I moved to Winchester about four years ago. Prior to this, I had been a frontline police officer for 25 years, living and working in London. Unfortunately in 2014 I suffered a serious head injury and following this, a number of other traumatic incidents. Over time I became very unwell, to the point I was eventually compelled to give up my job and sell my house. I no longer had any sense of who I was and experienced a lot of unexplained pain across my whole body.
I always enjoyed cycling as a young child and used my bike to do my daily paper round until I left home. At university it was the cheapest and most convenient way to get around. In those distant days, students were unable to afford cars. Only one boy on the course had a car, a Ford Capri … needless to say he was very popular! When I joined the Metropolitan Police in my late twenties, I began riding again. I worked shifts, so would often be starting or finishing at some unspeakable hour. My two-wheeled steed enabled me to get home quickly at whatever time of day or night, without relying on the vagaries of public transport. I found cycling a marvellous way of calming down after a stressful shift. I took great solace in the beautiful and spectacular architecture of the city ….the sights, the sounds, the smells, the heaving mysterious river and the sheer mass and variety of humanity. It was intoxicating.
After being in Winchester for around six months and not having been well enough to cycle, I took my hybrid ‘workhorse’ bike to Heather’s Bike Hub – then in the old Guildhall – for a service. She mentioned that she organised an annual Wantage to Winchester bike ride, a distance of 55 miles. She suggested perhaps I might consider doing it. This seemed completely fantastical at the time and I recall guffawing with laughter. However, I started going out for very short rides, initially Oliver’s Battery to Hursley and back, a distance of maybe three miles. Although in much pain, going cycling was invigorating and I noticed my mood lift each time. Gradually I cycled further and felt my body and mind getting stronger. One day I reached the Mayfly pub in Fullerton and was overjoyed. I eventually completed the Wantage to Winchester ride – a year after Heather had mentioned it. Buoyed by this I considered joining the local cycling group, Winchester CTC, but was concerned it would comprise fast men in lycra on expensive bikes. I thought I wouldn’t be welcome and unable to cycle at their speed. Fortunately on the Wantage ride I had met a woman who dispelled my inaccurate perceptions and encouraged me to join. I went on an ‘all-day, easy-paced’ ride and loved it. I’ve not looked back since and have met a wonderful variety of like-minded people, some of whom have become friends. It has been rather a life-saver for me, physically and emotionally.
Cycling has enabled me to heal and recover some of what I once was. My love of nature has been rekindled since returning to the countryside. I bought a mountain bike which enables me to have an even more intimate connection with the natural world. I never fail to be excited by a glimpse of hares boxing, or just nibbling quietly in a field, or a majestic buzzard swooping low as I disturb it from its perch, or a sparrow hawk hovering over potential prey, or meeting a solitary deer’s eyes in the dawn light.
I also enjoy discovering man-made imprints on the landscape … ancient churches, traces of castles, hill forts, sites of long abandoned medieval villages, prehistoric burial mounds, Roman roads, quaint and ancient cottages. Cycling enables one to notice all this and wonder and feel connected with our ancestors and the land. I am very fortunate to live in such a beautiful area with immediate access to space and air and nature.
When I moved here, many of my peers seemed quite shocked that I had cycled in London, believing it to be too dangerous. My perception is very different. The sheer speed at which many vehicles are driven round the lanes here is alarming and I felt far safer negotiating the city traffic where congestion slowed traffic right down. I believe that everyone who takes a driving test should be compelled to cycle as part of the test – unless impaired. It would give people insight into how vulnerable you are on a bike and perhaps encourage them to be safer, more considerate drivers. We are just flesh and bone balanced on two circles of thin rubber!
I know many disagree – and there are, of course, always exceptions – but I’ve found drivers of large goods vehicles to be particularly considerate towards cyclists. I can only surmise that it’s because they’ve been trained to a far higher standard.
Needless to say I can’t give cycling up. It helps me in so many ways and has brought me back some joy!