BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

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

Posts tagged ‘365daysofbiking’

#365daysofbiking Rituals

Tuesday 4th January 2022 – This journal has never been about anything at all if it hasn’t been about watching the seasons change, and the anticipation of better days.

One ritual post I have made probably every year here is the photo of the first patch of daffodil shoots I come upon, in this case on a grass verge outside my workplace on a Darlaston industrial estate.

I say it every year. Because it needs saying. They know the light is coming. They have awoken, and are growing. Hang in there folks, spring will come and the daffodils are telling us not to give up hope.

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#365daysofbiking Back to earth

Sunday 2nd January 2022 – The warmth and fine weather departed as suddenly as it arrived, in the way that saviours generally do.

On an errand displaced from New Year’s Eve, I was in Lichfield during a sunset break in the rain. It was cold, and still windy. I went for the Lichfeldian photographer’s cliche: The Cathedral across Stowe Pool. It rewarded me suitably, with a moody, dark sunset.

I wonder what was happening in the single lit room before the Cathedral. Perhaps there was a lone cleric, forlornly asking the management for another blessed burst of better weather.

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#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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#365daysofbiking A day out of time

1st January 2021 – A ride out with Pickle on the oddest, most lovely New Year’s Day I’ve ever known. Sixty-five miles of absolute, total restorative riding. And not a moment too soon.

We set out early afternoon on a slow bimble on a sunny, bright but very windy day, marked most memorably by the warmth – it was at times 15 degrees out there. Everything was still sodden, and occasionally we rode through floodwater, but on the whole, the roads were quickly drying out and everything was very springlike.

We rode up through Hilton and Chesterfield to Shenstone, then over Shenstone Park, which looked even more like the set of the Teletubbies than it normally does. We went on up to the old A5 through Weeford and down into Hopwas and Wigginton to Syerscote, Clifton, Honey Hill, No Mans Heath, Austrey, Orton, Warton, Polesworth, Birch Coppice and Hurley. We came back up through Kingsbury Water Park, Bodymoor Heath and Carroway Head, Woodend and Stonnall.

The other thing that marked the day is that the normally grey and colourless light of this time of year was temporarily replaced by bright greens and a feeling of spring. It’s like all the time we were inside, or getting wet, we were earning this day: this ride. It was fabulous to be out in.

Pickle noted particularly the swans grazing on some winter crop of brassicas, which is important. We can’t feed waterfowl locally at the moment due to an avian flu outbreak that his killed many birds. People are concerned the swans that normally live in our parks are not able to eat – but these refugees from central Tamworth have flown out to dine al fresco on what the farmland has to offer, and as Pickle said, they seemed very socially distanced.

Clifton Hall continued to bewilder – the twin, red brick, foursquare mansions that were apparently intended to be one, but the wings were built first, and the central part never completed. Pickle observed that it was probably a good house for a couple that were no longer communicating well, but still in love. She’s probably right.

I had no idea it had been derelict for many years and only refurbished and inhabited relatively recently.

You can find out about Clifton Hall here.

As we reached the crossover point between day and night – I love the concept of civil twilight – we laboured up Honey Hill, on the road out of Clifton towards the junction of four counties at No Mans Heath. Honey Hill is a hard climb, windswept, and generally a summer place: But today it was just right. The views commanded were beautiful, and the ride had really encouraged a spirit of optimism for the year to come.

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#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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#365daysofbiking A ghost of a chance

Thursday April 1st 2021 – Riding home late afternoon, I spotted this amusing tribute to science by local street artist Ghost on a canalside wall in Pleck, Walsall. It’s beautifully executed, and marks a trend of the pandemic often inspiring street art. I think if covid has done anything positive, it seems to have engaged street art and counterculture in a way that current affairs have generally failed to do for two decades.

But that’s a bit of a side issue. This post was suck in draft from April until Christmas because I was so undecided what to do with this journal. As I noted in my last post, I was tired, and ill. And not able to raise the energy to continue it at the time with the passion it needed. So I entered three quarters of a year of writers and creative block.

The reason for April 1st being significant is that on this day in 2011, I started this journal as part of the worldwide #30daysofbiking project, prodded into taking part by fellow utility cyclist and top Dutchperson Rene Van Baar on Twitter. 30Days was a commitment to ride every day of April. It still happens, and one thing that’s always amused me is that the organisers over in the US, upon hearing that I just carried the project on for years, showed nothing but indifference. I never quite worked that out.

I didn’t quite do a decade continuously though, over new year the following Christmas I missed two days due to a really nasty bout of food poisoning – but other than that, I rode every single day for a decade, and documented every day with a photo post (or occasionally, a bit of video). I’m proud of that. There are a lot of words in the archive. A lot of images; a lot of my life, and this area as well as others I visited along the way.

My first post was matter of fact, and terse. It took me a month to develop my style. You can read it here.

Since then there have been 6,955 entries, and somewhere around 11,000 media items – mostly images, but around 70 videos and even the odd bit of audio.

So with all that behind me, where am I going now?

…Nowhere, that’s where.

I’m just going to post when I have something to share. So it’s be less frequent, but I will be aided by a riding companion whom many of you will already be familiar with, who deserves a voice and to be heard too.

This means hopefully there will be less filler, and more passion. I think you’ll prefer it in the long run, And it’ll be easier for me to keep up.

