There is something wonderfully invigorating about navigating the Wivenhoe Trail by moonlight and memory. The path follows the sometimes narrow gap between the River Colne on one side and The Sunshine Coast railway line on the other. At high tide in particular there are points when you literally feel squeezed in between the two.
In daylight the trail is at its best cycling away from the Hythe and towards the promise of the sea. At night it’s no different. Leaving behind the weed smoking stranger (whose aroma lingers in the following breeze) I pedal past industrial remnants, sleeping house boats and partying river bankers. Tarmac gives way to track and as the last of the street lights fades away I am plunged into an eerie greyness which seems to cling to my very being like an alien fur. A railway signal winks in and out of view, sending streaks of bright, uncomfortable, green across the estuary.
Totally alone I am unable to resist my inner Mr Toad. I yell ‘Poop, poop’ into the emptiness. In response my mobile bleeps in my pocket, shudders and is no more. (This is the point that the kindly badger, assuming he hasn’t been culled, would take the meek Mole aside and promise him that he would take me in hand!).
By day the landscape opens out before you – comfortably familiar forms and shapes divide the journey into three distinct phases. By night there is just this sense of space, as if you are cycling into a gaping abyss. The whole scene has a magical, almost mystical feel. The slate grey Colne slides by, layers of fog cling to the banks, all shimmering in the faint glow of the silvery moon. The effect is like a Hitchcock film. Dark, tense, moody. You expect the unexpected around every twist and turn of the path. I want to pedal fast to get through, to bring the jouney to an end, but caution insists you take care. One false twitch of the handlebars and an uncomfortable embrace with a tree awaits or, worse, a chilling bath.
There’s no Bernard Herrmann soundtrack tonight. Nature provides its own. A sort of silence which is never silent. The constant whirr and click of my bike, the breeze caressing the hedgerow and the quiet lapping of the Colne all create their own oral landscape which is all the more powerful in the glooming. Then comes the shirek. A loud bird call pierces the air and makes me jump. My right foot slips from the pedal, which whizzes round and clatters into my ankle sending me further off balance. I swerve dangerously close to the Colne and as the path twists again plunge under a canopy of trees and darkness. My heart pounding, balance partially restored, I dodge trees and bushes which appear to dance in my flickering, next to useless headlight. Shapes loom large, then vanish. The path disappears and reappears beneath me. A snow white cat, disturbed by my erratic presence rushes past and away, eyes glaring.
And then, an oasis of calm. The station lights pierce the grey, and like a lighthouse, guide me home. Happy to be there, but sad the ride is over!