#365daysofbiking The thinness of the air, and turning for home

31st December 2021 – It’s been a weird old Christmas. The weather has been the worst over the holiday period I’ve known in many years: Pretty much constant rain and drizzle for over a week.

The festive period is normally an opportunity for us to get out on some seriously nice rides – often in the lead up to Christmas, the traditional Christmas and Boxing Day rides, and there’s usually good fun to be had in the period up to and including new year.

But not this time. The ceaseless downpour has meant that although I’ve been cycling every day, it’s been for utility only; delivering presents or cards, seeing friends and relatives, going to the pub, getting shopping in or getting fresh air.

Every journey has been in waterproofs, and I’ve come back sodden. It’s not been nice.

But on New Year’s Eve, a day I usually hate, the rain stopped. The sun came out. But odder than that, it was warm. And I mean, really warm: 14 degrees. It was like spring out there.

I set off later than I’d planned with my young pal for a loop around the local area, as we had an errand to do in Lichfield, and another in Burntwood.

The riding was fast and easy: There was a strong wind, but frankly, it didn’t matter. Up over Stonnall, Thornes, and the backlanes into Shenstone – but as we neared the village on the hill, we realised something was different. The old, ruined thirteenth century church tower – a remnant of an older, nicer church before the gothic horror that stands today was born of Victorian hubris – was sheathed in plastic sheeting and scaffold. It seems to be undergoing renovation. This is interesting, as it’s been derelict for all of the 40 or more years I’ve been riding around here.

It seems that a group have got together, raised money and are renovating the tower to save it out of charity and community spirit. Yet again, communities pay for Church of England neglect, it seems. But the plan is good and seemingly very competent. Searching when we got home we found the tower has a website here which is pretty useful on history, but not on the future. For that, we found Lichfield Live had reported plans to add a viewing platform to the tower last March. To my surprise, these have been approved.

I do hope this will be open to the public periodically. I bet the view is incredible. I salute those undertaking this project – it’s remarkable. This has largely passed me by over the summer and is an indication of my failure to ride much that ways on last year. I must rectify the neglect.

Further on, we caught a fair sunset up at Chesterfield, between Shenstone and Wall – any sunset is a bonus right now. Pickle caught it well, as she did a somnambulant, subdued Lichfield. The bars seemed busy but the streets less so. As ever, the festive lights and night sky combined with the muted, orange street lighting to make a magic that Pickle was all too keen to capture.

Returning down the wonderful Chasetown High Street, Pickle noted that the Christmas lights were switched off, but it didn’t matter, as it’s always festive at night on the beautifully lit, inclined High Street. I don’t really know what it is about Chasetown, but it shares the phenomena with Walsall Wood. At night, it always seems much busier than it actually is, and has a lovely homely, soft glow to it.

As New Year’s Eve rides go, this has been the best for a few years. We both enjoyed the absence of rain, and the thin, clear air. Such a change from the last couple of weeks… But as we stood at Chasewater, with nothing but the sound of water lapping against the dam, we reflected on the year gone. It’s been hard. There have been times when I wondered if I’d ever do another long ride again. But there has also been great joy: Recovery, the longed for autumn long rides, the return to the outdoors, the sharing of moments like this.

So we turned for home feeling positive, and light with the optimism of a new riding year ahead. There will be winter yet, yes – but spring and the daffodils and cowslips. Long rides on the Moorlands and Peaks. Green on the trees and hedgerows. Summer days and cafe stops and ice cream, and even the odd pub garden. It’s all to come. It was impossible not to face the prospect with an open, happy heart.

Happy new year to you all.

Thank you too for all of your messages of support and encouragement over the last week. Dry Valleys summed it up when he said you cannot serve from an empty vessel. For a while, I was empty. But now… I am feeling somewhat replenished.

Thank you to the wonderful community that support me here.

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