BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

On a bike, riding somewhere. Every day, rain or shine.

#365daysofbiking Sky watching

May 16th – A day with little wind, beautiful skies and clear air, bathed in beautiful sunshine. There was nothing for it but to saddle up and head for my favourite haunts in East Staffordshire.

Heading out of Brownhills up over Shire Oak, a favourite view was captured, then through the lanes of Chesterfield and Shenstone, Weeford and Hopwas. From there, Wigginton, Rickerscote and Syerscote for one of my favourite lanes of all.

There’s something gorgeous about a summer day lane with open fields and no hedgerows.

I went then to Honey Hill and No Mans Heath, Netherseal, Lullington, Coton in the Elms and back through Catton, Whitemoor Haye, Huddlesford and Lichfield.

Not a massive ride by any stretch, but the skies and villages were perfect, and I’ll treasure my hours on these lockdown traffic-free roads for the rest of my life. I hardly saw a soul.

Times have been very hard indeed. But the sun and constancy of my beloved countryside is healing me with every ride now.

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#365daysofbiking Life’s better by water

May 15th – As I get older and older, I find it much harder to explain to those younger, or newcomers to this town just how much things have improved here since I was a kid.

This is not trivial, or frivolous: The town I grew up in was poor, suffered terrible pollution from industry and and refuse tip at it’s heart, the waterways were rubbish filled ditches and there were very few of the trees here there are today.

I grew up in a smelly, wildlife-free post industrial wasteland.

Now, the waterways are limpid, but full of life; the smells and pollution have all but gone. Everywhere is green with trees and hedgerows. I regularly see deer, foxes and all manner of birds and bugs.

On a sunny, beautiful Friday evening in the golden hour, quiet in lockdown, it was hard to believe what this place once was.

But the memory will never fade.

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#365daysofbiking A prickly customer

May 14th – One of the animals that wakes up at twilight is the humble and much-loved hedgehog.

Now in sharp decline due to traffic and destruction of habitat, it was good to find this busy character searching the grass on Clayhanger Common for worms and other tasty morsels.

Large and healthy, I hope the reduction in traffic from lockdown will give this unassuming but essential creature a bit of a much needed break.

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#365daysofbiking As the light begins to fade

May 13th – I have come to the conclusion over the years that my favourite time of day in summer is the hour or so straddling sunset. The twilight time is when the wildlife starts to stir, when people drift home and the landscape shimmers in the evening cool.

I headed back from Chasewater to Brownhills as the light was fading, and was reminded of how beautiful the canal is here: The green overhanging trees, the reflections and peaceful separation from the road traffic.

If the saying is true that it’s always five o’clock somewhere, then it must always be twilight somewhere in my heart, too.

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#365daysofbiking Ubiquitous

May 13th – It’s cow parsley time again: This prolific edgeland and hedgerow dweller is a member of the carrot family, and is plentiful everywhere I go.

Sometimes mistaken for Queen Anne’s lace or the truly horrible, much taller giant hogweed, cow parsley or keck is an innocuous, edible and some consider medicinal plant that tastes a little like chervil.

The white flowerheads make for a gorgeous, if very overlooked display at this time of year. A pretty and misunderstood plant.

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#365daysofbiking Stonnall rocks

May 12th – While visiting the shops in Stonnall, I spotted this smilestone in one of the planters outside.

Smilestones are a real phenomena – like the previously mentioned chalked games on local paths, they provide a safe, fun activity for kids and families, who decorate randomly selected stones and leave them for others to find.

This brightly coloured one made me smile, and did it’s job. They’re wonderful to find as one wanders about daily life.

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#365daysofbiking Scum

May 12th – Again, the local canals were thick with organic scum – not just the usual azolla bloom, which is still persisting but has mostly died back now, but detritus and dead bloom heads from sallow trees that border the canal there.

It looks awful but will soon disperse, and it just one of several reasons the canal forms natural organic layers throughout the year.

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#365daysofbiking These lanes are mine

May 10th – It’s been a long time since I was out this way, and it was wonderful to be back. From the old bridge at Handsacre to the rugged charm of the church at Hoar Cross, the afternoon and evening were thoroughly gorgeous.

It was lovely to see the wildflowers in that churchyard, with the bugle putting on a particularly fine showing this season. But the view over the valley and the residents keeping careful watch on me were all part of a fantastic, rejuvenating ride.

Most summers, these lanes are usually mine, yet somehow in the chaos, illness and fatigue of recent months, I’ve let them slip from my grasp.

It’s time to rectify that.

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#365daysofbiking A king’s ramson

May 10th – The weather was still excellent the following day so I decided to ride out to another of my great restoratives – the Needwood Valley and Hoar Cross.

On the way, I came through Hanch, the tiny hamlet between Longdon Green and Handsacre.

This small cluster of large houses is old, and there’s a brook flowing noisily alongside the tree-lined lane. In the margin between the two, a veritable forest of wild garlic, or ramsons.

The smell of garlic was strong and heady, and very appetising. This common wetland plant can be used as a substitute for normal garlic and is tasty in stir fries and can make for lovely jams and sauces.

I picked a little for later…

A treat for the senses.

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