March 31st - A day of contrasts. I needed to get to a bike shop, and with Chasewater Cycles gone, I could only think of Swinnertons, up on the Chase. I set off mid-afternoon, and crossed Chasewater, expecting it to be heavy going; but most of the paths and tracks were clear, but wet, and it was full of people taking the air. Intermittently, the sun shone through, but it was still bitterly cold. On the west shore, the wind lapped ice pieces ashore like a jingling, glass tide, but overhead, a kestrel hovered, wheeled and hunted with the joy that only the wild in spring can express. I’ve seen kestrels hunting before from the foot-pegs on that pylon. Must be a regular vantage point for them.
Meanwhile, on the north heath, the heathland management team of nine employees were hard at work, managing the heath in their own, inimitable style. The cows don’t seem to mind the snow, and carried on chewing, munching and defecating to their heart’s content.
February 19th - A beautiful, sunny, frosty winter morning. I love days like this. It was cold, but the warmth in the sun was tangible, and felt good on my shoulders. In Little Aston, mist quivered in the hollows, before being burnt up in the sun.
A great start to the day.
January 26 - I’d prayed to Thor, the god of meltwalter, but not much happened. We had heavy rain, then it refroze; but skipping out mid day for a sandwich and a brew, there was a sharp ramp-up in temperature, and the thaw set in with some urgency. It actually felt tropical.
I had to admire the British stoicism of the picnickers with flask and camera. They didn’t even have a dog.
Even the sailing club got their boats out.
The riding was terribly poor; the ice on the paths around Chasewater was unridable as it was too mobile; it was like riding on pea gravel.
The bird life is booming at Chasewater; we recently had the largest gull roost in many years, with upwards of 10,000 birds, and the waterfowl on the boating lake are as persistent as ever. I love the domestic white geese and the way they hector me for food.
The water level continues it’s inexorable rise; on January 11th, the water was at 75com from the top of the scale, it’s now 64cm, a rise of 11cm or just over 4 inches. With the huge increase in lake surface area, that’s a immense amount of water.
The 9-foot pool has now joined the main lake through the new bridge, and it won’t be long until the water overtops the weir into the spillway - that is, if it’s allowed to.
It’ll be interesting to see the effects of the thaw.
January 23rd - The little camera seems to really struggle with light on snowy nights. I’m not enough of a photographer to make it work quite the way I want. But these two shots show something. When I was banging on about gritting a couple of days ago, I was unaware of what a wide and generally welcome reception the piece would get. A good demonstration of my point - that road salt isn’t the magic solution folk think it is - is illustrated in the upper photo, taken at Shelfield lights. I’d been passed by gritters here several times the previous week. With the lack of rain, the brine strength on the road surface must be very high, yet the triangle of slush in the foreground remains. The reason is because the salt isn’t ground in that part by passing traffic, so although it’s been coated in salt numerous times, because there’s no meltwater, the ice remains. There’s a similar band of virgin snow on the centre of the Chester Road that’s been there since last Friday. it must get coated in grit nearly every day.
Returning via Green Lane, I was interested in how the snow lit up the normally dark, wooded road. This road was very clear, and as I came through, a grittier came past in a shower of sharp crystals. In some respects, this road was clearer that the Lichfield Road, and I struggled to understand why. Then I realised - this is a low point. What meltwater does exist, gathers in this lowland. That lane must be like a brine bath.
Must remember to regrease the wheel bearings when the weather warms up… the bike will need to be washed well, too. All this salt will be eating the metalwork…
January 21st - I was expecting traffic chaos, so I left it until late to leave for work. As it was, I needn’t have bothered, as the schools were closed, and the traffic was light. The trains weren’t too bad, either, and the only bad aspect of the commute was the atrocious state of Mill Lane at Mill Green. It’s only a backlane, but I thought it would be OK; however, the snow had compacted, then started to break up and it was like riding on slippery shingle, even with the studded tyres.
Stonnall, Grove Hill and Castlehill looked beautiful in the snow. It’ll be interesting to see how we cope as the cold snap, predicted to last at least a week, begins to bite. After all, it’s not got too cold yet…
January 16th - When I got to Tyseley, it was snowing, lightly. It had been a very cold commute - the bike computer said -4, but there was a freezing mist that condensed in my eyebrows and froze solid. There was a heavy hoar frost that painted everything in shades of the ethereal - trees, the railway, the urban sprawl - and I think it looked amazing.
