Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Royal Tunbridge Wells 30th January 2010 A rest day!

Well still went birding as the grounds of my B & B are beautiful and the weather is the best yet. Very cold but no cloud and any wind seems to be not in the valleys. 4 fallow deer and 6 buzzard were the reward for an early walk in the frost. The B & B - Stone Cross, nr Ashurst, an old farmhouse with timber beams everywhere and a substantial breakfast. £35 a night well spent.

Mind you yesterday, after birding at Tudeley Woods RSPB reserve, the cycle to the B & B was tough as snow fell and I then took a wrong road down a very steep hill to Groombridge instead of Stone Cross. Having been given directions I still got lost and an attempt to ask for directions in the dark, at a house on a small country lane, was greeted with all the house lights being turned off and no answer! I'm sorry if I frightened someone!

Now I'm in the library in Royal Tunbridge Weels having bought a ook about Birders [Tale of a Tribe] by Mark Cocker from the Oxfam bookshop here. I needed a book and this is perfect. can't wait to get back to the BB and read it.

How does one get to book a youth hostel online? I've just spent an hour trying to do so and it just keeps going round and around.

Yesterday went to Tudeley Woods RSPB reserve and met Matthew, the assistant warden and Sarah Cobell, an enthusiastic volunteer with the look of Diane Keaton about her.

Very few birds around; the cold weather perhaps having moved them on or maybe they were flocked up in areas that I didn't explore. Did see a male sparrowhawk and a treecreeper. The latter makes it 121 for the year list. Otherwise a 4 mile walk around all areas of the reserve gave very few birds. Mind you I love trees and there's enough here for anyone.

Was photographed by the Kent Courier newspaper and I only hope that the photo with Matthew and Sarah, as well as me is the one chosen for the paper.

Tomorrow - Broadwater Warren RSPB reserve and then on to see a friend who i haven't seen for 20 years. Looking forward to both. [oh and Villa have just scored 2 goals in 4 minutes against Fulham - life at the moment is GOOD!]

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Thursday 28th of January 2010. Battle!

It has been a battle too. Yesterday had the gear lever on the front right bike handlebar break and that meant that the bike was stuck in it's highest gear. Great for downhill, impossible to cycle up.
Had met a wonderful gentleman when asking for water and directions near Hastings. Invited in, John Short gave me a cup of tea and the much needed water and then the story of his fascinating life. A trawler man from Rye, he had done National Service in the navy, going on HMS Sharpshooter and LCT0437 - a very large landing craft, as well as having been a whaler in the Antarctic for a few years. His trawler was called Grace Emily [RX135] so many stories of sea fishing exploits from around the world. A beautiful house with 35 acres of meadows and woodland looking towards Folkestone on a clear day, which today wasn't. He gave me a photo of the trawler and showed me many more from his life. A really interesting man, lucky to meet him. The bike had been alright up to now, yet a wind from the west had meant that I was cycling into it. Then a downhill section and nothing from the gears oin the corresponding way up. Off and push. Eventually got to Crowshurst; instead of being at the expected 1 o' clock, it was now 4.20pm and I found Forewood RSPB reserve. A lovely couple, 86 year old Jim Lawrence and his wife Kate, looked after the bike as I spent an hour in the growing gloom of the very muddy woods. No new birds for the year list but common birds such as blue and great tits, great spotted and green woodpeckers.
On returning to collect the bike, was invited in for a bowl of rich veg' soup and toast. Not refused I can tell you. I was frozen and very wet from the sweat of the cycle/push! It was then that this wonderful couple offered their settee for the night. Also not refused. I hadn't been ale to find a local B & B and, don't tell my mother but I had thought of sleeping on the railway platform at Battle, 5 miles or so up the road.
It turned out that Jim had been an FA coach for a number of teams and had worked in the 1950's with the England team and other professionals at Lilleshall with Walter Winterbottom and Sir Stanley Rouse. Now luckily I knew something of the football of that time as I'd read about such things in my Dad's football annuals from the 1950s. Needless to say the 4 hours to bed time, luckily nice and early at 9.30pm, went quickly with chat, history lessons, brilliant photos and letters and even a World Cup Final ticket 1966 to hold!
Kate and Jim went to bed and I stayed up a little longer to see the headlines of the news. A book on their bookshelf caught my eye - 'Soccer in the Blood' by Billy Walker. Now Billy was a Villa player from 1920 to when he left 19 years later to become manager of Sheffield Wednesday. Described by Eric Houghton as the greatest player he'd ever played with, I just had to have a read. Did so in the morning because I fell asleep with it in my hand.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Just a Quick One - January 27th

OK I'll catch up with things in more detail when i haven't got only 4 minutes on  a library computer.

