December 8th - I really didn’t know what to do with these photos. I spotted the deer in their usual place, but the unusually strong sunset made the images - which were quite long exposure due to poor light - an odd pink colour. I tried fiddling with the colour balance, but that’s not me and I’m not good at that stuff, so I made them black and white.
There were lots of deer about today; I saw fallows on the Chase at Shooting Butts, Lady Hill and Pepper Slade, but the photography was so very poor. It was also poor at Brownhills Parade, where I passed a large Red Deer stag and his harem in darkness at 5pm, loafing by the roadside.
Watch out for the deer if you’re driving locally. There isn’t a whole bunch of road sense, or any sense at all for that matter, in your average Red Deer…
December 8th - Not another bloody sunset? Sorry. They are very good at the moment, and I just seem to be out when they happen. The one today was incredible, but I wasn’t in a position to get a good shot. I’d gone up on the Chase, over Cuckoo Bank and Rainbow Hill. When the sunset occurred I was around Penkridge Bank, and couldn’t get a good view. But the contrasting blue-red sky was astounding, and positively lysergic, really fairytale stuff.
It was quite cold, though, with a quickening wind that was really quite unpleasant on the way back. The Chase was as beautiful as ever, and oddly deserted. I don’t know where the year has gone - can in really be the shortest day in less than two weeks?
November 3rd - Spotted at Birches Valley, a Haibike electric assist full suspension mountain bike. An extraordinary thing, first I’ve seen in the wild, it uses the Bosh bottom bracket based drive unit that seems to be the best such solution on the market. They seem to be a Raleigh connected brand, and this is about £3,500 worth of bike. Very heavy at over 21kg (46lb), I see little point in them, but the most astonishing thing was the owner abandoned this and went inside for a coffee without locking it.
To me, electric bikes are cheating. But each to his own.
November 3rd - Today, the season’s wheel clicked round another notch. The wind that so harangued me the day before had died right down, but the temperature had dropped, too. Today, I realised once and for all that winter, if not quite on her throne, was certainly waiting in the wings.
I left mid afternoon, with grand ideas of tearing up the Chase, but I was dressed too lightly and I felt cold and despite the sun, quite down in the dumps, if I’m honest. No reason to be, other than the passage of warmth and the advancing of the seasons; this time of year I always wonder if I have the strength inside to face another winter of dark nights, cold commutes and lifeless countryside.
I headed up over Chasewater and Cuckoo Bank, down Rainbow Hill and over Slitting Mill. A quick coffee at sunset, and back over Penkridge Bank. I saw deer, but it was too dark to get a good picture. Returning cold and in darkness, I felt a world away from warm, sunny afternoons. I was heavy hearted and my very bones ached.
I bloody hate this time of year.
October 26th - A sad day for me, the closing of summertime, and the descent into early darkness. The background susurration of gloom I now feel will not lift until the shortest day in December. Once things start to open out again after December’s nadir, I will feel better.
It was a day that didn’t work out; I left late and had to go to the cycle workshop at Birches Valley, up on the Chase. In my hurry, I decided against all apparent sense to take a shortcut over Cuckoo Bank. It was a disaster. The tracks were boggy and hard going, and once up there, the paths didn’t go where I thought they did. Were I exploring and not actually trying to get anywhere, this would have been great, but I emerged a good 45 minutes later at Wimblebury, way too late to get to my destination.
Instead, I headed up over Rainbow hill, down to Moor’s Gorse and back via Upper Cliff and Lodge Bank. The wind on the way back was merciless. I was glad to get home.
There was light in the darkness though, one last hanger-on from late summer; a single, beautiful foxglove growing in the otherwise dead forest floor at Parson’s Slade. Delicate, perfect and quite alone, I doubt it’s purple flowers will ever see a bee, but they did cheer me up.
It was a great summer, for me. I’m ready for the winter now, I guess. Bring it on.
October 6th - I returned to Cannock Chase as it was a much nicer day, and I still wanted to find those wonderfully photogenic fungi. Crossing the forest from Hazelslade to Milford via Birches Valley and Seven Springs, I saw lots of lovely things: the deer were showing well, the autumn colours beautiful, and some pretty good mycology. Sadly, though, the fly agaric were still elusive in all but the most tatty forms.
