BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

July 17th - On my return, I was held up by some rather familiar beaked* villains. This is Coulter Lane, Burntwood, just outside the farm where they sell asparagus. It’s a good couple of miles from Chasewater - yet these honking, hissing impediments to cycling progress are clearly the Chasewater geese - domestic birds set free some years ago, that generally hang around the boating lake, grumping at anyone and anything. 

Are they regulars here? Is this actually their home? Do they commute?

So many questions, so little time…

*yes, I know they have bills, not beaks, but it doesn’t scan as well.

July 6th - Sustrans, the cycling charity who created and ostensibly look after the National Cycle Network are really annoying me locally.

A few weeks ago, I pointed out the baffling signage south of Chasewater on the canal, which appeared to prohibit a good cycling route. Here I noticed similar confusion at the level crossing by Chasewater Heaths station. Face north, and the signage correctly leads you over the crossing, onto the cycleway past the Sportway. Come in the opposite direction, and it shows you’re on Route Five. Or you’re not. 

What the hell?

Get your act together, people; you’re supposed to be promoting cycling, not preventing it.

July 6th - I wasn’t in the mood to ride much - I had lots of work to do, so just popped up to Chasewater to check out the Craft & Farmers market, which again, disappointed. I shan’t bother with that again.

I spun out for a circuit around the park, and was taken by the buddleia, water lilies and various marsh orchids, which out here, unlike the ones near the canal, hadn’t gone over yet.

I stated last week that the flowering time was passing; but I was wrong. Things are still flowering well, just in different ways and different places.

This really is a most excellent summer.

June 21st - An abortive ride terminated early due to a silly mechanical problem I hadn’t got the tool on me to fix, but I still got 20 miles in. Over at Anglesey Basin, the swan family were contentedly preening together on the canal bank between the towpath and the water, and weren’t troubled by my presence at all.

Still seven cygnets, all growing well. Lovely to see.

June 15th - The flora was also showing well, and the blackberry and dewberry brambles are flowering intensely this year - so if we get a nice few days with plenty of bees and bugs, there should be another ample crop of blackberries this autumn. The lovely, paper-white flowers are rarely studied closely, such is their proliferation, but they are most delicate, attractive things.

I was also pleased to note that following the great marsh orchid massacre - where the plants I had been lovingly watching were mown off by a C&RT grass cutting crew a week or so ago - another abundant patch seems to be growing on the slope down to the new pond at Clayhanger.

I love those orchids. I never saw anything like them here when I was younger, and cherish them as a sign of how much better the ecology generally is around here these days.

June 1st - I took a mosey up to Chasewater to check out the second Craft and Farmers Market. It was larger than last time, and better spread out, but I was disappointed with the lack of produce. As a craft market it was OK, I guess, but I got a lot of feedback on social media after advertising the event on my main blog that this wasn’t a Farmer’s Market. I concur, and unless they get some produce, I don’t really think it should be called that.

It’s a fine effort, but it’s sad not to see more food there. Hopefully, things may improve as it establishes.

May 25th - A ride out on a grey day. I’d intended to get a good, long ride in but the weather had been pretty horrid and my heart wasn’t in it. I contented myself with a ride over Chasewater, down through Burnwood, out around Whittington and back through Weeford and Shenstone.

I forgot my camera, too, and so I had to make do with the phone - which rarely makes for a good picture.

At Chasewater, I noticed that the yellow ribbons for the Stephen’s Story appeal in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust were spreading up here, too, and were on cars, fences and gates around the railway. It was a nice thing to see.

This is a remarkable phenomena.

You can donate to the Stephen Sutton appeal here.

May 24th - There’s probably some fancy photographic name for it, but some days seem naturally high-contrast. Something about the light. I spun around very wet towpaths out of Brownhills to Chasewater, and noted that part of Sandhills was dark, and another part was remaining in light. It really was quite beautiful.

Newtown’s bunny population were out enjoying the lush wet vegetation, and could be barely bothered to run away as I approached, and the view to Hammerwich was as wonderful as ever now it’s wearing it’s summer jacket. At Chasewater, the view from the dam was remarkable, with a rather threatening sky. 

As I headed home, the heavens opened again.

But it’s summer, and warm rain is better than cold…

May 18th - I like it when things here resolve themselves and intertwine. Way back on April 28th, I spotted an unusual, willow-like tree growing by the canal I’d not noticed before. What snagged my attention were the curious, spiky, flower-like growths, and I asked at the time what the tree might be, and were the ‘blooms’ flower or seed?

The wonderful fellow cyclist Wilymouse kindly pointed out on the original post that the tree was Grey Sallow (or Grey Willow). I learned from a link supplied that what I had seen was the female flower of this tree; the male being the familiar pussy willows.

Check out Grey Sallow here, and the images down the right hand side of the page.

