The day before Christmas

Where do you want to go? I texted my friend in mid-December. We’d arrange to meet up for a day ride on Christmas Eve, one of the only days when our calendar aligned and gave us both a day off.
Let’s go to Monmouth.
Sounds like a good plan.
And nothing more was said on the matter until the 23rd of December when I realised we didn’t have a route ready. I grabbed my phone and began texting. Do you have a route in mind for tomorrow?
The answer was no. I quickly hopped on Google Maps and Sustrans and perused our options. There were a few possibilities, all of which had escape routes in case the roads grew too busy to our liking. I closed the maps and went on with my day.

My alarm rang on the 24th and I briefly wondered why I was doing this. It had been over a week since I last woke up without the sound of my phone instructing me night was over. Blurry eyed and half asleep, I put on some clothes, prepared breakfast, and went out of the house, all my movements well honed by habits.

As I pushed the pedals and wheeled myself away from the drive, I felt my eyes open and a smile rise on my face. I forgot about the alarm clock and let the hill carry me down.

In no time I was at the train station where we had agreed to meet. I was early, having completely misjudged how long it was going to take me to get there. I sat on a bench and waited, listening to the shrill call of gulls. I had missed it. I use to cycle almost daily along a stretch of the Avon river where the gulls mingle and dance. But now the path is closed and I barely see the gulls any more. My eyes darted from one to another. They looked happy enough.

My friend arrived, taking me out of my reverie. We chatted for a few minutes. I disclosed the options of route for the day, and without much care we cycled away from the city centre. The route was known to both of us. We’d cycled it before and it was easy to follow Sustrans’ signs out-of-town. We pedalled side by side, talking about this and that, conversations stopped because of traffic, only to be picked up where we’d left off as the roads became ours again.

We weren’t paying too much attention to the road and missed a turn. It didn’t matter, we weren’t racing. Back on track we soon escaped the city for the neighbouring suburbs. Other cyclists passed us by, everyone waving, smiling, and full of Merry Christmas. It was good to be on the bike.

We encountered a collection of signs where cycle routes divided and decided to follow the quickest one to the Severn bridge. I could see it in the distance and pushed a little harder on the pedals, eager to cross the river to Wales.

Photo by my friend

We cycled on and the bridge began to disappear from sight. The road was unfamiliar, our previous foray into Wales having been via the longer route to the bridge. Since neither of us have a cycling computer we couldn’t say how long we’d been cycling since the sign to the bridge, but it felt like it’d been too long.

‘Do you recognise this route,’ I asked, knowing that my friends had cycled to Wales more than I have.
‘No.’
‘I think we missed a turning and are now going to Gloucester.’
We stopped and checked our phones. The bridge was south of the blue dot on Google Maps.
‘Let’s go to Gloucester then.’

We jumped back onto the saddle and followed the road ahead. It was easy to change decision. Monmouth had after all been an arbitrary choice of destination. All we wanted was a ride and we were getting one. Free of worry, we carried on, guided by Sustrans peppered signs in the countryside. Some of them were peeling of, others had faded completely and we took a few wrong turns as a result. It still didn’t matter.

We kept chatting about projects finished, projects to come, plans for the new year, features of the landscape, and this and that. The weather was grey over our heads but sometimes a break in the clouds would bring a spot of blue sky, a reminder that beneath the clouds, lay the promise of sunshine.

‘Bristol!’ I pointed ahead to the sign visible in the break between hedges. ‘Bristol, A38.’ I added as the sign became more visible.
We paused in front of the four lane road. We had clearly taken another wrong turn. Looking at our phone, Gloucester was still a good 11 miles away. It wasn’t that far but we were both starting to feel our appetite growing. I tapped on a few keys and found a pub nearby. We could decide what to do there. We parked the bikes, ordered food and drink and settled at a table. All around us people were wearing Christmas jumpers, Santa hats, and smiles on their faces. Our hair messed up by helmets, and clothes sprayed by mud, we looked a little less festive. But the feeling was there. For both of us, citizens of the European continent, Christmas celebrations were supposed to take place that day. There was a meal and drinks waiting for us back in Bristol. So with our bellies full, we decided to cycle back home. Gloucester could wait for another day.