Cycling to Forewood RSPB reserve at the moment. Dungeness yesterday gave 10 year ticks, inc. 8 red head smew, snow bunting, slavonian grebe, red and black throated divers and bearded tit. Leaves me on 1019 for the year. Tree sparrow this morning has made that 120.

Coldest day yet yesterday thanks to the east wind and today now that I'm heading west, it's from the west.

Still loving every minute.

Please go to my website and if you live in the area where I'll be for the next couple of weeks - Sussex, and can offer accommodation then please phone on 07988754090. Thanks.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Rochester Cathedral, Castle and 2 RSPB Reserves Tuesday 19th January 2010

Please visit my website  www.biking    and sponsor either the RSPB, the WWT or Asthma UK on the charities page. Thanks.

Into Rochester to collect a fixed bike, visit the Cathedral and Castle and get to the RSPB reserves - Nor Marsh and Motley Hill.

The Cathedral was anything but peace and quiet as 2 workers hammered away towards the nave. No turnstiles here. Just a £3 suggested donation box which received the said amount. After looking around the place met the 2 workers and found that one of them was from Aston Fields, Bromsgrove; home to 'my' special needs school - Rigby Hall.

Into the castle, a superb and very tall keep to climb and plenty of atmospheric passages to explore. Another great English Heritage site visited.

To the Riverside Country Park and after a coffee, a walk to the end of Horrid Head [great name] to look over the Medway at Nor Marsh. Lots of grey plover and other common waders roosting alongside the shoreline of the marsh and another RSPB reserve seen, even if I couldn't set foot on it. New year list birds - turnstone, brent goose, red-breasted merganser [101].

A photographer from the local paper came and did what he needed to do before David Rolfe, who'd turned up to escort me to his house after a visit to Motley Hill. Dave Saunders had turned up as well. Good to see him again and his 'see you tonight' was not understood by me at the time.

Motley Hill RSPB reserve - next to a sewage works with a large white 'Prisoner' like ball. Wonder what the 'ball' is for. Asked some workers there but they didn't know. Walked over the rise and down towards the small area of flooded saltmarsh. Waders were roosting there so kept well back not to disturb them. A black-necked grebe was seen here [102].

Cycled with David Rolfe taking the lead to Sittingbourne and a meal of gammon and eggs at Bobbing Apple. Thanks David for putting me up. Coincidence when entering his house; a house by the way with birds everywhere, paintings, books, magazines and ornaments, well some of the paintings were by a friend of many years ago who I've lost touch with : Steve Cale. Beautiful framed pictures of green sand', red kite and LRPs.

Cliffe Pools and Northward Hill Sunday 17th January Day 17

OK. I know I'm having trouble keeping up with the blog but I'll keep adding to it as and when I can.

Please go to my website   as the links for donations have been fixed on the 'charities' page.

A ride with Dave Saunders taking the lead on his mountain bike and a puncture to my back tyre quite early into it.

Another cyclist in trouble with the same meant that we took our time getting to Cliffe. Soon cycled around to where a small crowd had gathered to see the reported shore larks. Not on view so chatted. To my right the nearest bloke, David Rolfe, was a cyclist. He was soon discussing my broken back brakes and noticed that a small spring was broken.

"What's this small bird with a yellow face?" said Dave Saunders. 4 shore larks on a muddy shore. Good one to get and onto the year list they went with grey plover [95], knot [96], the larks making it 97.

Cycled to Northward Hill, via Jules Holland's house/caste at Cooling. Beautiful castle which it's just a shame that one can't look around it becuase of Jules. maybe you can but the house gates were locked and heavy curtains were drawn.

Cooling Church and there's the 'nine lozenges', the graves of Pip's brothers according to Dickens but there are actually a lot more children's graves in two rows, 13 in all. Photos taken by Dave.

To Northward Hill and a meeting with the site manager, Julian, an Arsenal fan and immediate fun.

