BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

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

Posts tagged ‘night photography’

#365daysofbiking Station to station: Left baggage

Wednesday 16th February 2022 – The weather was stormy and unpleasant to ride in, and when I left Telford where I’d been working there was driving rain carried on a wind honed on Satan’s back step.

I decided to cut my losses, and hop on the train to Brum, then change for another to Four Oaks and ride from there.

This is a journey I used o do twice a day, multiple times a month, but since the pandemic made trains such a strange experience I only really travel on them one way, between Wolverhampton and Telford in the mornings. It was a strange experience – how did I ever put up with all that waiting around?

I miss it, I really do, especially the views, and the late-night feelings thing of railway stations at night I’ve written about before. Things are clearly a bit more normal now than when I stopped this time-suck of a journey at the beginning of the pandemic. Back then New Street in particular had become a hostile, unpleasant place with next to no commuters and very few services. At least it seems alive again now, and you can get a coffee.

It was while downing a double espresso to pep me up for the push from Four Oaks that I took time admiring the night view of metalwork, lights and machinery from under the access bridge on platform eight.

I’ve spent so much time here over the years, and I left it behind, barely noticing. It was strangely nostalgic and emotional to do the station to station hop once more.

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#365daysofbiking Bridge to my heart

Saturday 22nd January 2022 – The endless rain and murk seems to be coming to a bit of a break – and a cessation in this grim period is not a moment too soon, I can tell you.

Out for an evening spin on a clear but cold Saturday – maybe picking up a takeaway on my return depending on how busy they were – I decided to have a punt at photographing the Anchor Bridge from the canalside adjacent to the pub that gave it it’s name. This is a familiar muse to long-term readers, but it makes for a lovely, colourful night photo and really illustrates Pickle’s fascination with bending the dark.

I’ve always loved how this bridge looks so bucolic yet is actually on the very frontier between urban sprawl and rolling countryside. On the far side of the canal, flats and houses all the way through Catshill and Ogley Hay. Behind me to my left, the undulating fields and hills of Home Farm, Sandhills. Ahead, under that bridge, the houses on Lindon Road at the foot of Shire Oak, and Chandlers Keep, the site of a former foundry.

And at the still point, me in silence, listening to the noise of traffic, the wind, the odd instance of wildlife and drinkers filling the space between them with laughter and music.

This spot, this bridge at night are in my heart and soul. It is very Brownhills, and a part of my psyche. Bizarre, but true.

The curry was most excellent.

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#365daysofbiking Watchers of the night

Sunday 9th January 2022 – I’ve been riding with Pickle, my 15 year old niece, for years now, as followers of my social media will know. She was always reluctant to share her images and thoughts on this journal, which she steadfastly considered to be solely my preserve. Now she’s older, we’ve debated the matter, and she’s now content to take part – after all, she shares the same enthusiasm for the places we visit and all that they contain that I had at her age, that hopefully I’ve conveyed to readers over the last decade. Sharing this passion with a youngster is contagious, and renews my fascination – not just for the places, but for cycling and life in general. Now I’m getting older, this isn’t a moment too soon.

But also being a teenager, Pickle has a full social schedule and it wasn’t until quite late on Sunday that she was free to head out. She has a new camera at the moment, and she was keen to exploit the low light features, and try out some techniques she’d read about in her continual perusal of photography forums and the device’s manual.

We needed a place that had a good atmosphere at dusk, and was within an achievable distance. I recalled that Hoar Cross church is lit at night, and the Needwood Valley it overlooks can be magical at any time of day, but especially in twilight. I thought if we headed up through Lichfield, Sittles, Croxall, Walton on Trent, then wound up through Barton, we might just hit Dunstall at the golden hour, then over Scotch Hills to Jacksons Bank and Hoar Cross by sunset.

The ride was fast, but the countryside and lanes absolutely sodden. The weather was clear and chilly, which aided in holding off twilight. Sadly, the golden hour wasn’t really happening, and the sunset had more important things to do too; but as the lass reflected, this wasn’t that kind of day.


At Dunstall Hall – a place that’s seen a number of uses in recent years – it was interesting to see the deer in the gardens before the house, and that gorgeous church on the rolling hillside was as captivating as ever. But we had another church in our sights, and we got there on time.

Hoar Cross church of The Holy Angels is without doubt, one of the finest churches in Staffordshire, if not England. Sat in the middle of nowhere next to Hoar Cross Hall, seat of the Meynell Ingram family, it sits on a ridge above the Needwood Valley. It is absolutely stunning, was erected as a memorial to Lady Meynell Ingram’s husband, killed in a hunting accident in 1871, although like all great Victorian tragic legends, some of this is disputed.

My memory was correct and the church is lit at night by a very orange sodium light that really highlights the stonework of this remarkable building beautifully – but not only that, it picks out the angels watching over the slain hunter’s grave in a most remarkable way. We took lots of photos here, and listened to the owls unseen in the trees seemingly having a dispute. The atmosphere was amazing, and experiencing nightfall here was truly magical.

