Fat Man on a Bike

Or: A Promise Fulfilled

P1240844

B on his bike. Not the fat man.

The actual Easter Weekend was at the end of our fortnight off. The Surfnslide crew were scheduled to join us and, in the run up to the weekend, although we were all, as ever, excited about the impending visit, the Dangerous Brothers in particular had just about reached fever-pitch.

P1240845

At Trowbarrow Quarry.

Rather rashly, when we had last seen him, Andy had promised that on his next visit he would bring his bike and accompany the boys to their favourite local mountain biking venue.

P1240848

Andy on his bike. Not the fat man.

For weeks before Easter they had been pestering me to remind him of his promise. And now that he had finally arrived they couldn’t wait to get out on their trusty steeds. So, on Good Friday, we all agreed to head for Trowbarrow Quarry.

P1240849

Little S.

Our two-family party spilt into a cycling group and walking-to-watch-the-cyclists-fall-off brigade. Somewhat to everybody’s surprise, especially my own, I decided to join the ranks of the cyclists, which meant something of a delay whilst the entire party lent a hand to replace both of my bikes inner tubes. (You’d be right to conclude that my bike doesn’t leave the garage very often.)

Once we’d set-off, it was to discover that TBH’s bike wasn’t in a good state of repair either: one of the wheels was out of true and wobbled prodigiously as she rode. I waited a while and lost the others as TBH decided to turn back for home. When I eventually got going again, for some reason I didn’t take the first turn, along Moss Lane, but went the long way around beside Leighton Moss. It wasn’t much of cycle, but by the time I arrived I was already jelly-legged.

P1240850

At the Quarry, the boys were showing Andy, the honorary Dangerous Brother, all of the steep banks which they enjoy riding down, and also the various mounds and edges they like to jump off.

P1240851

Little S on his bike. Not the fat man.

They all looked much too steep to me.

P1240853

I decided to try out my camera’s sports setting instead of attempting any feats of derring-do.

P1240854

P1240857

I did have a couple of freewheels down this, less intimidating, slope…

P1240858

A on my bike. Not the fat man.

The net result of my change of heart was another puncture for my bike. Andy very kindly cycled back to our house for his car so that he could collect me and my long-suffering bike.

The ‘Fat Man on a Bike’ was, of course, me. But also the late Tom Vernon who wrote a book of that name after radio and television series about his cycling exploits. I can’t really recall anything about Vernon, apart from the title of his book. In my mind, he seems to have become muddled with Richard Ballantine, who wrote ‘Richards Bicycle Book’…

…a book which I thoroughly enjoyed when I was in my teens and very much bicycle obsessed. B is similarly bike fixated now. Of course, things have changed in the intervening years. I joined the Cycle Touring Club and fancied a set of Carradice panniers (handmade in Nelson, Lancashire since 1932), B hangs out in local quarries with his mates and has just acquired a dropper seatpost (whatever one of those is). We didn’t have mountain bikes, although I did enjoy off-road cycling, or rough-stuff as we used to call it. I even briefly kept a diary of my cycling exploits, a sort of forerunner to this blog, with carefully hand-drawn maps of the routes.

Finally, a bit of nature to round off the post…

P1240861

In one corner of the quarry, we spotted a couple of what I think are slime moulds, probably the False Puffball, Enteridium lycoperdon, which is apparently common in Britain in the spring. According to this article, slime moulds, once thought to be fungi, are now classed as amoeba. They are certainly very strange.

P1240864

Enteridium lycoperdon is found across Europe, but also in Mexico, where, in the state of Veracruz, it is known as Caca de Lune or Moon’s Excrement.

If this is False Puffball, then it is in its plasmodial stage, preparing to spore. The plasmodial stage is mobile, which I find very disconcerting – it looks like some sort of fungi, but it can move around. How very odd.

My extremely limited knowledge of slime moulds is a perfect example of one advantage of blogging – if it weren’t for a question I posted years ago, I wouldn’t even know they existed.

Fat Man on a Bike

In Search of Butterflies and Orchids

P1130338

Speckled Wood Butterfly.

After my early morning outing, I took A and S for a dip at our local swimming hole. I didn’t swim – I settled down on the shingle by the river, down behind the bank, which kept the wind off, and enjoyed a couple of cups of tea and a book.

The following afternoon, I tried to entice the kids out for a bike ride, but only A was interested. It was TBH’s idea – I wanted to visit Myer’s Allotment, Trowbarrow Quarry and Gait Barrows, on the hunt for butterflies and orchids and TBH suggested that connecting them by cycling between them would make it feasible to include all three in one afternoon trip.

P1130346

Leighton Moss from Myer’s Allotment.

After my flurry of visits last spring, this was the first time I’d visited Myer’s Allotment since. I never seem to see many butterflies here, which is ironic since it’s a Butterfly Conservation Reserve, but there are always compensations, chiefly the fantastic view of Leighton Moss.