Off around the reserve and just one thought - how come no one else was there to see the 6,000 odd corvids [crows, jackdaws and rooks] coming in to roost? The sun had gone down, Dave and I had walked over the meadows to the viewpoint just inside the woods and 4 tawny owls were calling. A large owl came over but I couldn't get any detail on it. had been told that long-eared were around but couldn't honestly say it was one so it's not on the year list. Almost silence as we looked at the thinnest crescent Moon and jupiter through the scope. Then it was heard, a distance sound of many cawing, chacking and calling birds. Over they came filling the sky and what a cacophony! Many times they landed on the trees in front of us only to rise and circle again and again. Truly a wonderful spectacle and all just for Dave and I. 9 grey heron came over in formation and 14 woodcock came out, a couple so close that features could be seen. Do yourself a favour if you live close - go and see this event.

Thanks Dave. A perfect day ending in a fantastic spectacle. Great birds and company.

Back to Strood and an uncomfortable night in a 'hotel' which was overpriced at £18! I won't dwell on it too much but the landlady's request for me to name the place when I was interviewed by the local press was a bit too much for her to expect.

Monday, 18 January 2010

School visits and RSPB Birds 18th January 2010

Hello everybody!

At last some school visits and each school was a truly wonderful experience.

8.00am arrived at the Hundred Hoo Secondary School. Greeted by Jade, made my way in and had the privilige of talking to some pupils and staff. My sincere thanks to Tony Mason, Harry, Amy and the others for making me so welcome. I knew I should have grabbed a bacon bap but I was too busy talking as usual. I'll post on the badges I promised you!

A very quick cyle ride to Strood Academy but the wrong site. I love split site schools.

A brilliant reception with Ross, the head boy greeting me [thanks Ross] and straight into a very full conference room. It seems I wasn't what they'd expected. Probably thought a twee little man with a long flowing Dumbledore beard with binoculars and an owl on his shoulder was coming. Instead they got me and my Roz Savage powerpoint. Once again, as at Hundred Hoo it was a wonderful session with great questions and answers, great interest and a great group of young people. Their farewell after a few photos was sincerely warm and I'm very grateful for the promised sponsorship for AsthmaUK. Thanks Strood! My sincere thanks to Ross, Shelbie, Becky, Franchesca, Daniel, Lucy, Brook and Ben [Up the Villa Ben!] and everybody whose name I've either forgotten or wasn't told. Thanks to you all. [How could I forget Lydia - the tattoed lady]

Now for something completely different. An assembly of 200 plus children at Bligh Junior School. Once again a lovely reception [Oh you're the bird mad man] and into the staff room for water and get to know you more chat then woosh, in for the assembly. I know I had fun and I think the staff and children did too. Charlotte with Albert the albatross performed an albatross flight across the stage, repeated by the whole school and Leah/Leia [sorry for the spelling] was a tropical rainforest frog, poor girl. She hopped across the stage but I cruelly said no it doesn't do that and told the story of the frog that climbs a tree the equivalent of the height of the Empire State Building to deposit a tadpole in a bromeliad pool. The children were just about to perform this when I noticed that the staff hadn't stood up. No problem, they did the frog climb first, follwed by the children. The children were wonderful. So many thanks to Daniel, Mitchell, Rhiana, Scott, and Laya/Laya et al. In class with year 3 and then year 5 afterwards with children drawing my route for a geography lesson with Mrs King, and oops I didn't get the name of the teacher in year 5 but thanks both the children and the staff. The school is lonked with Mallaig and I hope to be able to drop in a message from Bligh to them. Very sincere thanks to Rob the Head Teacher and everyone there.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Saturday 16th January - Rainham, Vange and Shorne Marsh

Hello again or hello new person. elcome to my blog I'm so glad you're here. Now please sponsor me for . . .




Well so much has happened since the last blog so now for a quick summary.  Eventually got to Rainham RSPB reserve after a ride in the pouring rain along the A13. Couldn't cycle along the cycle path as it was covered in ice. Still arrived at the reserve and was greeted wonderfully by Howard Vaughan, Brenda and others.
'What do you want to do,' says Howard. 'Birding or sandwich?' 2 minutes later outside Howard had the answer and to cut it short I think we were out doing so for over 2 hours. What a brilliantly talented and chatty birder. Superb skills and great conversation. Birds seen included rock pipit, snipe, a stunningly beautiful yet strangely plumaged pale female stonechat, no serins on view but also seen was the juv' glaucous, ad' yellow-legged gull and peregrine. [2.6 secs scope to bird - new British record - Well done Howard!]

Really this quick description of the walk around the reserve doesn't do it justice. I would never have thought that Rainham would be the favourite reserve visit of the trip so far but from the moment you walk into the top floor cafe area the place is so fabulously beautiful and the RSPB staff on hand such brilliant people.
By the way Howard the clue is in the name - Biking BIRDER!

