#365daysofbiking Bending the darkness – a Pickle guide

Saturday 1st January 2022 – As we slid off the top of Honey Hill, down through No Man’s Heath, we flowed liquid down the lanes; but also liquid was the light. It was becoming magical, in that way some sunsets are tantalisingly transient: The low sun catches the haze, and lights the whole thing up. You feel like you are the only witness.

The trouble with such situations is they pass horribly quickly and you need to find somewhere to capture them before they escape into the aether of memory.

Fortunately Pickle was alert and spotted a great view to the west from a field gateway. There was a barn, some trees, an unknown spire, beyond and farther, mistier like Addlestrop, hills. And everything was in tones of gold.

The church turned out to be Newton Regis.

We took photos: All these here are from the young lady, not me. She distilled the atmosphere of the day so perfectly, no more needed to be posted. She caught the majesty, the fleeting instance. And then we hurriedly decided to head for Orton on the Hill, to catch the final light of the dying first day of the year. This rare, warm and gorgeous day.

When we reached Orton, not ten minutes later, the sky was dull again, and dark was descending. Such is the nature of these things.

We pressed on through Warton and Polesworth, former mining communities that have much in common with Brownhills, then through Dordon up that punishing hill to the A5. All the time night was tiptoeing in, seemingly leaving it as long as possible, almost apologising for stealing the day.

Pickle loves low light and night photography, and we share the concept of bending the dark. Before she really harnessed her talent, in the short period when I still had stuff to teach her about photography, I introduced the idea that night is more colourful than day in many ways, and that to share this and capture it, you have to look at the dark differently, to bend it mentally. Just as to see in the darkness one’s eyes must adjust, you also have to adjust how you perceive what is there. She’s been doing this for a few years now and the results are fascinating.

Birch Coppice used to be a huge coal mine, but like them all here, it closed exhausted, and with its communities similarly worn out there was depression and recovery. It took years to reclaim the pit site, and it’s now host to clean, silent warehouses and container depots served not just by the Roman Watling Street, but by the former pit railway. They nestle almost completely in a valley between Woodend and Dordon. You come upon it suddenly, and it’s a shock. It’s also a shock to emerge from it on a bike – again, up a punishing hill – and surface blinking back into the countryside you thought was lost.

She caught this in the half-night from the ridge on the rural-industrial frontier. It’s strangely captivating. Looking ahead towards Hurley from the same spot, skeletal trees before a teasingly pink sky give no clue of the mechanisation before them.

We rode at speed back through north Warwickshire in increasingly dark lanes. The night chill was setting in. We stopped at Kingsbury Water Park to wrap up warmer and graze sweet snacks.

It was not until we came through Footherley, barely a gnat’s cough from home, that Pickle signalled to stop. She pointed to the single streetlight at the junction of  Footherley Lane and Hollyhill Lane and indicated it was time for a breather while she got out the camera.

That streetlight has been a marker since I first rode these lanes over 40 years ago: Entering its halo of light has always been a sign of homecoming. She has encapsulated it perfectly, something I never managed, but not only that, she turned to look behind her. I’ll let Pickle explain.

Bob’s got ideas about things that we see and find. He’s got this thing about garden ruins, where you find a once neat garden or park and it’s actually more beautiful gone wild? Another of his ideas is what he calls bending the dark.

Bob showed me that night is often more colourful than day, but you have to look hard for it, and use what’s in your head to connect everything and see it. It sounds very silly but it isn’t.

Behind us at the single streetlight is Footherley Hall, a home for old people. The light from it was spilling into the lane, but also the transmitter, and sky. It’s a whole range of colour that wouldn’t be there in the day, and it would just be a muddle. But at night, the dark bends the way we see it and it becomes pretty, but a bit weird too. I really love that. 

Bob has some really strange ideas but if you think about them, sometimes they make a lot of sense. But only sometimes 🙂 

It was a fantastic ride. After a Christmas holiday with no decent riding at all, it had been so worth the wait. We were both renewed by it and the young lady recorded it beautifully.

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