12 June 2016
Our first port of call on The Common was Cemetery Lake. The last time I tried to visit it was back in December and the ground was so boggy I hadn’t been able to get across the grass to the observation area and the path around the perimeter was thick with mud. In the end I’d had to content myself with a Christmas card Robin sitting on the fence. Today the grass was wet from the recent shower but walkable. CJ and I headed for the gate.
The majority of the wildlife seemed to be on the opposite side of the lake, which was disappointing. A dead tree near the far bank was positively brimming with perching gulls. Behind them, through the shrubbery, Skyriders whizzed past. A few mallards and coots swam about on our side of the lake, looking at us hopefully. Of course, we didn’t have any food for them. There was a heron in the distance and some swans but they were too far away for decent photos. Near the swans some small grey things were swimming but we couldn’t tell if they were cygnets or more ducks.
“If the path around the other side isn’t too muddy we might get a view through the trees,” I said, not feeling all that hopeful.
Back on the path we passed the spot where I’d seen the Robin. He wasn’t there today but, in his place were some waterlogged dog roses. The trail around the lake was dry and firm but so enclosed by trees it felt like walking through a green tunnel.
As luck would have it, right by the place the swans were hanging out, there was a gap in the trees. We leaned over the fence and got a brilliant view of the large cob standing on the bank. The pen was swimming away from us towards the other side of the lake. Sadly, the small grey things turned out to be ducks and not cygnets at all though and there was no sign of a nest.
At the other end of the trail we came upon the Skyride again. Across the grass the city of tents was buzzing with cyclists and a few were standing about under the trees on the edge of the long grass. Music drifted across the field. We headed towards the tents.
We had to wait a while for a gap in the bikes before we could cross the path. We weren’t heading for the Skyride tents though. We were heading up the grassy bank to a gap in the trees that I knew led to the boating lake. This was the point of walking to the common. It wasn’t as easy as it looked. The grassy bank was slippery with mud and, if it wasn’t for CJ grabbing me, I’d have fallen.
It was worth the muddy shoes when we got to the top and saw the swans and their cygnets. They seemed to have doubled in size since I saw them two weeks ago at parkrun but, of course, I’d only seen them from a distance across the pond. Then I’d counted three but now they were right in front of us I saw there were actually four.
The cob wasn’t exactly happy to have us so close and kept between us and his babies. When CJ bent down to take a photo he got hissed and snapped at. Meanwhile the pen was keeping a close watch on one cygnet who’d wandered away from his brothers and sisters.
There are must be something in the water on that lake because, as we left the swans behind we came upon a family of ducks with their fluffy ducklings trailing behind them. Then it was time to head back towards the city centre and the Skyriders.
Soon we were back on London Road with bikes zooming past on all sides. Thankfully the entrance to East Park was a little less crowded than it had been earlier and we managed to find a gap in the bike traffic and enter the park. There were barriers everywhere and we ended up walking on the grass.
There were stalls and masses of people at the crossroads opposite the Guildhall. The marshalling HQ was behind there somewhere but time was running out so we hurried on towards Bargate to try to catch up with Commando.
We did stop when we reached New Road because we bumped into Kylie, smiley as ever, manning the crossing.
“How’s it been?” I asked.
“Great, apart from the bloke who got run over by a bike,” she said.
“That sounds bad. What happened?”
“He wanted to walk across the course and, when I told him to wait because the bikes wouldn’t stop for him, he said, ‘I’m not taking orders from an Australian,’ and walked across. Of course a bike hit him. Serves him right really.”
“I think I might have laughed, as long as he wasn’t injured.”
“He wasn’t and I did a bit.”
Now we walked down through Palmerston and then Houndwell Park. We saw a few friends and snapped away at all the pink t-shirts and said hello as we marched past.
We made it to the Bargate in the nick of time, just as the last cyclists were going round the course before the roads reopened. Commando was still manning his post and, sadly, hadn’t had a chance to ride his own bike round. Apart from a few abusive pedestrians he’d had fun though and, as we walked back through the parks together, gathering up more marshals along the way, he had a few tales to tell.
Back at Spitfire/Skyride HQ we finally caught up with John and Rachel who’d done an amazing job of organising all the marshals and making sure the figurative wheels ran smoothly.
It was only three o’clock but it had been a long day, especially for the marshals who’d been standing about since early morning, but everyone looked relaxed and happy. We lingered for a while catching up with the people we’d missed along the way or not had time to chat to. Those who’d managed to get around the course on their own two wheels had medals. Commando had a glint in his eye when he saw them but, luckily, someone had a spare to give to him.
The Skyride may have been over but the work wasn’t. There was still a great deal of packing up of tents and things to do. There looked to be more than enough volunteers so that was our cue to leave for the long walk home. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.
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