Tag Archives: cycling

1.1.17: Ditches

 

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As I walked out on the last day of the year, I noticed the hazel bushes. Some were already shaking their tails, but others were still not quite ready to open up, biding their time.

This was plucked from a bush beside a ditch – a running ditch after all the recent rain. The vase came from a ditch as well, one running beside a windmill next to a canal in Belgium where we had a cycling holiday on February. It reminds me of Victorian school ink bottles, but since the top is broken, all we know is that the miller cast it in the ditch, to be treasured many years later by a family of foreigners. It suits a single stem very well.

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Lift up your eyes to the hills …

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There are hills and hills of course. Saint Thomas’s Hill is on the rim of the dish that cradles the city. Most cyclists seem to dismount to climb up it, but coming down is another matter; I think that qualifies as a hill. For the last fifty years it has housed the University of Kent, not visible in this winter’s picture.

Indeed I’ve deliberately shown this ‘temporary’ car park in all its glory to stress the point brought home to me as I turned this corner the other day – without my phone of course, so I could not recapture that careless rapture. Here the panel of parking regulations, the hastily spread asphalt  and the scrubby edges of the car park impel the walker to pass by on the other side as quickly as possible.

 

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I walk this way nearly every day,  eyes averted.

Between where we stand and those whitewashed cottages a footpath takes a short tunnel under the railway; then to the left of the cottages and to the playing field behind the tall trees; a not unpleasant walk. From there the hilltop is covered in university buildings; from here neither they nor the post-war houses across the field make much impact.

There’s no way you could imagine yourself in the Kentish countryside, but look up! There is a hill, there are trees, there is hope. Even if the developers would happily sacrifice the trees on the altar of Mammon. This car park has never been built upon. It used to be an allotment garden, gone wild before we came, but good for raspberries, brambles, lizards and slow-worms. A sustained effort was made to rescue the reptiles, now safely rehoused on reclaimed land elsewhere. But this land will be built on. People need homes too.

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But what struck me the other day as I walked home?

A hint of sun on the hill, made the grass, and the young stems of the trees – there are plenty of willow in yellow and red – shine against the black of their trunks and branches. It was a Psalm 121 moment – I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

A spring in my step, though nothing material had changed. The car park, graffiti and the intrusive buildings were still there, but look beyond!

The window looks out onto real hills, the Black Mountains of South Wales.

 

A Ride along the Regent’s Canal

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This  building was new to me: photo by Chris Dyczek at Agnellusmirror.

I’m not sure why this posting has taken three months to get published!

A fine day, a trusty Brompton, an appointment in Ealing, a detraining at St Pancras: why not ride a London bike along London’s canal? The towpath goes almost all the way and will surely be in better nick than when last I rode it in 1980.

Yes, and no. At the very start of the ride, behind King’s Cross station, it was good to see a terrace stepping down to the water from street level and people enjoying the sun between trains (judging by the luggage they had put down). I, however, was on a pontoon floating on the water, as the path itself was a building site.

A little further West  there were more residential moorings than I remember, two or three abreast where the canal was wide enough. If I hadn’t met Mrs T when I did, I might well have gone for that way of living in London. But she and Kent beckoned; I see more big ships in the Channel these days than narrow boats on the cut. The zoo – I’d forgotten that the bird house is cantilevered almost over the water – it has lasted well for such a delicate looking structure.

After Regents Park there was a stretch where I lost the canal, then miles of railway on one side and cemeteries or buildings across the water. Even the industrial buildings were not as I remembered them, but I got to my destination ready for an afternoon’s research,having lungs full of as fresh air as Central London has to offer. Maybe next time I could try another part of the Thames path I followed to Richmond at the beginning of September.

Good Morning Life!

 

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I probably should not take my mobile phone to church on a Sunday, though 90% of the time I remember to silence it – and then forget to turn the rings on again afterwards, so receive no messages.

However, the gadget serves to record, once in a while, the glories of what I might otherwise miss. This third-rate photo just gives the impression of scarlet pimpernel and purple grass heads taking over some bare soil at the top of the hill. Almost an abstract.

Lovely enough to say, ‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.’ (WH Davies).

Next day, somewhat dispiritedly riding home in the rain, I spotted maybe a hundred starlings, adults and juveniles, enjoying the downpour because it was bringing worms  and leatherjackets to the surface of the park. Would I have noticed them if they’d been quiet? Maybe not, but they are incapable of staying quiet! ‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.’

