March 25th – A long ride, 58 miles, at a decent average of 12.5mph saw me ride out via the backlanes of Stonnall, Buzzards Valley and along the canal to Kingsbury, then over to Hurley, Grendon, DOrdon, Polesworth and up around Seckington, Clifton and home via Whittington. It was a gorgeous spring day, with warm sun on my back, daffodils in the hedgerows and lots of surprises – like the peacocks in the garden at Footherley and the gorilla statue I must have passed many times, but never seen, at Lee Marston, outside the large factory that’s now an industrial park.

There’s a story there I’m sure.

Whittington Church is really worth a visit at the moment – I passed as darkness was falling but as can be seen, the churchyard is a veritable riot of daffodils.

A great ride that really cheered me up.

August 31st – I rode out via Canwell and Middleton to Middleton Hall for a cup of tea and cake, all the while in steady rain. I nipped down to Bodymoor Heath, onto the canal and up to Fazeley Junction. Back along the old A5 to Weeford, then home via Shenstone.

It was warm enough, and there wasn’t much in the way of wind. The roads were quiet and the riding fast; but it was very, very grey and very, very wet. The countryside dripped silently little droplets of grey summer sadness.

As ever on grey days, there was fun and beauty to be found; the architecture of the canals – not just the bold redbrick house, but the small lock-keeper’s hut with the chimney for a stove (how cosy must that have been in winter?); the Kingsbury lock flight and greenery of the canalside reed bed. Fungus is growing well in the damp, and those polypores were huge. 

Middleton Hall was as stunning as ever.

I just loved the hound tied up outside the cafe. He had an endearing way of looking at you with his head to one side. He was muddy and wet and had clearly been having lots of fun.

The red and orange spiny, furry growth on the rose stem that looks like a ball of thread? That’s a robins pincushion or Diplolepis rosea – a gall formed, like the oak galls by a wasp. 

I asked a few weeks ago why only the oak is bothered by wasp galls; it’s not only the oak, but mostly. Lime trees, conifers and roses suffer too. Here, a wasp lays 60 or so eggs in a tiny, developing leaf bud, surrounded in a chemical which causes the plant to mutate and grow this furry aberration, which is internally quite solid with cavities for the larva to hatch and feed.

Nature is quite horrific in it’s fascination sometimes. Find out more about this curious parasite here.

March 22nd – I’m a big fan of Middleton Lakes, the former quarry and gravel pit complex handed to the RSPB. Situated on the Tame near Kingsbury, these mixed habitat wetlands and lakes are a haven for birds of all varieties, and are now attracting bird spotters from across the country.

I remember this in the late 2000s and before, when it was an active site, with conveyors and huge machines operating; now it’s a peaceful haven. In the last couple of years though, work has been carried out installing flood defences in the form of walls and an earth dyke, which stop the Tame flowing into the adjacent canal. The work has been sensitive and well executed.

I noticed today, however, the site was a good bit more manicured than formerly; there are gravel paths snaking over the site, and the odd portacabin. What had once been almost wild seems to be being reigned back in, and I think Middleton Lakes are in danger of becoming over-managed, with little distinction between them, and Kingsbury Water Park adjacent.

This is a great place; I hope it isn’t spoiled.

August 14th – This bizarrely happy-looking former church, at Bodymoor Heath, near Kingsbury has now been converted into a house. It has a very striking, slightly mad appearance. I must have passed this building more than forty times, but I’ve never noticed it’s unsettling, almost human expression before. Well weird, not sure I could live in a place that odd.