July 17th - I slipped out of work early to get some time back, and with a wonderfully hot, languid afternoon in progress I rode straight up onto the Chase, and barely stopped except for a well-deserved ice cream at Birches Valley. Dropping down into Rugeley, I enjoyed the long, cool downhill, then hopped onto the canal - a peace green sanctuary where the weeping willows looked stunning.

A perfect afternoon.

ONE YEAR

Today makes one full year since I started bicycling full time. One year. That’s a lot of time. But also its not a lot of time. So, I wanted to take a second and look back at what I learned and how its changed my life.

I’m going to keep this short, because I don’t want to get all preachy, but making the decision to ditch my car and start riding full time was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I needed a change of pace, and that’s exactly what I got. Its been incredibly hard, but also super easy. Once I started I couldn’t stop, and my outlook changed significantly.

Yes, I got sore, I ran into things, things ran into me, I wore out brakes, I snapped derailleur cables, I blew tubes, I had my chain come loose, I rode before the sun came up, I rode well after the sun went down, I got stuck in the rain, I got sunburned, I ruined a pair of jeans (and by a pair, I mean like 4 pair), I rode 1,000 miles, I rode through snow, I rode across ice, I fell off my bike, more than once, my ass got got chapped from riding in -9 degree weather with 20mph winds, I had my goggles ICE over.. not fog, but completely ice and then I rode another 1,000 miles. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

I think any great change requires serious commitment and willingness to get dirty in the process. I look at a lot of things differently now. Its a good thing.

I think I’ll keep riding… I’ll just need a kiddie carrier now!

7

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.

3

June 25th - As the summer winds on, the next stage of the season begins; moving from the flowering, to the fruiting and seeding. In Walsall Wood’s Green Lane, there’s a patch of comfrey that’s going to seed, and I was intrigued by the way it forms from the flowers, another almost prehistoric-looking plant. Intertwined with it, the white bloom of mid and late summer, bindweed.

Soon, blackberries will be forming on the brambles, and there will be hips, haws and berries ripening aplenty, and time for a new palette of colours; but at the moment we’re passing from the purple into the white for a while.

The advancing summer makes me a little sad, but the weather is fine ad warm, and everything looks splendid. I’m in my element, to be honest.

July 29th - Oak Apples, or galls, are an interesting thing. Very visible right now, they are the gall of a type of wasp that lays it’s egg inside new oak leaf buds. A chemical reaction caused by a secreted fluid causes the gall to grow, and inside, the wasp larva feeds on it, eventually burrowing it’s way to the surface and flying away.

Isn’t nature amazing?

3

July 13th - TheMadOldBaggage is right: I’m being unduly pessimistic about autumn and the passage of summer. It’s still gorgeous, and there’s loads of stuff still to come into flower.

Today, I was delighted to spot these gorgeous wild sweat peas. Just how lovely are they? You can’t fail to see these and not be lifted.

Autumn? Not yet you don’t, matey. 

2

July 29th - Sorry, more cygnets. I didn’t know about these, but taking a desperate dive onto the canal to avoid traffic madness on my way to work, I passed this family of three and parents in Pleck, Walsall. 

They interested me particularly, as the young are clearly starting to develop white plumage, yet look younger than the Catshill brood (they’re smaller, too).

The adults don’t look any different, though…

7

August 26th - In the backlanes between Stonnall and Shenstone (I’m not going to say where) there are a secluded row of apple trees. I’ve known of them for years, and they always seem to grow decent fruit. This year, they’ve excelled themselves.

The apples aren’t huge, but there are lots of them. There are several varieties, Cox’s, Russets, and I think Granny Smiths. The Russet I nabbed was sweet, juicy and ripe, the Cox too.

I always love to see these apples.

4

May 29th - Meanwhile, further on near the Pier Street Bridge, a chance to catch up with the flowers whose photos turned out badly the day before. Clover, the unsung hero of the pasture, meadow and verge is always beautiful, but very overlooked. Nutritious in fodder and attractive to bugs and butterflies, clover does it’s violet thing pretty much unnoticed. 

Another very common flower that goes unremarked is the ribwort plantain - it’s brown flower heads with the white corona don’t look like flowers, but they are. Exceedingly prolific this year, they’re everywhere that grass grows. As kids, we’d pick them at the base of the stalk and play conkers with them. I think they’re fascinating, and demontrate the utter diversity of plant life in the UK.

The damp conditions may not be improving my humour any, but that slug looks in fine fettle. Much misunderstood creatures, that I think are actually rather interesting.

3

February 24th - Headed home mid afternoon after an early start, I did what I usually do at such times and came though Aldridge to avoid the mania of the school run traffic. Zipping along the canal, just by the overflow in Aldridge, a tiny clump of four beautiful purple crocuses. They were the only ones I could see, and stood quite alone. I wondered how these harbingers of spring came to be here; but it doesn’t matter how, just that they were. And I saw them, and their existance made me happy indeed.

2

September 6th - Well, it’s coming on to autumn, and one of the positives about that is fungi. It looks set to be a bumper year, too - caps, toadstools, polypores, puffballs will all put in appearances in the coming weeks. 

These gorgeous shaggy ink caps - edible when young - were growing on Brownhills Common, in a spot where I’ve not seen them before. Pretty much perfect specimens.

6

May 9th - They’ve finally done it - and what a brood! The swans that nest every year at Catshill, Brownhills (yes, it’s the same pair), who for years have not had cygnets have just hatched eight grey balls of fluff.

I saw them this afternoon - the nest was empty, and mum and dad were further up the canal, showing the chicks their world. As Warren Parry pointed out after I posted yesterday, it’s eight, not seven little birds. Eight is a fairly large family, and they all look healthy. I feel quite emotional over it.

Please, if you go to see them, don’t be tempted to feed them bread. It has no nutritional value for the birds and can be fatal for the wee cygnets. If you want to feed them, a little wild bird seed will do.

9

April 28th - There are a couple of unsung hedgerow stars at the moment. For everyone else, right now it seems to be about oilseed rape, bluebells, and cherry blossom. But look around. Pretty much everything is having a great year so far. The dandelions - the yellow, beautifully delicate yet ubiquitous wildflower - are really, really prolific. The apple blossom too is astonishing in its density and clarity.

It might be about the spring classics right now, but look beyond them and there’s a whole host of other stuff just trying to get your attention.

These were all on a very short section of canal bank in Walsall Wood.

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