A Time of Birds
Reflections on cycling across Europe
by Helen Moat
Read an extract
In A Time of Birds Helen Moat sets out to cycle across Europe, with her teenage son, on her sit-up-and-beg bike – aka ‘The Tank’. She’s not sure whether she is running away from the past or pedalling towards it.
As she cycles the Rhine and Danube through the days of unfolding spring, the sky filled with birdsong, she senses her bird-loving father is by her side. Increasingly, she loses herself in her surroundings and memories of a childhood spent in the outdoors of rural Northern Ireland.
Gradually, the natural beauty of Europe’s great waterways bring healing, as does the kindness of friends and strangers along the way. She feels a sense of belonging on a continent shaped by war and peace, peoples divided and reunited, a shared history.
But when the birdsong fades across the parched, late summer landscapes of Bulgaria and Turkey, Helen finds herself recalling the Troubles and confronting a suppressed secret. This is her life-affirming account of an unforgettable, if sometimes bumpy ride.
REVIEWS OF A Time of Birds
"There is more than one journey in this lovely, engrossing, book ... beautifully told, vivid in its colours and characters ... the prose twinkles and sparkles like birdsong ... a reminder of the healing power of nature, humanity and the active joy of slow, self-powered movement." Dead Deer blog
"This wonderful narrative of her epic mid-life trek across Europe with her son to Istanbul is harrowing and inspiring by rapid turns ... this pretty spectacular account of her childhood upbringing, 20 years after the Belfast Agreement, joins the small but potent library shelf of Brethren 'survivor diaries' on which sit such as Edmund Gosse's Father and Son and our own Max Wright's Told In Gath. Indispensable, heart-breaking, uplifting, beautifully-conceived and -written, Moat's contribution is of that standard." Damian Smyth, Arts Council of Northern Ireland
“Ideal reading for vicarious armchair travellers … rich in emotional flashbacks and keen observations … Moat is an exquisite stylist. Her unhurried, free-flowing narrative captivates the reader from the very first sentence … a thoroughly unputdownable travel book.” Vitali Vitaliev, Engineering & Technology Magazine
“Glorious … an inspiring adventure … humorous encounters and joyful times.” Tom Chesshyre, Daily Mail
“A perfect read for these times of isolation … a fantastic book.” John Toal, BBC Radio Ulster
“A stand-out work of honesty and integrity, loss and hope.” Alan Brown
“A prayer of a book. A hymn to the healing power of cycling slow.” Chris Dolan