Spacehoppers, winding country lanes and the kindness of strangers

Last night, sat in the Fino Lounge with cycling buddies John and Craig, we were reflecting on route choice and ‘winging it’. If unsure, went the mantra, ask. How true that is. I can’t remember the last time I asked a stranger for directions – and I ask with startling regularity – and got a rebuke. 99 times out of 100, these questions are met with a smile, a scratch of the chin and a detailed description of which I can only remember the first 30 seconds. This is precisely what happened to me yesterday, during a beautiful meander from the Forest of Dean and through Monmouthshire, returning via the ancient Roman town of Isca (latter day Caerleon) and the rapidly modernising environs of Newport centre.

Having debated some  weekend camping during the worst excesses of last week’s monsoon weather (on, off, on, off, ON!), we decamped to the Forest of Dean with some friends old and new. The sun threatened to shine. Rain clouds threatened to burst. Eventually the pendulum swung in favour of dry, sunny weather. The beauty of this last minute arrangement was the sheer liberation of it. One hour’s drive, yet a whole world away. The kids revelled in the freedom of the campsite, enraptured by the twin delights of spacehoppers and an outside tap, keeping them entertained in a fashion no X-box could ever emulate. Reluctantly needing to return, I jumped on my bike and pointed it in the direction of Cardiff.

I know my way back from the Forest of Dean in a car. It’s dead easy. Hop on a couple of roads prefixed with an ‘A’ before joining a bigger one prefixed with an ‘M’.  But it’s a different kettle of fish when you’re on a bike. You want ‘B’ roads and lanes, hedges and dirt, not slip roads and race tracks. So I winged it. Following the road to Monmouth, the sun to Usk and then autopilot home. Only once did I ask directions and true to form, there was a smile, then a scratch, accompanied by a lengthy hmmm, preceding a convoluted explanation.  I was on my way. People are – on the whole – helpful, willing and able.

The ride was fantastic. Lush rolling hills, the quiet sound of working farms, the regular chattering of birds. Three and a half house of rolling solace. I can heartily recommend putting your faith in your sense of direction and the sun. We live in the UK after all. Wilderness is harder to find than good road signs and local conurbations. So the next time you’re dithering over the absence of an OS map, park those concerns. Trust your instincts. When they fail you, trust the locals. Wing it.

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