Photo by my friend

Navigating our way back was easy, we simply had to do the exact opposite of what we’d done in the morning, minus all the wrong turns. Only now the wind had picked up, blowing directly into our faces, making us push harder on the pedals even though the roads were mostly flat. We tailed one another, the time for conversation ended by the wind and emerging drizzle. I didn’t mind much. Since I went away cycling in the Iberian peninsula for a few months, wind and rain had become things that happened outside of my control instead of an annoyance on my schedule.

‘Look at those colours.’ My friend pointed at a field. The green of the grass seemed to glow under the fluorescent grey of the clouds. ‘You don’t get such changes in colours so quickly anywhere else.’
I agreed. The UK wasn’t many people’s idea of beautiful, but when faced with the ever-changing palette of the sky, I couldn’t help but think many people were wrong.

We seemed to cycle faster than in the morning and soon we were within familiar roads. I spotted a sign for Wales. ‘Fancy going to Monmouth now,’ I teased. We didn’t. We were getting wet and cold, the movement of our legs the only thing keeping us warm.

Hills appeared and we lowered our gears to rise into Bristol. Once on top, we shifted back to standard gears and freewheeled most of our way to the train station. There, we followed roads I see almost everyday, roads that lead us home. We put away the bikes, changed into clean clothes, and hugged a well-earned cup of tea. And as the dark and cold descended outside, lights and warmth engulfed us inside.

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A circular walk around Dursley

The summer holidays came and went in a frenzy of job applications, interviews, and finally a new job. There were also family and friends visiting, WarmShowers guests to welcome, and an album about Bristol to get ready for release in September. My outdoors time became limited to evening walks in the city and occasional drives out near Bristol.

So, late in August, during a regular visit to the library, I couldn’t resist grabbing Beyond Bristol: 24 Country Walks by Robin Tetlow when I spotted it on display. I came home, settled with the book and selected a walk. The choice of Dursley was easy. It was just far enough that I wouldn’t go back the following week but still easy to reach.

The very next day, I packed a day bag for my partner and I. We hopped in the car and soon left Bristol behind. City streets transformed into motorway lanes before narrowing into country roads. We missed the car park mentioned in the guide but found a spot in an unremarkable residential street. The sun was shining and it was easy to pretend summer was finally here.

We set off and left Dursley and its shops unexplored. Narrow lanes took us between fields, past grand houses, and finally into the open countryside. We ascended steeply on Cam Peak, as if to escape everyday life we had to exert ourselves and reach higher ground. We stopped for a moment on top to regain our breath and admire the views. To the east lay the rolling hills of the Costwolds with valleys nestled in their crooks, rivers, and copses dotted about. To the west lay the Severn estuary and the mountains of Wales. I stared at them, longing to be back on Offa’s Dyke Path but knowing it would be a while before I could meet it again.

We went on, descending and ascending until we reached the flatter ridge of Cam Long Down. Wales was still visible to the west and I fancied a wild camp in one of the recess of the ridge, watching the sun set over the Brecon Beacons. But it was early in the day and I didn’t have any sleeping bag with me.

We followed the path down, up, and down again. A couple advanced towards us with loaded backpacks and walking sticks. They looked like they were hiking the Cotswolds Way.

‘Beautiful day for a walk,’ the couple greeted us with a clear American accent.
We agreed.
‘Are you on the Cotswolds Way,’ they enquired.
‘Not this time no. We’re doing a day walk around Dursley. Are you?’
They were. We carried on chatting about the English countryside, the USA, and the plans they had for the rest of their time in the UK. We shared names and photos before finally parting ways, them comforted in knowing their destination was in reach and without too much uphill, us knowing we were just at the beginning of our day with plenty more uphill to come.

Out for a walk

We traversed a muddy copse to be greeted by the sight of a bench with a viewpoint. But before we could settle on it and consider lunch, a group of walkers arrived.

‘Beautiful day for a walk,’ they greeted us with a clear British accent.
We agreed once more.
With only a light pack on their shoulders, we didn’t enquire if they were on the Cotswolds way but chatted about the beauty of the local area. One of the man turned out to be very local and enlightened us on the best pubs around for a drink, a meal, or both. We took note for the evening. As the conversation drew to a close, they had inched closer to the bench, leaving us with no choice but to go on.