Moving on, Rose Maria Burnell sent me some photos this weekend of seed fluff blowing around Chasewater. Rose assumed it was from dandelions, and I think a lot of it is… but also, it’s coming in huge amounts from grey sallow trees - the spiny flowers I photographed have seeded and are shedding wind-born material into the air, and coating everything with fluff. 

The trees seem particularly dense around Fly Creek and the dam, although they’re all over Chasewater, and the atmosphere is thick with little seeds. At the creek by the boardwalk crossing, the water is white with seed fluff. It’s really quite eerie.

So, mystery solved - thanks to Wilymouse and Rose for the input!

May 11th - I came back to Brownhills through Chasewater. At Anglesey Basin, I noticed that someone has fitted a guard plank to stop narrowboats - often moored here - banging into the weir edge. It’s a rough old job; the wood isn’t treated, so won’t last long, and the grouting into the sides of the basin is very rough. I suppose it’ll do the job, though. Wonder if this has been prompted by a general concern or a specific incident?

May 4th - This is, as they say, boiling my piss. 

Pardon my language, but these signs have been put up recently by Sustrans rangers (who are volunteers) maintaing the cycle route through Brownhills. The aim is innocent enough, I guess.

The cycleway runs along Wharf Lane, onto the canal at the old bridge, then as far as Anglesey Wharf (fifty yards or so), then alongside the new bypass on the embankment, and on to Pool Road at the top of the dam. As a route, it’s crap, frankly.

Far better is to ride straight up the canal, past the basin and up the slope to the dam. It’s a fifth of the distance, on wide, well made tracks, and makes perfect sense. 

Likewise one can head to Brownhills along the very good towpaths and find a much better route than the Sustrans National Cycle Network one.

These signs only indicate that the route beyond this point is not part of the National Cycle Network, but they look like - and people are reading them as - cycling prohibition notices.

Why bother with them at all? The routes have functioned for 15 years without them. These are just a waste of time, money and effort.

Sustrans are supposed to be supporting and promoting cycling. This is a whole bag of fail.

Rant over.

May 4th - I was, to put it bluntly, shagged out. I slept well, and there was nothing wrong with my legs or body, but my eyes were sore and I felt weary.  Not the usual post-ride dehydration, though, so the new gels I was using must be working. The day after a century ride I normally feel hungover. Today, just jaded.

I nipped up to the new Farmers Market at Chasewater, and was pleasantly surprised; after the disaster of the Innovation Centre-organised Christmas Fayre with 4 stalls, this commercially organised event was busy, even at my late hour. It wasn’t huge, but there was some interesting stuff to buy, and I spent fifteen quid on various bits and pieces.

Only one snag - no real produce stalls: if this was a Farmers Market, the farmers didn’t know: I hope this can be rectified for future events - we have Big Tasties locally for meat, bakers and cheese-mongers, so lets hope they take a stall; if they do, tis market will be banging in no time at all.

I was taken with the basket hack on a bike I spotted locked nearby; serious thought has gone into that. Bit more needs to go into the locking technique, though…

April 20th - For an evening spin, it was pleasant enough; the wind was grim, but at least I’d fixed the problem with my gears. At Chasewater, the sunset was nice, but unremarkable, and I was surprised at how tiny the gull roos was. I could hear an owl calling near the dame, but I couldn’t see it. On the way back home, the sky darkened, and it looked very, very black over Bill’s mother’s.

Luckily, I just got home and got the bike in as the heavens opened… I do hope that nice spell wasn’t summer.

April 19th - The footpaths around Chasewater’s south shore have recently been resurfaced, and are, on the whole, lovely. Since transferring to the control of Staffordshire County Council on April 1st, certain local councillors have rediscovered the park’s existence and seen keen on turning into some kind of landlocked Prestatyn, and the council itself talks darkly of ‘returns’.

I fear we’re in for interesting times.

The new path around the boating lake shows off the goose and swan poo fantastically well, and I was cheered to note the return of the third white domestic goose, hitherto missing since Christmas.

She looked in good health despite what must be advanced years, and was very white and neat. Not as aggressive as normal, the geese ignored me and one remained resting in statuesque, one-legged repose.

These birds bloody hate me on the whole, but I’m actually rather fond of them. Long my they remain.

April 10th - returning down the dam, another sign of spring. The bugs have risen.
This isn;t a murmuration of starlings, or even a flock of sparrows. I don’t know exactly what they are, but the air was thick with drifting, buzzing, irritating clouds of insects that got in my hair, eyes and clothes.
Interesting how they all seem to emerge at exactly the same natural trigger point. In a day or so, they’ll be gone.
An annoying, but fascinating beit of nature.

April 10th - returning down the dam, another sign of spring. The bugs have risen.

This isn;t a murmuration of starlings, or even a flock of sparrows. I don’t know exactly what they are, but the air was thick with drifting, buzzing, irritating clouds of insects that got in my hair, eyes and clothes.

Interesting how they all seem to emerge at exactly the same natural trigger point. In a day or so, they’ll be gone.

An annoying, but fascinating beit of nature.