Cabin fever. I lie in bed knowing its cold and wet outside. A stiff wind blows across the flat lands beyond the city.
I get up and decide that it’s now or never. No point calling anyone to ask if they would like to come along. I am happy to see how far I can go in these conditions alone for my own peace of mind.
The roads are nearly empty of traffic. The rain is with me from the start. I head over the bridge, past the football ground and onto the road that tracks the course of the Wensum. No cars, but plenty of families and pairs of joggers and walkers and yes, dog walkers.
After negotiating the empty cycle track around the park & ride road system I get up to a good speed for the gentle swell of Norfolk’s Broadlands. I stop on a lane to let a huge tractor and trailer pass. There is a family of three in the cab. The toddler, sucking a dummy squeezed between his parents. Cheery waves and on along the lanes bordered by denuded hummocks, once held together by hedgerows. Trees have been left here and there long these barren banks making the occasional oaks little more than ornamental.
I pass a field that carries a red hand-painted sign, “KEEP OUT! CONTAMINATION INCIDENT”. I keep cycling. Earlier I had seen a tanker trailer that was used to transport liquid nitrogen to fields. Nitrogen has been used to excess in Norfolk and is an environmental hazard. I look around me and see millions of leaves lying around that would naturally provide nitrogen at little cost, but perhaps more effort. Crop rotation would do this job too, but these are big fields and big farms, evidence of agribusiness on a massive scale.
Every tiny village has a church. All have slender towers. Artefacts from the time when this was England’s most populous county and Norwich England’s second city. The modesty of village churches suggests that there was plenty of competition between parishes for resources and so in a crowded spiritual market place every village did what they could, within limits to build something fitting.
I pass a sign post for Hanging Hill. The site seems to be a massive farmyard when looking from the T-junction. I decline the opportunity to detour. I think about the part Hanging Hill has played here while I pedal on. Was there once a hanging, or were they regular events?
Further on as the wind pushes harder I see a yellow blooming of oilseed rape. It is mid-November. There is no holding back the exploitation of the soil. When might it recover? No wonder nitrogen has been trucked in.
After a savoury snack and a pint of milk in Upton I decide that I must head back. It is colder, wetter and windier now. The sky is dark and I am chilled to the marrow.
I get home and take a bath. There is grit in my teeth. It has been a filthy day for cycling, but I enjoyed it immensely.