P1130347

I’m pretty hopeless with yellow daisies, but I think that this might be Rough Hawkbit, based more on the photo I took of the very hairy leaves than on the flower.

P1130353

Song Thrush with snack.

P1130355

Common Blue Damselfly.

P1130359

Black-tailed Skimmer.

P1130361

Only the second time I’ve seen a Black-tailed Skimmer and both have been at Myer’s Allotment.

Another short ride brought us to Trowbarrow Quarry…

P1130379

…where there were lots of these…

P1130363

Common Spotted Orchid.

But far fewer of these…

P1130368

Bee Orchid.

I’ve been aware that these can be found in the area for quite some time, but am very pleased to have finally seen some. The flower is adapted to mimic a bee apparently, in order to attract bees to facilitate cross-pollination. The plants take five to eight years to reach maturity, but are usually monocarpic, meaning that once they have flowered and set seed they die and won’t flower again.

Whilst A and I were crawling about looking for Bee Orchids to photograph, a movement caught the corner of my eye and turning I spotted this tiny…

P1130371

Dingy Skipper.

Which flew close enough to this…

P1130375

Common Twayblade.

…to attract my attention and which in turn was growing close to…

P1130377

Another Bee Orchid.

P1130381

Another Speckled Wood.

On a warm, sunny afternoon the open glades at Gait Barrows seem to be perfect for butterflies.

P1130385

Common Blue on Bird’s-foot Trefoil.

P1130393

Rock Rose.

P1130396

This has me very confused. The flower looks like a Crane’s-bill flower, but the leaves, seen out-of-focus in the background,  are more like a pea type plant

P1130399

Another Dingy Skipper. 

P1130405

We saw lots of Dingy Skippers and several orange butterflies. Mostly they were pretty elusive, but one sat where I could get a couple of photos…

P1130406

I think that this is a Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary.

P1130407

P1130413

Large Red Damselfly.

P1130417

Azure Damselfly. I know – it looks very like the Common Blue Damselfly above. Fortunately they have a distinctive mark on the second segment of their abdomens.

P1130420

Female Broad-bodied Chaser.

P1130422

Common Blue Butterfly.

P1130425

Our Trusty Steeds.

TBH’s walk/cycle idea, henceforth know as going on a Wicycle, worked very well. Might even do it again some time. It’s even possible that if we do it a few times, I might finish one of our short cycling sections without feeling jelly-legged when I switch back to Shank’s Pony.

In Search of Butterflies and Orchids

Cricket Practice

Meadow crane’s-bill.

On Monday nights A and B have cricket practice. The pitch is just outside the village so we cycle there. Having dropped them off I then go of on my bike before returning to pick them up. A fortnight ago I cycled around to Arnside. Last week I went to Gait Barrows, parked the bike and went for a bit of a walk. Sadly the lady’s-slipper orchids and the lily-of-the-valley are finished for this year. I spent quite some time taking photos of a plant (and the many tiny insects which covered it) which I’ve photographed before, but never managed to identify. The photos are all pretty useless however – it was too dark under the trees.

The plant has masses of creamy white flowers and tight little white buds with a blush of pink. The leaves are thin and deeply divided, almost feathery. A little like a stunted meadowsweet I thought – and when I consulted my books that’s exactly what it was – dropwort. It’s fairly common in this area, I shall endeavour to get a better picture.

Dropwort

Cricket Practice

It’s Not About the Bike

Last week, when CJ and I were engaged in our mammoth stroll, we watched a pair of ravens seemingly enjoying a little acrobatic stunting. One of them was carrying something white in its beak. It dropped it and then spiralled down after it and caught it again. Then it dropped it again and once more swooped to retrieve it. Then: another drop and another catch. At the fourth attempt it missed the catch and left the item to fall to the fellside. Watching this performance it was hard not to conclude that it was done for the sheer joy it, or maybe even that the raven was showing off.

A few days later I read this:

Some ornithologists considered the raven to be the most highly developed of all birds, quite easily tamed, given to following a man around like a dog for all its reputation as the aloof spirit of the hills. And people who made a habit of spying on their aerial acrobatics said they often had the uncanny feeling that the ravens knew they were being watched and admired, and put on a show for the occasion. Thus did they capture the imagination. I used to get so excited at the performances sometimes. You couldn’t help it, you whooped like a kid at the movies. The birds made you want to skip off the cliff and have a go yourself, they could be that inspiring.

The raven had a yawn-lazy way of riding the thermals, occasionally flapping a wing to keep awake, but really doing nothing more then letting itself go like a child’s kite. Then, wait for it, the bird switched gears. Wings swept back, it turned, croaked, then went: it dropped diagonally through the sky at a speed which rent you. Flick, another gear, and it was playing about again – its great floppy wings full-stretch, rising and falling in more beautifully drawn arcs. Sometimes it would curl, cry it was coming, and zoom into the cliff face like a strafed aeroplane, stopping short in a flutter, a game, within a few inches; then  dumping itself down snugly on a nice unstable cornice.

