Thursday, 27 September 2007

A cunning plan.....

It wasn't much of a summer. We had a warm blip in spring, then it rained for months, then, summer...2 whole days! Wad yer mean you missed it?!
All this topsy turvy global warming malarkey seems to have got Mother Nature a little confused. The Ceanothus is in flower again. It's meant to flower in spring, and it did, and then again in summer and then again now!
The Magnolia tree, one of the first signs of spring but it's flowering for the second time.

Not only this but the bulbs are coming up, what's going on?

Of course there are some signs of autumn, the leaves are falling, the squirrels are gathering nuts....

...but also I've seen some birds beginning nests.
Personally I'm not looking forward to the cold, dark damp days of winter. Mother Nature is confused....I have a cunning plan!.....

If we can convince Mother Nature that winters been and gone, we can get our lost summer back. I've already started by placing this old diary, along with subtle hint in a prominent place in the garden. This will plant the seed of doubt in Mother Natures mind.

As I mentioned, some of the bulbs are already showing themselves. All they need is some help and encouragement. A short length of elastic tied around them and up over a branch should do the trick.

I've collected some of the not so bad leaves, all we need to do now is.....

....peg them back on. Come on all you summer lovers from the northern hemisphere, don't fail me now, we can still turn this thing around........

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Hill and dale, a riders tale.....

Today I decided that I needed a little exercise. I've been taking it easy since my last kayak trip and unfortunately my shoulder still hurts, so it will have to be a bike ride instead..... Heading out from Lichfield, I dipped down some favourite lanes towards Cannock Chase. This is the old gatehouse to Beaudesert Hall which now lies in ruins. Adjacent to it is a woodland that once was a daffodil farm, supplying flowers to the Victorians of Birmingham. I turned into Horsey Lane, aptly named as there is stable after stable, probably due to the good riding to be had in the Chase. Down here is a gorgeous Leopard Appaloosa, kindly identified to me by Secret Agent (

With 'teapot' Micra it's sometimes difficult to know whether I should be putting the bike on the car or popping the car on the back of the bike. Anyway, with the two vehicles separated I set off. I started from the 'German Cemetery' area of the Chase. This expanse of land abounds of tales of strange animals. Sightings of big cat, werewolves and underground dwellers rising from the many abandoned mine shafts! I've never seen anything myself, even when I've been here at night watching deer but, over towards 'Dick Slees cave' you often come across dismembered deer carcasses which I never see anywhere else in the Chase. For the latest updates on any reports it's well worth checking out 'The Debris Field' by Lesley (

The first valley is relatively easy, lots of footpaths and tracks to follow. My need for directness always lands me in trouble and, as I climbed higher I cut across country breaking my way through the bracken. It was hard going as my bike picked up an increasing amount of scrim.

As I climbed my way slowly out of the second valley, passing the old ruined stone hunting lodge, I bordered the lands of Beaudesert hall. Once owned by the Marquis of Anglesey, he spent his ill gotten gains on fantastic gardens with huge waterfalls, pools and this private amphitheatre set high up on the hillside. By all accounts the Marquis was a greedy bastard! When the ancient managed deciduous woodlands of Cannock Chase came into his possession, his first act was to chop it all down and sell the timber for profit. Left with a devastated wasteland he decided to mine it for coal. After the Great Wars the area was replanted with coniferous but it is a shadow of what it once was.

Rising out of the valley I approached my chosen destination, Castle Ring. This is an Iron Age hill fort thought to be created over 2000 years ago and thought to occupied by the Celtic Cornovii tribe in AD50. The circular site covers 7.75ha and has series of banks and ditches. Today only 4 metres but would have been substantially higher and topped with a robust wooden pallastrade.

It's difficult to judge the scale, but on the top left of the picture you can see how small the adult dressed in white is.

The interior is deserted apart from a few stone outlines, these are the remains of medieval hunting lodges.

The views are normally great from up here, today though it was overcast. Time for coffee.

