BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking
September 23rd - Labouring up Shire Oak Hill at Sandhills, a familiar crunch crackles under my tyres. The beech mast is thick this year, and it’s been a good year for beech nuts.
The husks are hard, prickly and dry as old bones; the little brown nuts shiny and hard. Some years, the nuts are fatter and more oily than others, and this is part of the growing cycle of the tree, not a factor of the weather. Edible but harsh, they were used as a substitute for coffee in wartime and gave their name to a chewing gum.
I collect a few, split them open with a pocket blade, and suck out the kernel, and chew them determinedly for the remainder of my journey. 
A palatable taste, not unlike a slightly sharp hazelnut. But it’s hard work to get a decent mouthful!

September 23rd - Labouring up Shire Oak Hill at Sandhills, a familiar crunch crackles under my tyres. The beech mast is thick this year, and it’s been a good year for beech nuts.

The husks are hard, prickly and dry as old bones; the little brown nuts shiny and hard. Some years, the nuts are fatter and more oily than others, and this is part of the growing cycle of the tree, not a factor of the weather. Edible but harsh, they were used as a substitute for coffee in wartime and gave their name to a chewing gum.

I collect a few, split them open with a pocket blade, and suck out the kernel, and chew them determinedly for the remainder of my journey. 

A palatable taste, not unlike a slightly sharp hazelnut. But it’s hard work to get a decent mouthful!

17th August - At Home Farm, Sandhills, the harvest seems complete, and the wheat in the top field has been harvested. The day before, the straw lay in neat rows; today, it had been baled into neat, cylindrical rolls.

I love to see this, it appeals to my urge to grab order from chaos, and always looks dramatic.

And with this, the season’s mechanism advances another notch - it can’t be a coincidence that the weather is now colder and more changeable.

August 7th - Closer to home, across the spread of Springhill and Sandhills, it’s harvest time. At Cartersfield Lane, wheat was ripe, and ready to be harvested, a process already underway at Home Farm, where the combine was sending up a terrifically dramatic cloud of cereal dust as it worked. Also growing on the lower fields of Sandhills, a healthy and verdant maize crop, now quite tall.

This does seem to have been a most favourable summer for the farmers, but I’m sure they’ll find something to complain about before long…

August 3rd - Still laying off the long rides for the sake of my sore foot, I had to run some errands and get some shopping in - so I headed on a sunny, but windy afternoon to Morrisons at Burntwood.

A lovely day, for sure - and the harvest at Home Farm, Sandhills, had started, but the wheat still wasn’t ripe enough. Hopefully, it will be before the next lot of rains midweek…

July 24th - Further on, at Sandhills, a fine crop of maize. Related to sweetcorn, it’s grown mainly for animal feed and seems a bit of a declining crop. That’s sad, really, as it’s fascinating. Already a couple of feet high, this may well grow to 4 feet or more tall, and is lush and green the whole time.

When harvested, a special machine is used that chobbles up the whole crop - seeds, stalks, leaves and cobs - into small pieces, so nothing is really wasted. 

This is one of the latest summer crops, one of the last harvested, and will provide this vivid green right into September.

July 8th - It’s been a while since I got a good sunset in the bag. I was tired. I had caffeine shakes. I was a stressed, weary mess. But Cycling home in this really sorted me out.

Divine.

July 7th - Working late, I returned at sundown and winched my way up Shire Oak Hill from Sandhills. I noticed that lots of trees along here are laden with developing fruits - beach nuts, acorns, pine cones and these, unusually abundant sycamore seeds, or ‘helicopters’ as we used to call them as kids.

They seem to be already ripening - but this is only just the beginning of July. 

Am I imagining it, or are we heading for an early autumn?

June 29th - Also showing well was the landscape. From the view down to Sandhills and Springhill over Home Farm, to the threatening skies over Hammerwich, the countryside looked gorgeous. Everywhere I surveyed was turning colour with ripening crops.

This people, is Brownhills. It has some remarkably beautiful views.

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 20th - Spotted on the way home this evening - red campion. Seeing lots of this this year; although named red, most of what I see is shades of hot pink. A lovely, delicate flower, this is growing in the hedgerow at Sandhills on Shire Oak Hill. 

The wildflowers really are excellent this year.

April 16th - It’s all about flowers at the moment. I was in Telford for the first time for a couple of weeks, and spring has come on incredibly fast in the intervening period. As ever, the bed of tulips and other flowers at Telford railway station is incredible - but the daffodils - now going over a bit - were gorgeous at Hortonwood. It was sunny, and warm, and the wind seems to be dying a bit at long last. As I ground my way up Shire Oak Hill late afternoon, I noticed the first Spanish bluebells in the hedgerow by Lanes Farm. 

This was worth the wait.

April 6th - Still not feeling too great, and with similarly dismal weather, I took a spin out around Brownhills late afternoon. I noted that despite the grey and  blustery weather it was quite warm, and the oilseed rape was coming on in leaps and bounds. At Sandhills looking towards Springhill, the crop was nearly in flower, and the fields towards Hammerwich weren’t too far behind.

They’re going to be gorgeous this year when the sun shines.

This must be the signal that winter was over. I told you that buying new snow tyres would stall a bad winter - and so they did.

March 10th - I love it when, for a short time every spring and autumn, my homeward commute coincides with the golden hour. Even more so if it does so during a period of good weather. This evening, I returned from Shenstone specifically to catch the station and two towers in the beautiful light, and hopefully see the sunset over Ogley Hay and St. Jame’s Church. 

Neither disappointed. I’m loving this spring.

January 11th - It was a terrible ride out, if I’m honest. Despite the sunny day, like Boxing Day, the towpaths and trails were nothing but slop, and I was covered in mud. I had several silly mechanical issues with the bike,  including a puncture (no, I haven’t put the tape in yet!). I ended up on a short, abortive ride around Burntwood, Hammerwich and Springhill.

Despite all of that, the sunset was gorgeous.

This one goes out to Trevor in Australia, who I’m told isn’t too well right now. Get well soon, old chap.

January 8th - I wasn’t expecting to be caught by the rain this afternoon. For some reason I though the rains weren’t coming in until later in the evening, and I was caught without full waterproofs. To heap on the misery, I had to nip down to Stonnall on an errand on the way home. It was wet, but not cold. I got soaked. 

Surely, this rain must end soon? I’m developing webbed feet…