In search of spring

What’s the collective noun for a group of snowdrops?

I found myself asking the question as I pumped on my pedals on a climb by Sizergh Castle in the South of the Lake District, on my way to Levens.

I stopped for a few minutes to admire a sea of white on the roadside, amusing myself with a variety of names for them, but for some reason “a garrison” or “a regiment” seemed to be the most fitting.

Snowdrops have this helmet-like flower to them and cluster in groups, looking like a very tiny army. My mother submitted the best one, though: A drift.

February has really started to feel like spring. This is an odd thing to say; normally I wouldn’t be saying ‘spring’ until late March, but then I know the further south you go the earlier the seasons change.

Throughout the month, I have been riding my bike a lot, following the quiet lanes around my home in Kendal. My favourite local loop heads west out of Kendal towards the tiny cluster of houses and pub that define themselves as ‘Crook’.

Just as you pass the Sun Inn, you head quite steeply uphill. On Strava – the authority on random place names – this climb is simply called ‘Sun Inn Hill’. If I could rename it, I would call it ‘Daffodil Brae’: On either side of the road, the thick shoots hold the promise of the tiny orbs of yellow that will burst forth at the first touch of the spring sunshine.

From the Daffodil Brae, the road slowly ascends, passing the St Catherine Church which, confusingly, is open every Sunday except the fifth Sunday. I am unsure if this is a rolling fifth Sunday or suggesting that – should such a thing ever occur – any month with five Sundays is just exhausting.

Gradually, the Coniston Fells appear over the hill, but are soon obscured by the leafless trees. Once I reach Windermere golf course, the road tips down in an exhilarating downhill towards the lake. I head north, seeing more daffodil shoots waiting to bloom, as the road follows the lake.

Sometimes I pass Millerground and spy the friendly sign propped out by Fellside Coffee, joyfully advertising its plant-based coffees and baking, all of which made with passion which comes out in how good they taste.

Leaving the tree tunnel behind, I start to climb again. As I pass Windermere School, I always look left and never fail to be struck with awe as the Langdales burst forth on the horizon.

Until recently, the freezing temperatures and snow had turned the fells a glittering white. Loft Crag and Pike o’ Stickle looked more like the Matterhorn than a 700m high Wainwright.

Back on the road and the climbing is coming in punches, relentlessly heading upwards as I take a few sharp turns towards Dubbs Road. For much of 2021 so far, this road has been thick with ice, forcing wobbling cyclists into the dirt on the edges of the road.

Thankfully, I have been riding my Specialized Diverge for much of the winter, the 32mm cross tyres making little sections like this a lot of fun. I always look right here as the trees part, looking over the very Lake Districty fields; nature bordered by straight dry stone walls – evidence of our increased appetite for efficiency.

It’s easy to forget the largely treeless landscape when you are on the roads, so often are they bordered by a long line of them. Yet, often they are here as this is their last refuge, just on the other side of the wall from nibbling teeth.

Dropping down towards Ings, the cold air bites, the easterly wind that has so often characterised this last month bringing cold North Sea air to the UK. It makes the straight stretch to Staveley brutally hard, lips drying out in the cold wind.

Resisting a stop at More? Bakery is the greatest challenge on the ride. Often, if work calls, I wrench my head away from the junction but, when time allows, its easy to be drawn in by its devilishly good baking. Sometimes, the whole of Staveley is rich with the warm smells of roasting coffee wafting from Mr Duffin’s.

The final stretch to home passes through Bowston and Burneside initially rolling but becoming flat, allowing an easy pedal back through to Kendal before a final kicker over the brae to get back into town. There’s always one, isn’t there!?

It’s now 21 February. Somehow. Time slips through our fingers like water, even though normality seems to have halted. Many outdoorsy types are dreaming of adventures further from home. An incredible winter now a lost opportunity for the skiers among us.

For me, I haven’t ran anywhere near as much as usual. Injury continues to drum away in my foot, but we are on the right track now. Meanwhile, I have taken to the bike, finding a new love for it and the roads around me – like the one I have just written about.

Instead of making myself upset at lost opportunities – fells not ran, summits not touched, goals not achieved – I have turned back to the bike, exciting myself with new challenges once lockdown eases. As I write this, I am spreadeagled on the couch after an 80km ride through South Lakeland.

More than anything, I am excited for spring and the increasingly longer days. The curtain is slowly being pulled back and soon (hopefully very soon) we will move into the light again.

The daffodils are imminent.

Published by Ross Brannigan

“It is worth ascending unexiting heights if for nothing else than to see the big ones from nearer their own level.” - Nan Shepherd

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