The way back to the car was marked by the telecommunications tower. It was only 5miles away, but all the rough ground and ups and downs made it feel much further. With my tired legs wobbling it suddenly seemed along way away.

A straight line was the shortest route so I took a compass reading so that when I was down in the trees I could still head the right way. This was odd, when I stood up the compass was fine, but if I crouched down it would fluctuate. It didn't matter where I was it did the same. I'll have to see if it does the same at home!

The direct route took me crashing through undergrowth, bouncing over tree stumps, in a steep downhill roller coaster ride. A funny smell... sort of like Rice pudding..burnt Rice pudding. A familiar odour, now where had I smelt that before?... Ahh, yes it was when I overheated the clutch on my old Austin Maxi. The lever for the front brake suddenly went floppy. The front pad had disintegrated and I was accelerating. The back brake alone wasn't cutting it, the rear wheel locked but I wasn't slowing. It felt like the scene from Star Wars where the 'speeder bikes' were racing through the dense woodland. Splash, as I went through a boggy patch, Then it happened, mud right in my eye. My depth perception gone, the ride took on a video game quality. Just as I was considering my predicament, another clod went in my other eye, crap! Desperately trying to remember the layout of the path ahead there was a jolt and the bike left the ground. I braced for the impact that never came, instead I trundled to a gentle halt on a gentle upward slope. I was alive, blind, but alive! Forcing my gritty eyes open I realised that I was next to the big old oak, an old friend and landmark. This hulk of a tree was one of the few survivors from the Marquise's rein of terror. I took it easy the rest of the way to the car, the disc brake making odd tinkling noises as it slowly cooled. Only 11 miles on the clock but I was knackered and ready for tea.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Big bugger bird poo thing on branch!....

Striding through the Bracken I suddenly came face to face with this! At first I thought it was a bird dropping, but then it turned and looked at me AAaahhhhh!!
It was feeding on some Rosebay Willowherb.

This is one big bugger of a caterpillar.

It will eventually mature into a beautiful Elephant Hawkmoth.

A scary bottom point makes you believe that it more dangerous than it is, but it has no sting and is quite harmless.

The 'elephant' part of its name comes from the trunk like protuberance when it is feeding, but it wasn't playing ball so I never got a clear photo. It pulls its nose in like this to emulate a snake, and it works too, scared the willies out of me.

I didn't take this last photo. It becomes a moth that Walt Disney would be proud of, all pink and fluffy. These hover to feed from Honeysuckle of an evening.

This was a lovely snippet of video. Super clear, well lit, I was quite proud, but upload it to blogger and it's suddenly blurry and crap looking. Never mind, it's still exciting, all this 'moving pictures''ll probably never catch on.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Car Crash Corner....

The day was sunny. Filtered beams of light penetrated the canopy illuminating the verdant undergrowth. Happy bird song drowned the hum of the nearby road. A tranquil scene... but something wasn't right...
70 is the speed limit, but 80 is the norm. It is dual carriageway, the opposing traffic is separated by a safety barrier and a cushion of greenery. You've been this way a hundred times before, the loud pedal sinks further to the floor as that satisfying sideways g- force builds up as you pull through the bend. A smile on your face as sail merrily on your way. Driving is fun.

The path through the woods crunches underfoot. Dry leaves , twigs, CDs, glass, a makeup bag, this isn't your normal undergrowth.

Worrying clues point as evidence as to the true nature of this stretch of woods.

The whole area is peppered with discarded paramedics gloves.

Trees are laid flat, their bases shattered and splintered. They all point the same way; in the direction of the traffic.

Then you start to notice, here, there, dotted everywhere, some new, some faded, bouquets tied to scarred trees, each marking their own tragedy.

Cherished toys, once soft and fluffy, lay alone, no one to love them anymore.

You got to ask, how fast do you have to go for your car to break up and your treasured CD collection to embed itself ninja style in solid wood.

