Cruising on we pick up signs for ‘Ushaw Moor’ and careen down a hill to a tiny bridge. Crossing the shining, slow-flowing Deerness, we are in a scene of classical beauty, of water meadows and woods straight from an oil painting. Even the East Coast mainline cutting along in the distance doesn’t detract from the view. A mother and her daughter, haloed by the sun, are picking their way through the sea of high, pollen-heavy flowers. There is the rich ground flora of red campion, dog mercury, wild garlic, bluebells, stitchwort and dog violet. When a train whooses past, bound for Scotland, butterflies stir and rise from the grasses: tortoiseshells, meadow browns and common blues flitting about like confetti.
All the way to Ushaw Moor, it’s the same story of rejuvenation. The trees – birch, hazel, holly and oak – have re-colonised the surrounding gullies and gaps, covering the land with remarkable lushness, almost seeming to grow more thickly over the scars of industry. The bike track is frilled with herbs and grasses that tickle our legs; we pass smiling cyclists, horse-riders and wandering couples holding hands, lost in the enchanting atmosphere.