I love how the cold weather makes even the mundane and ugly fascinating and beautiful.
January 15th - It felt like the coldest morning of the winter so far, although I doubt that was the actually the case. Overnight, the drizzle had gone and the skies cleared, and I awoke to a bright, ice-hard morning. The main roads were fine, and the countryside looked beautiful in the traitor cold sunshine. The backlands, however, were untreated and impressively icy. Even with the spiked tyres, these were a challenge for first ice-ride of the year. I loved the commute this morning, it was fantastic. After all that rain, such a joy for the brightness of the january sun, the burning cold in my throat, the steam of my breath and the concentration of riding carefully.
It’s nice to feel alive again.
January 13th - It was cold, winter at last. I could smell snow in the air as I left home on a day that was so chilly, it caused my sinuses to and forehead to burn. I pottered up to Chasewater, delighting in riding over the icy puddles, and then over to Hammerwich, which is always nice at dusk. On the way up Meerash Lane, I pulled up short; the ice here - caused by water raining from the still-saturated fields, was thick and treacherous. Staffordshire Council never seem to grit up here, and I advise anyone without ice tyres not to bother. Under a fresh coat of snow, this could be an unpleasant start to the week in the morning for someone…
December 12th - I had hoped for a few days of cold, clear weather - but it seems the mist and murk has settled back in. Still, I don’t mind as it makes for variety and the cold adds a welcome urgency to the commute. Today, I flew through the journey along icy backlanes, the hedges and skeletal trees dusted in rime. A peculiarly grey and silent day, it was an eerie commute, and the crystal-encrusted spiderwebs on the fence at Blake Street were fascinating.
December 6th - It’s time for the winter boots again. A couple of times this week I’ve felt that queasy adrenaline rush as either the front or real wheel slipped a little bit while cornering. Such incidents are rare, but a wakeup call I always heed. Nature is telling me that it’s time to swap out the 28mm Marathon Plus tyres and throw on the 38mm Marathon Winter. These are a fatter, lower pressure road tyre exhibiting a chunky tread made from a soft compound with small tungsten carbide studs inlaid that bite into ice, mud and road debris. They’re noisy, don’t roll too well, but grip, even on black ice, like demons. They’re not cheap, but for any commuter who keeps going through rough conditions, I highly recommend them.
February 15th - Late afternoon, heading into Brownhills along the canal from Aldridge. The unseasonal warm weather seems to have returned, but the ice was still loosening its grip on the canal. As the last of it melted away, I noticed the fabulous crazing pattern it generated on the surface as it broke up and wasted to nothing. I was captivated by the fantastically complex patterns. The simplicity of nature can sometimes catch you quite unawares.
February 5th - I feel sorry for the waterfowl during this cold snap, really, which is probably a bit daft. As I took a gentle spin down the canal today, I noticed lots of forlorn looking ducks, canada geese, coots and moorhens loafing around disconsolately on the frozen canal, which itself was covered in a messy layer of slush. I watched as birds struggled to land, skidding frantically along the ice. They are, to coin a phrase, like ducks out of water. I did notice something though, today. Moorhens don’t have webbed feet. I find that a bit surprising, but as these footprints show, they haven’t got the best feet for swimming. There must be an evolutionary reason for this. Wonder what it is?
February 1st - This swan had me concerned for a bit. Sat on the frozen canal near james Bridge in Darlaston, as if he were trapped (I’m assuming it’s a he, how do you sex a swan?) I watched him for a while, fearing a stuck bird. As I started to whistle, he got to his feet, leaving small, melted imprints in the frozen canal surface.
Birds seem able to be in contact with ice like this for indefinite periods, without their feet freezing because they have a very interesting feature in their blood circulation systems. At the top of their legs, the small amount of blood that flows to the legs and feet flows through a sort of ‘heat exchanger’ which removes heat from the outgoing blood and transfers it to the blood flowing back. Together with few nerves actually in the limbs, birds like these can stand for hours on ice with no ill effects and little energy consumption. All achieved through the magic of nature’s engineering hand, evolution. It surely is a wonder.
December 18th - A sharp, cold evening and rather dramatic sunset. Not having long, I headed out to Hammerwich to check out the views. Climbing up Meerash Hill, the ice was thick on the road, and the going on the ungritted country lanes of South Staffordshire was very treacherous. The tricky conditions were worth it, though, and rewarded me with some great pictures of the sun setting over Brownhills, and Hammerwich Church and it’s former windmill. A delightful place.