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.

June 4th – Here’s to the dull ones, this that blend in to the background, and perhaps even those that are hated.

Nettles are prolific and fascinating – from the dead, non-stinging variety to those that cause sudden anguish and itching are everywhere – and they’re actually fascinating if you stop and study them.

One of the most important things they do is support the beauty of peacock butterflies whose larvae feed on these lowly-regarded weeds.

April 10th – I was in Brum early for an appointment and, on impulse, hopped on the train to Stourbridge and cycled home along the canals. I took the route along the Stourbridge and Dudley lines, through the nine locks, Brierley Hill and the Netherton Tunnel, then over to Smethwick, where I rode home through the Sandwell Valley and NCN 5. 

The Netherton Tunnel remains a psychological and sensory endurance test. I love it.

The canals and day were lovely – but I can feel the weather was just about to break. I’m glad I caught this last week; I’m rejuvenated and back in touch with places I thought were lost.

Good to see the peacock butterfly out and showing so well, and that heron was under the M5 at Oldbury: he was furious with me for spoiling his fishing.

June 27th – This post was inspired by top Pelsall geezer Matt Drew, who spotted a different clump of these fellows and posted a pic on Facebook last week, inspiring me to look out for them.

These delightfully spiky caterpillars are the larvae of the beautiful peacock butterfly. They really are rather impressively hostile-looking, but cute at the same time – I spotted them in a nettle bed at the top of Shire Oak Hill, near the old quarry there.

In summer, the adult female peacock will lay between 200 and 500 eggs at the very top of a stinging nettle in direct sunlight. 10 days later they’ll hatch, and the emerging caterpillars will spin a communal web-tent out of silk (see the top picture) which they’ll live in until large enough to leave; they live and grow in clumps at the top of nettles, and as they grow, they may move from nettle to nettle in a patch together as a group, before pupating separately.

They’re easy to spot as a dark infestation at the tops of the tallest nettles in a nettle bed. 

Male peacock butterflies are very territorial, and can often be seen attempting to chase away birds that may be coming near their selected nettle patch.

I’m glad I found some – and thanks again to Matt for the inspiration to look.

April 23rd – To be in England, in the springtime. I had to go to Leicester, and the patch of waste ground that so enthrals me at South Wigston Station was, as ever, a joy to the heart. Beebuzz and birdsong greeted me as I hefted my bike of the train in the bright, warm sun; peacock butterflies flitted about the lush flowers. Grape Hyacinth, primrose, gorse, dandelion. Performing for me, in this moment, in the middle of urban sprawl. A small wayside oasis, hardly noticed by anyone.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

March 15th – Hard to get a good shot of Hanch Hall, and today was no exception. It is, after all, a private residence, and it’s well screened by trees, even in winter. I did, however, note this fine fellow strutting his stuff. You don’t see may peacocks around these days… every hall should have a few.