BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

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

Posts tagged ‘pickle’

#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 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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