Our disappointment wasn’t long lived though as we happened upon Uley Bury, an Iron Age hill fort, within minutes of having left the bench. We settled at one side of it, our view made of trees, hills, and fields. Everything was coloured green no matter where we looked. Happy with this find, we sat down and unpacked our food.

Our bodies refueled, we hiked down the hill and followed the river Ewelme for a while. The going was easy as we followed the lay of the land chatting about this and that, watching the birds play hide and seek with the trees. We took a turn left and entered the village of Uley. We found a small arts centre adorned by a coffee shop. Tempted by the idea of tea and cake we considered stopping but time was ticking on and we still had a good five miles ahead of us. Soon the map and book instructions stopped matching the land around us and it became clear that we were lost.

We knew we weren’t too lost as Uley was on our route. We only needed to find the old mill. So we walked out of the small back roads in search of a high street. On the way we met a lady gardening and enquired about the mill. Unfortunately she had only recently moved in and knew nothing about it.

Defeated, we reached the main road and stopped for a minute. I assessed the map more carefully. I could see the road, I could see the path we were supposed to be on, and I could see a telephone box not far from it.

‘Let’s walk on, there’s supposed to be…’ But before I could finish my sentence, an old woman came running towards us.
‘I hear you’re a bit lost. You’re looking for the old mill?’
I closed the book and smiled.
‘Yes. Do you know where it is?’
‘Absolutely. You just need to go on this road and follow it until you see a telephone box. There’ll be a junction after that. Turn left, follow the road and take the first left. Follow it for a few minutes and you’ll find the old mill.’
We both thanked her, happy to have confirmation that we weren’t about to go horribly off-piste and that the telephone box still stood erect.

A few minutes on the main road to Dursley from Uley we found the crossing, the first left, the old mill, and a few metres away, our path. We were going through fields once more, going up and around electric wires before entering Coopers Wood, the path muddy under our feet, and our views restricted to trees. The path veered to the edge of the forest, the trees thinning to our left and opening onto the landscape we had walked a few hours earlier. It felt good to see how far we’d come and to know what the land looked like on the other side of the valley.

As we went, both lost in our thoughts, we happened upon a rope swing and couldn’t resist taking turns. Behind us, a young farmer glared at us with envy in his eyes. I hoped he would soon be finished with his day’s work and be able to enjoy the swing.

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the rope, mindful of the grey clouds inching their way in our direction. The woods ended replaced by the outskirts of Dursley. We stepped along quiet roads until the path veered under the trees once more. As we disappeared under their canopy, the rain began to fall. Grudgingly we paused to change into our rain gear, there was less than a mile to go. Soon we were back on Dursley streets, our steps fast as if to pass between the rain drops. But before we could reach the car, the rain intensified and made us run to the shelter of the market place where we had began the walk. We looked at each other, both with the same question in our mind.

‘Do you want to wait it out?’
‘For a bit.’

I sat on the stairs and began perusing the pubs in the area, the list of the local man we had met earlier still fresh in my mind. Unfortunately all of them where in the opposite direction from Bristol. So we headed for a Dursley pub instead. There was no food available, but we had a drink and a rest in the warmth while we let the rain pass before heading home.

Bonus video

Dappled leaves on the Cotswolds Way

Nature Sound of the Month – Final goodbyes and August round-up

Annoucement

As mentioned last month, August was the last challenge to be issued for Nature Sound of the Month.

A year has gone since the challenge was launched and the first theme was released. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to your sounds and sonic memories, but it is time to end this challenge. New projects are about to be launched and demand too much of my attention. I simply don’t have the time to maintain this challenge running.

With Nature Sound of the Month, I wanted to broaden your experience of the outdoors by asking you to listen. Too many outdoors challenges ask you to focus on what you see rather than what you hear. And while visuals can be stunning they are not always present, nor do they necessarily align with beautiful sounds. When you close your eyes, your perception of a place change. What was the best scenery can turn into nothing much, and vice versa. My quest open ears if not over however. It is simply undergoing a change of format.

I want to thank everyone who shared the challenge along the way and sent contribution, in the forms of recordings or words. It’s been fantastic to discover people’s interpretation of the themes.

I hope you have enjoyed the challenge as much as I did.

But before I close this challenge for good, there is one last round-up to complete. Here it is.

