve Common.
From here, it’s down to you… This isn’t where I say, Go here, Try this spot, Look out for this. Sometimes – at the best of times – locations like these are best experienced in their natural state and with few ideas and preparations. The way grass tries to take back each car-hardened track snaking through the common suggests that what is most powerful here is Nature, pure and (not so) simple. Golfers traipse from hill to hill, tracking wind-thrown balls from green to green. Runners pick out their ways, panting and warm with movement, cooled by the high wind. Families lead – or are led by – various breeds of dogs around the rims of the quarries, exploring the flats and the rabbit holes between buzzing hedges. Sheep, well, sheep just do their sheepy thing, idly lying in the sun, keeping an eye on their young and maintaining the distance between themselves and any curious human beings (yep, me).
But what about me? Well, apart from photographing sheep and the vast, stunning views from high above the surrounding towns, I went to Cleeve Common to find a silence between the healthy rush of wind, the metronomic soft tread of my own footsteps and the sights and sounds of the English countryside in all its early, simple, springing glory… I found all I hoped to find and more.
After an hour or two of this – walking, exploring, sitting and reflecting on solitude while reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet – after I had drunk deeply of the restorative effects of such wandering, I was ready to fire up the bike, return home and try to communicate the simple, local and free perfection that was the highlight of the day, the week, the – well, until next time…