One thing was certain: the raven hadn’t been out there on the squint for sheep. He was up there for the hell of it; the celebration and the ecstasy.

This from ‘Cockley Beck: A Celebration of Lakeland in Winter’ by John Pepper, which I’ve recently finished reading. This was an entirely fortuitous find at a village coffee morning earlier this year – it was a book I wasn’t aware of, but I knew instantly from the title that I would want to read it. The book has an interesting history – first published in 1984 it went out of print, but was then listed in the Guardian Review, in 2005, as one of ‘the great classics of British nature writing’ and was then republished. At least that’s what the blurb on the book says. I was intrigued by the idea of a list of classics of nature writing. In fact I could remember reading an article about one such list – but that couldn’t be as long ago as 2005 surely?

It turns out that it was that long ago. The list was the result of an appeal to readers for suggestions for books of nature writing rooted in particular regions in Britain. (See the article here).

I’ve enjoyed reading Cockley Beck, but it seems an unusual choice for inclusion in a list dedicated to nature writing. The passage above is unusual: the book is more frequently about the people who live in and around Cockley Beck or further down the Duddon Valley. It’s also celebrates the relative isolation and peace and quiet of the location and perhaps has more in common with Sara Maitland’s ‘A Book of Silence’ then with more conventional nature writing.

Interesting to look at the guardian list again – there are still many more books that I haven’t read on the list then those that I have. There are however many writers which I have become acquainted with since I first read the article: Richard Jefferies, Edward Thomas, Mary Webb, W.H.Hudson, Adrian Bell, John McNeillie (who I wrote about here under his pen name Ian Niall), and of course John Pepper. There are also some glaring omissions it seems to me: Thomas Firbank’s ‘I Bought A Mountain’ springs to mind. Richard Adam. Also some of the great walking writers like Hamish Brown and John Hillaby.

Another great place for a more eclectic list of nature books is ‘Caught By The River’s Nature Book Reader. Actually, it’s more than just a list – it has reviews and seems to be a book in the making.

Tomorrow there’s another coffee morning in the village, as there is almost every Saturday, and a separate charity book sale. So – two opportunities for more serendipitous finds.

Not that I have to rely entirely on the book stall at the coffee morning for that purpose. I often unearth gems in the charity shops in Lancaster, particularly the Oxfam book shop. At the moment I’m reading ‘One Man’s Furrow: Ninety Years of Country Living’ by Reg Gammon, which I picked up there. It’s a delightful book, an anthology of short pieces recording his early life in Hampshire and Sussex, a period of farming in South Wales and then his retirement in the West Country. It’s copiously illustrated with line drawings and also colour plates of his watercolours and oils.

I think that I may have met Reg Gammon once. He was a keen cyclist and drew pictures for the Cycling Touring Gazette. For a few years in my early teens I belonged to the CTC. At weekends I used to join a small local group for half day rides. The second time I joined the group for a spin was a particularly memorable occasion. We cycled to Meriden – a village purported to be ‘the centre of England’. There’s a memorial in Meriden to cyclists killed in the Great War and every May cyclists gather there for a rally. We were joining that rally. I must have had my bike, a birthday present and my first ‘racer’, for about a month. I was eleven or twelve. The round trip would be about 70 miles. The journey there was uneventful, but then to find myself in a huge crowd of cyclists, many on tandems or trikes was, I remember, quite overwhelming. At the rally we went to see a display of artwork – nostalgic drawing of cyclists in tweeds on leafy roads and hump-back bridges. I seem to remember that the pictures were popular at the time with some of the cyclists whom I came to know through the CTC and that the CTC produced calendars illustrated with them. I think that the artist was present – could it have been Reg Gammon? Even then, thirty years ago, he would have been quite an old man.

The journey back really sticks in my mind. The weather had deteriorated. Fortunately, the weekend before I had been shopping with my Dad and he had bought me a waterproof cape for just such an eventuality. A firm believer in ‘growing room’ he had, I think, bought me an adult cape and it covered both me and my bike completely. I remember struggling with the tail-winds of lorries that passed us as the cape acted like a sail. We’d forgotten to buy a sou’wester to go with the cape and I was soon soaked through by the double whammy of rainwater spraying up from the road under my cape and by the droplets running down my neck and into the cape. To add insult to injury I then had my first and most severe experience of the bonk. Suddenly I seemed to be running on empty and I found that my legs simply refused to continue turning the pedals. Several times I ground to a halt and collapsed into the verge, from where – tangled up in my oversized cape – I had to be rescued by my companions.

Happy days!

It’s Not About the Bike