Four years ago my partner and I arrived in the UK and, as with many new arrivals, had set up home in relatively close proximity to Heathrow. After converting what we thought was substantial cache of South African Rands into what was in a reality barely a wallet-full of British Pounds we quickly realised that we were going to have to forfeit the car. Now for a middle income South African family, a car sits at right at the foot of Maslow's hierarchy of needs alongside air, food & water. So we expected the worst....how did we ever expect to reach the dizzying heights of self-actualisation without this very basic need? Oh how wrong we were!
With the knowledge that we were going to have to make do with two wheels instead of four, we quickly adjusted. The school run, it turned out, was a gentle 300 meters journey of flat, quiet suburban back roads with one pelican-crossing... simple! The commute was straightforward and the bike was a great way of getting to school.
That all changed when two weeks ago we upped roots again and headed west out of London and into Bath. Having never visited let alone lived in Bath, we had no idea what to expect. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how hilly it was compared to where we had lived in London...a feature that isn't always immediately obvious when pouring over a street map figuring out the best place to live relative to schools. We soon discovered the best schools were at the foot of the hills, the homes we could afford were at the top of the hills. Another feature that we soon discovered is that the area around our house and, indeed the most direct route to school, is popular with drivers for whom brakes were clearly seen as an optional extra.
So it was with some trepidation that I set out last week with my 5-year old Ruby on our bikes for her first day at her new school. But we did not go blindly. For two days preceding the ride, we had poured over maps and recce'd the region and tested out a couple of routes. The night prior to the ride we had the eureka moment with the discovery on Google maps of a narrow cycleway that provided the crucial link between two quiet streets. We had our route.
I was awoken at the crack of dawn by an extremely excited, helmet clad Ruby, I suspect she had slept in it. Following the usual morning routine of chaos, we saddled up, bid Mum goodbye and headed out. A light drizzle did nothing to dampen our spirits and we were rewarded from the start with stunning views of a mist shrouded Bath into which we were headed. The planned route was just over 2-miles and downhill all the way.
Grinning from ear to ear, Ruby confidently positioned herself in the road. The route included an initial section of a ¾ mile through some very quiet residential streets during which we encountered but one car. Using a number of linking cycleway's we were able to slip from one quiet cul-de-sac to another and effectively avoid any rat-runners. Coming up to our first intersection with a busy road Ruby expertly positioned herself and after looking left and right and checking the road was clear and we were on our way again.
The latter 1-¼ mile of the route included a section of the new two tunnels greenway. A superb quiet space for us to ride alongside one another and chat about the important things in life, such as our favourite ice-cream and why horse poo is brown when grass is green. A little too engrossed in our discussion we flew by our junction and realised our error when we stumbled upon the busy Lower Bristol Road. A slight back-track of about 150 meters and we were back on route.
Fifteen minutes after having set out from home we rolled up at the gates of her school. Ruby was clearly buzzing on a combination of endorphins from our ride and the anticipation of what was to come at her new school. Jabbering away and hopping from one foot to another Ruby proudly stowed her bike up at the rack. A quick peck on the cheek and she was off.
No doubt I will be awoken at the crack of dawn tomorrow by the same helmet clad child.