One thing that has changed in recent years is street photography has got really hard. Nobody used to bat an eye if they saw you with a camera. These days, you get noticed. Curtains twitch. People ask what you’re doing. You half expect to be on the local neighbourhood watch group as a suspicious individual. So the new format will be probably more picturesque stuff I think.

I find that a bit sad but it’s the way the world is at the moment.

So, are you coming with me? Let’s ride into the blue together… Hopefully it’ll stop raining soon.

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#365daysofbiking Just this side of midnight

 

26th December 2021 – I will post a fuller explanation in coming days, but I came to within two days of this journal’s ten year anniversary on March 30th, 2021, and just stopped, because I couldn’t decide what to do with it.

It was a sort of creative block. At the time.

But it was a bit more than that. I was very ill, but didn’t realise it at the time. It’s taken most of the year to get past those difficulties both physical and mental, and find my ease again. It’s not been a comfortable journey. Part of it will be that the nature of this journal will necessarily change.

I still cycle, every day pretty much. But documenting every day was becoming hard. I’m a decade older. I’m well into my 50s. My health has not been great. When I started all this, I would regularly not go to bed until 4am and be up for work at 6am and be fine. Now, I don’t have that energy, and it was getting harder and harder to find things to photograph, and street photography has got harder. Again, more on that later.

Way back in the spring I was quite ill with my bowel again. This was making me tired, and getting that sorted at the height of summer was such a boon – but within weeks, while my immunity was suppressed, I caught a skin infection. My leg swollen, I couldn’t ride some days – not because of any pain, but because I couldn’t get trousers on. Sorting that out properly took until the autumn.

Autumn brought me a gradual, day by day recovery: Not just of my physical power, but of my sense of mischief and desire to explore things.

Then came the debate: How do I deal with 365? I don’t want it to die. It’s been a huge part of my last decade, and it’s probably the least-read but most heartfelt writing I do publicly. I don’t want to lose that, but I can’t post every day: It’s become repetitive, I’m not sure anyone’s reading it that much and It’s too rigid a format to say things I want to say now.

So this journal is going to change. But also, sort of stay the same. You’ll see what I mean in coming days, weeks, months.

As I type this on Boxing Day at just my favourite side of midnight – 1:30am in a darkened house – I post a photo taken from Ogley Junction footbridge 3 hours before on one of the most unpleasant Christmas nights I’ve known – heavy rain for hours and all was sodden, but curiously, not my spirit. I was full of a great family Christmas Day, and the subsequent evening pursuit of solitude for a while, also hoping to burn off some of the digestive load. It was, at least, warm. The nights are opening out. I survived a particularly vile Autumn suck. It’s OK. All shall be well.

One of the oddest features of this year is that although this journal withered, my passion for riding bikes actually grew to a level I’ve not experienced for years. Although I was sporadic for a week here or there, I’ve actually ridden far more miles this year and had many more long rides than usual. it was rediscovering that joy that helped make me well again, a fact I am certain of.

So here I am, just on the morning side of midnight, on the light side of the dark, on the well side of ill, ready to journey onward, but only documenting rides when I feel I have something to share.

Hopefully that will work for you.

But there’s something I have to do first.

Stay tuned. Please. And I beg you to accept my apologies. I didn’t want to let you all down. But something had to give. I have written a huge amount on this journal. I think I’ve earned a more relaxed role.

Stay tuned.

This journal is also on WordPress, where the pictures are in higher resolution and the search box works! Click here.

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#365daysofbiking First

Wednesday March 31st 2021 – Sorry for the grainy phone photo, but I found something on my way home tonight on Clayhanger Common that always fills me with joy.

First cowslip of the year.

I know cowslips will never win any wards for complexity or outstanding beauty, but these humble members of the primrose family are so gorgeous, and herald the spring like no other flower.

Coming as the daffodils fade, they assure you that summer is indeed on its way, and when I was a child, were very rare in these parts.

Thankfully, due to declining weedkiller use, improved habitats, and guerrilla seed scatterers like me, Clayhanger Common and other grassy areas are now awash with this wonderful wildflower.

Seeing the first one of the year is always a joy to the very soul.

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#365daysofbiking Surprises along the way


Tuesday March 30th 2021 – I’m enjoying riding back from Telford so much I’m doing something I’ve not done in years, really – blindly exploring. I’m varying my route to find the best one, and today, I had an extra hour to play with as I left early. So at Stanton Hill, near RAF Cosford, I took a dive down Neachley Lane.

My word, it’s gorgeous. A lovely, quiet, long downhill run through woodlands. I loved ever turn of the pedals.

Then, as I left Bilbrook heading Coven, Brinsford ways on, I was looking for a decent backway – they’re thin on the ground in this motorway and trunk road bisected area. I found one on the map – part of the Monarch’s Way from just north of Pendeford to Coven Heath. It crossed the motorway via a pedestrian bridge, and wound around the side of the Landrover Engine Plant, horridly called ‘I54′.

Skirting a building site, it was an interesting and worthwhile route – but the best thing was the surprise I found on the far side of the motorway: A huge solar farm.

It’s so good to see this sort of thing and I just love the technology of it. I stood and admired it for some time.

I’ve passed this spot many times on the motorway to Telford, without ever realising the solar farm was there.

This my friends, is what’s great about riding a bike.

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