Whatever I’m doing at the weekend I can guarantee one thing, it’ll be in the great outdoors. Whether it’s fishing, walking, wild camping or cycling, it’ll be somewhere as far detached from civilisation as possible. This doesn’t necessarily have to be miles away from my home town of Portsmouth, just somewhere rich in nature and sparse of concrete.
I used to be a keen runner, on a Sunday I’d go for my ‘long run’, my favourite route would start a stones throw from my house. It would take me along the shoreline of Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester Harbours. I’m lucky to have both great seascapes and countryside very close together and on my ‘long run’ I could immerse myself in both.
The most rewarding section of my route was through a nature reserve. I’d pootle along stumbling into potholes and tripping over tree roots whilst my eyes scanned the vista for wildlife spots. I enjoy all forms of nature and wildlife and as I get older it fascinates me more. During my run I’d often pause when I saw a bird that wasn’t a regular spot or that I couldn’t quite distinguish enough to identify. I’d bother Twitchers with their huge tripod mounted telescopes and binoculars for assistance in identifying a particular bird.
I was occasionally envious of the twitchers’ telescopic advantage to view these birds close-up and really enjoy them but as much as I enjoy spotting wildlife, traditional bird spotting had never really appealed to me. I like to cover ground and keep on the move. I was adventually forced to pack the running up, a string of injuries culminated in surgery to fix my left knee. A year on and I still really miss my Sunday long run. On the upside, I discovered the joys of viewing wildlife from my bike.
It’s great when you combine your interests and realise that they complement each other perfectly. A good long weekend for me would be to pack my panniers with kit for wild camping, fishing and an all round nature loving microadventure. I often plot routes that will take me through quiet country lanes or nature reserves, I look for a route that will offer a quiet wild camping spot well away from civilisation and in a perfect world be within reachable distance from a quiet cove, pier or harbour wall that I could fish from the next day.
As with everything in nature the best times to be on the prowl is dawn and dusk. I have the bike and kit prepped ready the night before, then on departure day you can wake and leave early with your lights on. I get out of town as soon as possible and take a stealthy ride down country lanes ready and excited for sunrise. This is a magical time! I love the real darkness before any sign that the day is about to begin. All of a sudden the birds begin to sing like someone has turned a switch on. It’s pitch black but they know the daylight is coming and it needs to be signalled so no one misses it. In those first few miles with your body warming up, your eyes adjusting to the light levels and the darkness beginning to break, your senses combine for a special sensation. All of a sudden you are tuned in to your surroundings and it’s just you and nature. Stop still or ride on quietly, just make sure you take it all in.
I wish this time could be extended. I’ve seen owls returning from their hunt, herds of deer have crossed the road in front of me. I’ve watched hares box and kitten rabbits play together. Badgers have snuffled the ground completely oblivious of me watching on, birds of prey have snatched their prey from the hedgerow a few metres ahead of my front wheel.
After a day in the saddle I’ll find a camp spot before the daylight is lost. I often ride on to find a pub for a pint and a meal. I then return to the chosen spot and pitch up for the night in the dark. On a good night I’ll sit still outside the tent with my headlight off. It’s amazing what you hear and how close wildlife will come. One night I camped on the banks of the fleet lagoon by chesil beach in Weymouth. I set up my tent and within minutes I heard something approach on the surrounding shingle, I shone my headlight and illuminated a large vixen fox. To my surprise the fox came within feet of me, I had some beef jerky and after throwing a few bits to her I gained her trust and was able to feed her by hand. I know this isn’t good practice but I realised she was this tame as she had more than likely been taking food from anglers fishing from chesil bar which is on the other side of the lagoon. It was amazing to see her this close.
I always wake early in the tent and this is a blessing as it lets you get up and quietly enjoy this time of the day, get packed away and either enjoy the sunrise from your spot or your saddle, either way, it’s going to be great!
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