BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

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

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#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 Slurry up

Sunday 8th February 2022 – I hadn’t been feeling very well, and the weather was awful but I needed fresh air. So I did what I always do: Went for a ride.

It’s been blowing a hoolie all weekend, and Saturday was grim. I’d felt dizzy and nauseous and gone to bed early, and awoken on the Sunday with a piercing headache. Having tested negative for CV, it had to be some kind of cold. The only thing to do was down the paracetamol, don the waterproofs and go for a ride in the rain.

Driving rain and a headwind are never fun. Add to this the mud dragged off the fields onto the lanes by farm machinery and it was chewy, thick going. But it did the trick and at least cleared my head.

At Bullmoor Lane near Muckley Corner, it was particularly bad. I’m not sure if they should resurface this one or just plough it.

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#365daysofbiking Season of the sunset

Sunday 6th February 2022 – Returning from Lichfield on an errand, I caught a good sunset – not a brightly coloured one, although those always occur this time of year sooner or later – but the sort of dramatic, moody, muted skyline that bristles with what Simon Jeffes might have termed surface tension.

The skeletal trees of Home Farm looked stark and beautiful on the skyline of Sandhills, as did the trees meeting the sky in a garden at Lynn.

Winter does have its compensations, but they can be few and far between if I’m honest.

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#365daysofbiking Don’t go

Tuesday 1st February 2022 – Kings Hill Park, Darlaston: A sunny, late winter day and that curious golden hour you get at about 2pm only at this time of year.

The crocuses are up, and so are a few (but only a few) snowdrops. How welcome the sight, how they filled me with joy – and what promise of a new year they bring.

It’s been a dull and unpleasant winter. But this must surely herald a decent year.

Please flowers, even if the weather turns again, don’t go. You are my hope.

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#365daysofbiking What makes this mine

Thursday 27th January 2022 – On my way home from work in Darlaston, I stopped in Pleck, one of the most ethnically diverse areas of Walsall to get some shopping in from one of the best international supermarkets around.

Within, I took my pick of staples and treats from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Jamaican, African and Arabic cuisines and foodstuffs, and as usual, came out with loads more than intended. I love that store.

Standing on the car park, I noticed the remnants of daylight had turned the sky a gorgeous colour in that transition from light to dark, and the skyline was  as diverse and colourful as the contents of my bulging panniers.

People knock Walsall and the Black Country relentlessly; people with divisive intent spew hatred about the diverse communities and drive poisoned wedges into any available fissure. But it’s precisely the disparate, chaotic and multi-faceted nature of this place that makes me feel at home. It’s what I love: The food, the people, the history, the complete chaos of the built environment around me.

Here are my people and this is my place… Wherever they are from.

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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 Shades of grey, shades of blue

Sunday 16th January 2022 – I was planning on a longer ride, but I got bogged down in changing my tyres. I’m still experimenting with studless winter specific ones, but wasn’t happy with the current set and had been given some Pirelli to try. By the time I’d changed them, and sorted other maintenance matters arising, there was little left of daylight; but it didn’t matter much because rather than being bright and pleasant as forecast, the weather was cold and grey.

I slid out for a tentative test ride in the twilight, heavy hearted – I’d been looking forward to a decent ride all week and it just hadn’t happened. The tyres, thankfully, felt much better: Even after this short 13 miler I felt I had more trust in them.

I did a speedy loop of Stonnall, Footherley, Shenstone, Wall, Pipehill and Hammerwich. The weather was very cold and closing in, and the atmosphere felt hostile. Riding was hard work, and my hands were cold.

I stopped at the top of Pipe Hill; to record a darkening Lichfield, the sprawl of which has slowly edged towards Pipe Hill in the four decades I’ve cycled here. Where there is now a large Waitrose supermarket, there was once fields, a small hospital and a cricket ground. The new houses are now spreading up Deans Slade towards Aldershawe and Harehurst Hill.

It’s sad, but that’s progress and I don’t lament these things: Such is wasted energy, as they can’t be changed or retained, and time will continue to march on. The spires I marvelled at as a boy are still there, and the impact of that view on me is just as great as it always was, I could study it for hours, even in this bitter chill.

I felt a little blue in this grey landscape. There was little sign this evening of the premature spring we found at New Year, and longer days and warmth seemed impossibly far away from me in the here and now. Whilst the view and the lanes were lovely, today they didn’t soothe me, they just made me long for better days.

They will, of course, arrive: And not a moment too soon.

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#365daysofbiking On the skyline

Thursday 13th January 2022 – Crossing Chasewater on an errand I’d deliberately held back until sunset, my studied tardiness was rewarded handsomely.

Chasewater is the best place locally to catch a sunset, and the gull roost was massive with thousands of birds too, so the spectacle was twofold. The deer were out on the North Heath and obliged beautifully.

I’ve said this many times and I’ll continue to do so: This place is beautiful. But you have to want to see it, and actively go look. Had I not had one eye to the skies I’d never have seen this.

There’s nowhere I’d rather have been than here, this night.

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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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