It was getting increasingly cold and we were hungry, so rode back – not on our usual Hadley End – Morrey – A515 route, but I wanted to find the keen photographer some alternate subjects on the way – so we turned southwestwards and through Rough Park, the Ridwares and Handsacre, where we took a photo break on that remarkable old bridge, redundant but resplendent, still adjacent to it’s modern replacement carrying the main road over the Trent.

Here, the lights of the Armitage Shanks factory and Rugeley really made for a good muse, but neither of us can yet atone to the view without Rugeley Power Station. A sad loss, something I never would have thought of myself saying 20 years ago.

We returned home up past Grand Lodge, Goosemoor Green and Fulfen, cutting across Chasetown to Chasewater, where Pickle had something she really, really wanted to try: I think you’ll agree her starry night shots are stunning.

A 53 miler on a surprisingly cold day in quite challenging road conditions: But a good ride nonetheless, and some great photos. Always good of the soul.

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#365daysofbiking Filling the space between then and now

Saturday 8th January 2022 – Surviving winter is not trivial. If you’re a lover of summer, light and green, the lightless, lifeless season can be grim – especially when wet. The day had been awful. We’d been engaged in keeping-busy activities: Pickle had been drawing for some project and I’d been fiddling with some electronics.

Late afternoon, as dusk fell, the rain abated and we decided to take a run out on the bikes to the retail park at Cannock to get some shopping in. The night was murky but the riding surprisingly fast and enjoyable.

We returned to Brownhills in the early evening, down a deserted Black Path. Pickle stopped to take a picture, and once more, bend the dark.

This mundane, little considered edgeland was precious in that instant, and she preserved it for posterity with the camera.

Winter, and bad weather is about filling space between the better times, and keeping a watchful eye for the small, beautiful consolations.

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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 Windswept and happy

Saturday March 27th 2021 – The long rides of summer are underway now, fittingly on the last day before British Summer Time starts.

The day was characterised by a very strong southwesterly,

There was some sun from time to time as I and a friend headed up the A515 to Hoar Cross, Newborough and over Marchington Cliff to Woodroffes, the lonely church on the hill overlooking the Dove valley and Uttoxeter.

From there, down to Uttoxeter itself, along the cycleway to Doveridge and over Roston Common to Ellastone and that gorgeous bridge on the frontier.

From Ellastone, the weather turned grey and rain periodically joined the harsh wind. But it didn’t matter: Up over the Weaver Hills at dusk, down Star Bank into Oakamoor and along Red Road on the Churnet Valley floor by night, listening to owls and enjoying the oddly now warming up air.

Home was via Bramshall, Loxley and Rugeley. A terrific ride of more than 80 miles that was totally enjoyable. Great to be back.

Interesting too was the Peli case we found chained to the guard rail by the Trent between Kings Bromley and Yoxall: An Environment Agency water quality monitor, it had sensors in the water, presumably monitoring particulate and runoff pollution from the demolition site of Rugeley Power Station. Great to see.

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#365daysofbiking Golden

Sunday March 21st 2021 – I felt better, and the day was bright, if not actually sunny. I got the daily jobs out of the way and headed out in the afternoon through Weeford and on the A5 to Atherstone. From there, I pushed up through Pinwall and through Ratcliffe Culey to Shenton; after that, over to Market Bosworth, Bilstone, Twycross and I managed to hit Orton on the Hill just in time to catch the sunset.

As night fell I returned via Austey, No Mans Heath, Clifton and Darlaston.

The sun came out eventually and rendered a magical golden hour.

A ride of well over 60 miles, it was thoroughly enjoyable and it was so glad to be seeing those little villages and quiet lanes again.

And of course, the beauty of a dusk skyline with a church spire elegantly punctuating it.

Great stuff.

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#365daysofbiking Light in the distance

Monday March 15th 2021 – I’m spending more working time actually at work now, and things seem to be getting more back to normal, albeit a different form of normal with social distancing and masks.

Things after the pandemic will never, of course, be the same again but as spring comes, and I find I’m starting to commute in light at both ends of the day it feels like the world is waking up again. Just a little. Infection rates are falling, less people are being lost and hospitals are less full with virus victims.

The vaccine seems to be having an effect and things look positive, for the first time in twelve months.

Crossing Catshill Junction on my way to the High Street in the dusk, I stopped to capture the dying light and reflected on what a difficult year it had been – but also, on how at last, there was light in the distance.

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#365daysofbiking Downtown lights

Thursday March 11th 2021 – Still very windy as I pressed home the following evening, once again battling a wind with an edge forged on Satan’s own back step. It was grim.

Passing Silver Street on the canal I was confused why Tesco was emitting not only the usual red, blue and white light, but also a piercing green, which the picture doesn’t capture too well.

It turns out it’s the traffic lights to let shoppers into the store.

If nothing else, they’re making for some lovely reflected colour on the choppy canal.

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