Spring, my mother said.

Let us celebrate the good done by surgeons, in particular eye surgeons. This note from my mother in Yorkshire is the result of her cataract operations giving her new sight.

Spring seems to have the upper hand at the moment.  When I was in the village this afternoon the big beech tree growing on the banks of the river and sending its great branches up, and above the bridge, was sending out its first delicate new leaves.  The sun shines through them and they are as soft as silk.  Standing on the bridge I could reach and touch them and the river below sparkled as it tumbled over stones that had been immersed in almost flood water for so long.    Even the small, brown trout were visible, and a Dipper was busy hunting for food beneath the water……………the village was busy, the traffic was noisy, but no one seemed interested or bothered with the magic on the bridge.

Spring is trying to assert itself in Kent as well. Here are a few observations from being out and about over the last week. I did not miss all the magic …

Friday, cycling along the road through the woods: an orange tip butterfly over a stand of garlic mustard, its food plant.

Saturday: Mrs Tittlemouse was on the yard, hoping to snatch a few crumbs. So were a sparrow and Mr Robin. He was so aggressive to the sparrow that Mrs Tittlemouse hid behind a flowerpot til he’d gone.

Sunday, living up to its name: Mrs Turnstone and daughter No 1 both saw the woodmouse; Mrs Turnstone feels that Spring is here.

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Monday, a trip to a cold Hastings to meet daughter No 3 and young Mr Turnstone. Bikers and pagans out in force for May Day. The latter drinking deep; the greenness round the gills not entirely derived from greasepaint. As the Jerwood gallery were inviting visitors to draw a green man on acetate for their window, I obliged.

Tuesday, back on the Brompton through the woods, this time on the track: a whitethroat singing where the path crosses a farm with the remains of a hedge still on one side.

Wednesday: a lizard in the classroom when I was visiting daughter No 2. Most of her pupils had gone home, but the one remaining had his eyes peeled. We caught the reptile in this blanket, put her outdoors – and she straightway came back in again and hid out of reach!

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Thursday: swifts screaming overhead as I ate breakfast in the garden. And so many more flowers out than I noticed on Tuesday or Saturday. Going slowly uphill means that violets, bluebells, primroses, herb Robert, stitchwort are all on eye level to a slow cyclist (who still gets up the hill!) On my way out of town in the afternoon I spotted my first beetroot-coloured blonde sunbather. She must have fallen asleep in the park.

Friday: Freddie the Norfolk terrier was being led home in disgrace, having rolled in fox manure. He was not the most popular dog in the park, but will the hosing down he was walking home to teach him a lesson?

 

A Walk in Scotland – Part 2 – The Waste Land – a damp coming we had of it

So Goodbye to the shops, and there’s green grass around the corner, and a high hedge, partly concealing an ugly fence. That CCTV notice hardly says, ‘Welcome’. Across the road are car show rooms and light industry.3estate1 (640x344)  Still not sure why

3estate3 (640x326)we came this way? Nature? Well, here’s a sight of the Scottish flora – a thistle and a crisp bag.3estate5 (640x275)

Moving on, we followed one of those casual paths that people make to cut the corners planned by the planners. Before us, more soul-less buildings. Scrubby elder and willow dominate the track, which suddenly forks into a towpath: the Scottish Union Canal. 5 miles from Edinburgh, and still built-up.4canal (2) (426x640)3estate6 (640x386)

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The water looks clean though, apart from floating plastic debris, the flora is more varied, and rain is imminent.4canal (8) (640x390)Everything is green, after all.
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Immediately in front of us was an aqueduct, taking the canal high above the busy main road. We passed and greeted that patient, polite cyclist, waiting for us to go by, then under the bridge; where we left post industrial Scotland to walk along a relic of the Industrial Revolution, made safe for 21st Century walkers and riders. A shame the Brompton stayed at home! Rain in the air.

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On hearing the first

Just too late for St George’s day, the cuckoo was calling from the railway bank (See ‘Vandalism takes many forms’) yesterday as I sat out for lunch and later for afternoon tea. The clamour of our local blackbirds and robins did not quite drown him out. The two cocks take turns to sing from our apricot tree.

Saint George’s did have one returning migrant to show me – a kittiwake gull by as I cycled along the beach against a brisk East wind, only to find my appointment cancelled. The health police would tell me the ride did me good; I know the kittiwake and the cuckoo did!