October 5th - I went up on the Chase for a short, late afternoon blast. I was keeping an eye out for interesting fungus, as that’s one of my favourite things about the season. I was trying to find decent fly agaric in particular, but all the examples I found were either old, badly damaged by slugs or very young. Other than those, there was disappointingly little. Perhaps I should have tried a less well-used part of the Chase…
September 29th - I escaped mid afternoon, and didn’t have long. The sun was out, but there was a keen wind, so I headed up to Cannock Chase. The colours were brilliant, with a hint of a beautiful autumn promised. I saw 3 muntjac deer at Stonepit Green, and a herd of 30-40 fallows crossing the road at Penkridge Bank. There were a few folk about, but off the main trails, the forest was beautiful and deserted. Rainbow Hill, Wolseley Plain, Abraham’s Valley and Moor’s Gorse were all gorgeous, and topping it off, a clump of wild cyclamen at Upper Longdon. Autumn ain’t so bad when it gets going…
August 31st - Autumn knocked on my door today, and I reluctantly let her in. I set out lunchtime for a ride over the Chase - after exploring Bevin’s Birches and the old quarries last week, my quest to find the remoter parts of this beautiful place has intensified. The wind - although no terribly bad - felt like it had been wrought on Satan’s back step, after the relatively still summer. It was chilly, too, and I felt the edge of the cold. The bracken is turning, the puffballs are growing well, and there is a hint of autumn everywhere you look, from the heaths of Gentleshaw, to the charm of Birches Valley.
As fellow cyclist @Accidentobizaro said on Twitter: ’I know autumn is fab.I do.Mists, mulberries, colours, walks, scarves, cyclocross. I know. But [weeps inconsolably]’
August 25th - One good thing about the coming autumn is it’s the fungi season. I love all manner of the mycology - toadstools, puffballs, mildews, moulds, brackets and more. I love the fact that what you’re seeing isn’t the organism itself, just the flower and that the parent life form can be huge and underground, with maybe dainty little caps showing. I also love the lifecycle, speed of change and development.
These examples were at Penkridge Bank, on Cannock Chase. Bring it on.
August 25th - Small tortoiseshell butterfly, caught out of the corner of my eye, resting on the trail at Cannock Chase. Such a beautiful little thing.
August 11th - It was hard going - I had planned a ride from the Chase, across Staffordshire to Tutbury and back, with the wind behind me. But the wind kept changing direction, and never found my back. Instead, I headed up the canal to Hixon, then through Newton and along the southern periphery of Blithfield Reservoir. The views and countryside were great, but I just didn’t have it in me today. It was a hard 40 miles.
June 2nd - Another sunny day, another journey to Cannock Chase. I’m really into the offroad stuff right now, and with new, strong wheels I’m a bit more adventurous. I cut over the Hednesford Hills to Marquis Drive, then over to Springslade for tea and cake. Hitting the wilds again, I stopped to reflect at the Katyn Memorial, and the thousands executed in woodlands like this in Poland on Stalin’s orders.
From there, I hopped across country to the Glacial Boulder near Chase Road, then down into Sherbrook Valley to Stepping Stones, then back to Dick Slee’s Cave and Rifle Range Corner. A great afternoon of empty trails, dust, sharp descent and breathtaking scenery. How I love Cannock Chase.
June 1st - Thrashing the daylights out of the bike up on Gentleshaw Common, looking for some lost local history whilst about it, I came upon this gorgeous display of apple blossom. If the bees get busy and summer feels kind, there will be an incredible crop here. Stunning.
May 27th - Today was spent cycling up to Cannock Chase via Chasewater, then over Shugborough and back down the canal to Tuppenhurst and back home over Longdon edge. The wind on my return was horrendous, and very hard work, but the sunlight and greenery of the rest of the day more than compensated for it. From atop the old pit mound at Chasewater, the view is stunning, and very hard to capture in a single image. The Chase has a lovely emerald jacket on, and the dandelion meadow at Shugborough was lush and gorgeous.
I was relieved to note at Hanch that the wild garlic, which seems to have had a fairly bad year, seems very prolific at the roadside. It’s the only spot this year that seems up to usual standards.