Monday, 15 June 2009

As daylight wanes

My cycle route from Stoke station to home is indirect but almost entirely off-road - a pleasant diversion at this time of year, certainly. On reaching Westport Lake I bear south east along the sheltered railway cuttings, a stretch that features three short tunnels. It's been getting on for ten by the time I make the journey, just as daylight wanes in earnest.

Infrequently, an unspectacular ritual - like my laboured homeward trundle - throws up an entirely surprising and beautiful sensation. The tunnels to which I refer have been reinforced with corrugated steel in recent years, and so are much reduced versions of the prolonged brick arches that once contained and channelled the billowing steam of blackened locomotives.

By day, they're a wholly predictable tale of lightly scorched tarmac, intervals of broken glass and hastily-sprayed appendages (though the greenways are fine on the whole). But in the half-light between day and night, you can't see the tunnel walls or the black surface beneath you; there's no time for your eyes to adjust (and I have tended to forego the lights since I don't use the road and the light lingers longer on the towpaths). You just pedal towards the horseshoe of light, visually dispossessed of all but the shining front edges of handlebars and spokes, until you emerge once more into the muted light and sleepy vegetation of the greenway cutting.

What makes this really compelling is that at least one of the tunnels absolutely teems with bats. Amid the gloomy chill they're all about you, coming straight at you - dancing, so it seems - but of course they'll never collide. And as you approach the shining tunnel-end, their intense flickering and dotting lends a vivid filmic quality to your own feeling of movement, especially when allied to the steady cranking of pedals.

It's a fleeting experience lasting mere seconds, defying easy description, but beautiful.

4 comments:

Stephen F said...

That is a good piece.

Shane said...

In the voice of Harrison Ford:

Bats, I hate bats.

Harrison leaves the room.

Heard the one about S-o-T as City of Culture, 2017? DCMS Dir. of Culture has encouraged a bid.

Meanwhile... said...

Shane - yes, but I'm trying desperately not to be cynical about what could be a very contrived and under-resourced flash-in-the-pan, if it ever materialises at all... kinda like a Cities of Culture: Division Two. But maybe it would be good.

clarewhite said...

I'm late to this excellent post. Just wondered - have you ever felt unsafe on the route? I've been a bit cautious but it seems to be getting more people using it?