I like to drive fast, sometimes I drive too fast. A trip to 'car crash corner' probably won't stop me pushing it a bit, but the consequences of getting it wrong will be in the forefront of my mind....I might relax my foot, enjoy the scenery, I'm not in that much of a rush, after all I wouldn't want to revisit 'car crash corner' before my time....

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Welsh trip...the final day....

The final day...hoicking kayaks on and off cars and along coastlines had taken its toll. I took not being able to lift my hand up to comb my hair as a bad sign and decided to give kayaking a break. Instead we went off exploring the island.... This is just an old copper mine, but it's beautiful!
When I say old, I mean very old. Surface debris has been dated to nearly 4000 years ago (early Bronze Age). Ingots of copper have been found with Roman empire insignia. In more recent times (1700's) copper was mined here to sheath the bottoms of ships of war. The copper bottomed ships didn't collect barnacles or weed and this made them fast and maneuverable.

It was found that purer copper could be produced if the very acidic water from the bottom of the mine was pumped into surface ponds, laced with scrap iron and then allowed to seep back through the rock. The resulting ore was of superior quality. This also led to by-products such as ochre pigments, sulphur, vitriol and alum. It is this cocktail of chemicals that has led to the extraordinary array of colours.

An inviting tunnel in the distance, it appeared easy enough to get to but as we got closer it became obvious that you couldn't get up to it without bringing a ton of loose rock down on top of yourself. I was disappointed.

The Heather was out and this added yet another colour to the overfull pallet.

Artists travel to this area in order to be inspired by the colours. It is supposed to be spectacular at sunset but the day was overcast. It is a magical place. I was sorry that photography was unable to do it justice. It looks nothing special on film. This is just one of those places you have to see first hand.

The tunnels are inhabited by bats. I found a doorway to one of them but it was locked...foiled again!

We circled the island seeing what there was to see. Stunning coastline, dunes, airbase (we saw the Red Arrows), butterfly farm, famous equestrian center, racetrack (from 'Top Gear'), Sea World, ancient monuments, Newborough Warren, bridges, churches...too much to see, too little time.
Soon we left the island, exiting by the Britannia bridge. Our plan was to spend some time in the mountains of Snowdonia. As we arrive we realised our plans were scuppered as the mountains were clothed in cloud.

As if they weren't dangerous enough, this isn't somewhere you want to find yourself lost!

Out little friend was still haunting the layby. So we shared the last of the sandwiches and said our goodbyes....

Monday, 10 September 2007

Coast trip...Day two.(kayaking)....

From the campsite the sea looked perfect for kayaking. After a big mug of tea and the last of the bacon, we set off.... There was too much surf at the local beach so we headed up the coast to an old fishing harbour. After a lot of lugging of heavy stuff it was quite a relief to be out on the water relaxing.

At first I found the conditions a little unsettling as a wind picked up. I use a long paddle with a large blade and this meant that it would get caught by gusts, threatening to tip me over. Gradually, after a few wobbles I got used to it and started to really enjoy myself.

It is so tranquil out at sea, sometimes you feel like paddling out to the horizon and not coming back...

...but eventually your arms tire and your tummy rumbles, so I made my way to shore.

The campsite we stayed at is popular with fishermen who like to cast from the rocks beneath the cliff. Mackerel or Sea Bass are the normal catch, and the waters were teaming with them. More than they could eat or take home, kindly they gave some to us. It was left to me to do the messy beheading and gutting, the Seagulls appreciated the leftovers.

They were fresh enough to eat Sushi style, but there's nothing to beat a good fire. Driftwood and a couple of sharpened sticks were all that was needed to get dinner on the go.

The smell was fantastic, I think it was the best fish I've ever had. If only I didn't live so far from the coast I'd eat like this every day!

The wind really picked up on the evening tide and we had some great fun kayaking in the surf. The nose of your boat would point skyward as you rode the waves and once out in open water the swell was so great that it would leave you in the air as the wave passed and then the kayak would drop into the trough with a slap. Coming into shore you could sit forward (not too far or you go arse over tip) and surf much fun.
Tired and happy, I crawled into my sleeping bag.