The summers sun still shines, but the post work ride will soon need some additional lumens as our northern skies darken.

With night riding comes a new sense of your surroundings, the trail becomes a tunnel, peripheral distractions are obscured by the velvet night. Trail features are held in sharp contrast, the head torch both helping and hiding what rolls beneath our tyres. This sharper focus has led me to some PB’s that have taken years in the daylight to topple.

I am comfortable in the dark, I spent years walking my labrador as a teenager in the kind of night that only those in the true countryside can enjoy. I walked in the dark for a few reasons, I realised my night vision quickly adapted to the woodland and I could see perfectly. I didn’t interrupt the natural flow of the woodland by disturbing the fauna with artificial light. And finally the cost of batteries would of eaten away the meagre pay packet from my weekend jobs.

That being said, once accustomed to the low light, you do see some strange things in the night.

On clear nights I saw on regular occasion pinpricks of light amongst the stars moving in controlled ways. Satellites move in a constant arc across the heavens, shooting stars burn a line of brilliant, but soon fading light. I also saw dots of light move then stop, then move in a different direction. Once I saw two lights move toward each other then make 90 degree turns to avoid colliding and then glide away from each other.

Lights in the Sky and big cats on the ground

In the dark your eyes and mind can play tricks, your black and white night vision is in the periphery of your field of view, the centre of your vision has more colour receptors and therefore needs more light to see clearly. Easy to think that there is something in the corner of your eye that disappears when you turn to get a better look. The mind interrupts the eye with what the mind wants to see.

I Want to Believe

But sometimes there is no mistaking what you saw.

On a night ride on terrain I ride on a nearly weekly basis I had an encounter with what you could probably call an apex predator. That is, if you are one of those people who know our hills and woods are home to such animals.

Having climbed a farm track I was pushing across a field to access a fire road and some single track on the other side. The L shaped field was usually full of sheep and I thought that it was funny that all the sheep had gathered in the furthest corner from me. Literally as this thought dawned on me I turned the corner in the field, looked up and was met by two pairs of feline eyes glowing back at me from the light of my head torch.

One pair was significantly higher off the ground than the other, we paused. As I took a step tentatively forward the eyes turned and bounded high over Broom and Gorse bushes, over the boundary fence and sat on the fire road behind the field. Turning, they stopped and watched me. Not processing what sort of animal I could have disturbed I kept light in their direction and watched the eyes and carried on walking forwards. The hairs on the back of my neck were fully on end when I found the object of their interest.

A full grown ewe lay dead on the ground, drag marks showed where it had been pulled from concealment from under the Gorse and Broom. The front quarters were untouched, no puncture marks or goring around the neck. The hind haunches where a different matter, a scalpel like precision had removed the skin, organs and a lot of the muscle tissue leaving the open cavity of this poor animal. Now realising that most likely the taller eyes had taken down the sheep, cleaned part of the kill and hidden it, before returning with the shorter eyes that were presumably her young. The adrenaline started to seep into my system.

The eyes  stood still, both pairs unmoving, watching me with their kill.

I decided, rightly or wrongly that turning my back on an ambush predator was a mistake, so for some unknown reason, I carried on walking towards them. I didn’t get far before they turned and slunk into the dense under story, I still kept walking towards them, struggled through the Broom and climbed the fence.

The adrenaline was really starting to hit now and I finally decided that a mother cat with young was not something I wanted to disturb. Flight had finally won out over fight, I have never pedalled so hard, for so long in my life. it was only a few kilometers to a road but but it felt like a full length time trial.

Maybe they were pine martins, possibly wild or feral cats. I don’t know, all I know is the size of the gorse and the steep of verge they jump in two bounds whilst clearing the fence means that it was unlikely to be either of those. Things are different in the dark but one thing is certain, something took down that ewe.

This post has been shamelessly inspired by a Mike Levy article on Pink Bike.


Scroll down for a photo of the ewe, don’t scroll down if you don’t want to see a poor dead animal.

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