August round-up

Last month, the nature sound of the month focused on the sounds of your holidays and rest days. Here is what has been captured:

Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad (Return Trip)
Recorded by Vince Hancock.


Recorded by Jonathan.


Recorded by me.

What have you been listening to this past August?

#30DaysWild – Week 03

Make room for nature!

This is a cry from The Wildlife Trusts, urging us to remember nature and pay attention to it during our everyday life. Nature isn’t something to be enjoyed during our time off and lose sight of when we fall back into our daily routine. It is a home that needs to be nurtured and taken care of constantly. But this, is too easy to forget.

So this month, I, and hundreds of people across the British isles have pledged to be a little more wild. Here is what I chose to do during the second week. Catch up with week 01 here, and week 02 here. For daily update, follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

Day 15

I moved to Bristol in winter and at the time, the part of my commute photographed above was barren. It was a tangle of branches, the browns and greys of the barks mixing with the fences and buildings around. I could see robins dart about or stay still on a tree. And I wondered… How would all this look in Summer? It is like a tunnel of leaves, green overpowering the grey of the tarmac and engulfing the fences around. The buildings are lost to me making me forget I’m in a city. Birds darts in between trees but I only see them in flight, their homes and feeding station hidden by the foliage.

Day 16


When I’m at work there isn’t much time for nature. I have to get up, go to work, come back home, do the usual chores, go to bed, start again. But there is always my commute and lunch time. I may only have half an hour, but even in the centre of Bristol it’s easy to find a spot of grass within a two minutes walk. I have found one and it has become my lunch time spot. I lay down on it, eat my sandwich/soup/salad, and close my eyes. Or I pick up a book and read, because books are the best lunch dates.

Day 17

A day off brought me and my partner to Oxford. We meandered in the city centre for hours, not quite able to get lost in such a confined environment, but always escaping the bigger streets for narrow ones. Spires rose, yellow stones encased the colleges away from commoners, and all around nature made its home in the cracks of the architecture. As the heat of the day was not relenting, we retreated to the Thames and walked along the water until we found a quiet spot to dip our feet in and watch the natural world and humans go by for a while.

Day 18

It was time to head back home but not via A roads and the motorway. Instead, we drove into the Cotswolds, stopping at Burford for a long walk in the countryside. There were quiet tarmac lanes but also plenty of meadows and fields where I was free to take off my shoes and let the grass cushion my steps. I wish I could walk barefoot more often. We found a river and I took a swim before we had lunch by the water, the ducks always hoping for some of our food. We drove away but stopped again at the sight of another river. The water was very shallow but that didn’t stopped me. I jumped right in and walked in it for a while, the coolness of its water a blessing on such a hot day.

Day 19


Back to work, my everyday routine was broken by small birds on the cycle path by the Avon New Cut. I stopped my longboard and watch them attempt running away from commuters. I wondered what they were but work soon took over my mind and I dismissed the question. But on my commute back home, the little birds were still there, hoping about. I stopped and watched them for a while longer than I had in the morning. And it hit me. Those little baby birds are baby seagulls. And in that instant I realised I’d never seen one in my life, or had never paid enough attention to notice. Eventually I got back on the board, happy beyond belief at having seen and recognised those creatures we too often think as mean and ugly.

Day 20

Darkness was beginning to fall upon the city when I made my way home. I had spent the day at work and the evening at the Bristol Bike Project. I had seen nature on my commute but hadn’t paid more attention to it than usual. So on my way back, I slowed down and stopped by the river for a while. All I could hear was the distant hum of traffic and the slow rumble of trains. And there, above a bridge, gulls had congregated, all still and silent, a sight I could have easily missed had I not stopped to take in the evening atmosphere.

Day 21

The summer solstice has always been cause for celebration. When I was a child in France, musicians would take to the street and play through the day and night. If it was a school day, I was left free to wander the streets, following the notes that attracted my ears. As I grew older, Music Day became a small pause in the midst of exams, a relief that it would soon all be over and summer would finally begin. And then I moved to the UK, a place where there is no Music Day, not like in France anyway. So I took to spending time outside, immersing myself in nature. At first, it was simply long walks in London, making the most of the long day. Gradually, I began to escape the city, exploring the countryside and sleeping outside. And ever since it has become a tradition. On the summer solstice, I pack my bag and go on a microadventure. This time, I pedalled away from my front door and into Somerset (but more on that later).

Bonus video

For daily update, follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

#30DaysWild – Week 02

Make room for nature!

This is a cry from The Wildlife Trusts, urging us to remember nature and pay attention to it during our everyday life. Nature isn’t something to be enjoyed during our time off and lose sight of when we fall back into our daily routine. It is a home that needs to be nurtured and taken care of constantly. But this, is too easy to forget.

So this month, I, and hundreds of people across the British isles have pledged to be a little more wild. Here is what I chose to do during the second week. Catch up with week 01 here. For daily update, follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

Day 08


I am fascinated by rivers. I love to sit by one, watch the water slowly move and the wildlife make their home or visit its banks. The past few years, I have been lucky to live near rivers and make them part of my commute. So each day, I salute one. But not like a friend because rivers are dangerous. I fear water more than I fear anything else in the outdoors. Instead, I salute them like the ancient Greeks would have a goddess, with respect and a distance that can never be breached. The Avon New Cut (which is my current bit of river) is tidal, and one day, I will take the time to sit all day, watch it rise and fall to the whims of the sea.

Day 09


I was in a rush that day. There had been work all day, and then I needed to pop into the library before heading to a Women and Bicycle meeting. But always when I’m going too fast, nature reminds me that I need to slow down. Like this patch of wild flowers left by Bristol Cathedral. The grass has been cut short apart from one little strip. Bursting with summer colours, I could do nothing but stop. So I did. I sat down next to it for a moment and reminded myself that no life depended on me being exactly on time for my evening schedule.

Day 10

Having been reminded to slow down, I did just that on my commute the following day. I was happily cycling along when I spotted a red dot among the grey of metal posts and green of leaves. I pulled the brakes, got off the bike, and for a moment observed this ladybird. She just hanged there as the breeze moved the twig she was resting on (I can only ever think of ladybird as female for some reason). And for the rest of the day, I kept thinking about this insect. A reminder that once, I, too, had nothing better to do than lie in the grass and let time wash over me. A lesson I vowed not to forget and yet one that I keep having to be reminded about.

Day 11

I didn’t have to go to work that day. So instead I lazed in bed, listening to the radio before eventually making my way in the garden where the bike awaited me for a good clean. I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings until I finally took the bike for a ride. I didn’t go far, just my local nature reserve. The nesting robins were quiet and I wondered if I would ever hear them again. The coppiced area I had helped create was almost completely closed off by growing vegetation. Teenagers were lying in the grass silent as I passed by. A few dogs ran past, their tongue flying by the side of their mouth. And birds sang in the evening coolness. Everything was as it should be.

Day 12


The plan was simple: grab my bike, grab a friend, go to Abergavenny. So I did. Speed was not an essential. What mattered was to be on the bike, to be outside surrounded by nature, and to be furthered acquainted with my local area. We stopped to greet donkeys, horses, pigs, and alpacas. We watched birds dart in and out of edges, none in the mood to race that day. I saw swallows dancing in the sky and almost cried out of joy. Birds that had accompanied me on my journey in the Iberian Peninsula, providing me with endless shows, had been strangely absent of my landscape this year. I had missed them. We pulled the brakes on top of a climbed and observed the Sugar Loaf and Skirrid Fawr, peaks I am begin to recognise from my walk around Wales. And eventually we arrived in Abergavenny, my local area a little more named, a little more mine.

Day 13


How often do you stop in a park between work and home? If you’ve never done it, you should try it this month. It doesn’t have to be for long but before you get in your car/bus/bike/shoes/etc., try unwinding in a green space. Don’t get hold of your phone, simply watch the world go by and let work wash away from you. I promise you’ll feel better for trying it.

Day 14

The sun has finally arrived this week and so I got the longboard out once more. I love how it slows me down even more than cycling. I glide across the pavement and the landscape pass me by but it’s never a blur. Instead I see the white clover in the grass, the overhanging branch and the details of its bark narrowly avoiding my face, the sprout of grass in a concrete crack. It’s definitely a good way to get to work.

Bonus video

For daily update, follow me on Instagram or Twitter.