A real privilige to be shown around. Great place. Thanks. I'll be back - so good you go there twice.

Now up to 89 bird species for the year.

A B & B in Baker Street, Orsett, Essex was eventually found; a really superb converted barn with great room, tv, coffee, tea etc and a fabulous breakfast next morning. [Jay's Lodge, Baker Street]

Cycled to Vange with an unadorned by paniers bike on Friday morning. Actually took a wrong road and ended up on Langdon Hill. Went in the small church there and chatted. WW1 memorial had 2 Jays, possibly brothers and a Swan as soldiers who had died.

Down the hill, seeing 2 foxes in fields on the way down and eventually found Vange Marsh after being given the wrng directions.

Met by Glenn and Alan at the excellent RSPB centre there. I'd last been here around 20 years to see an olive backed pipit but boy how it's changed. Coffee, chat and photos then off by myself to Vange Marsh itself. Super marsh with very wild duck. Wigeon and teal in hundreds, a lovely male stonechat, a coupe of cettis and water rail seen.

Back to the centre to say thanks and goodbye.

Cycled around to West Canvey Marsh and Bowper Marsh. Little egret by the bridge over a river system was the only year tick but enjoyed watching the 4 foxes [!] out on the marsh and searching through the large numbers of gulls here, mostly herring gulls.

A puncture, my first of the trip and the back brake knackered. Struggled but repaired the former and rode back to Orsett.


Saturday 16th January

Up late, well awake very early, 5.00am, to write the 12 ages of notes about Rainham and then breakfast and a very sincere thank you to Margaret for the stay. Excellent quality B & B. Well recommended.

Cycled to  the library at Chadwell St Mary but they couldn't log me on. Tanya wishes me luck and showed me a map but Denise and Gill at Tilbury library had no problems and I spent a pleasant hour plus accessing emails and answering them. One from the secretary of the Archbishop of Canterbury was appreciated. The secretary's name Andrew Nunn. Think about that for a moment. He thanked me for my letter about the charge for entering St Paul's Cathedral, £12.50 if you remember, stated that the Bishop was aware of concerns and quoted historical precedents.

Down to Tilbury ferry, checked it was timetables and boarded.

To Shorne Marshes RSPB reserve. Impossible to get to via the road that leads to it on the OS map; a very high, very padlocked gate prevents crossing the railway line. Use the phone it states on a sign. Where's the phone - the other side of the gate!

Met Paul Burnham, the owner of BURNHAM RED SHOP AUTOS, by stopping to phoograph an old Ford Zephyr outside the workshop. Explained the gate problem and was invited in for a look around and a coffee. Who am I to refuse? Was shown round and told about each individual classic car being restored or altered. Fascinating place.

Tried to find someone at the shunting yard - no one around. Cycled to Lower Highham and back to Shorne via a cycle path. Found a concrete road down to the Thames shoreline and found a small RSPB notice board by the fort. I'd found it officially. 3 avocet on the mud, around 2-3,000 dunlin on the opposite shore and a few other birds were here but best were 3 little owls seen and heard on the way back to Lower Highham. Now 93 birds for the year.

A bike ride in the dark and found Dave and Leslie Saunders' house. Wonderful, kind people who I'm with at the moment.

So to the sound of Mussorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition on the piano on Classic FM, I sound off and wish you all a pleasant night's sleep.

There I told you it was brief!!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Another Donation!!!

Thanks Easyrider. Brilliant!!!

I huge thank you to everyone who is donating. The BBC at Oxford asked me how much I'm after. Just every penny we can give.

I'd love to help more charities but maybe next year.

Police Duke of Wellington IMAX and Climate Change.

Sound diverse enough for everyone?

Well yesterday I was angry, naive, argumentative and embarassed - all over the £12.50 charge to enter St paul's Cathedral.

Today I'm plain stupid. Went to St james' Park wearing practically everything I've got to keep warm because of the heavy snow. Walked to the said park, singing all the way and sat down on the cafe terrace to write up some notes on the birds to be seen and the history of the park. Over came the boy's in blue PC Alan [Tight lines Mate!] and PC Darren [a man of no hobbies]. they questioned me, took my notebook for a perusal, frisked me and searched my pockets finding my tin of mackeral, tin of pate and a water bottle and had a chat for 15 minutes or so before we wended our way. A couple had seen me writing notes and had reported me to the police. Now it was my fault and at once I can say that thank goodness for our police service. I was wearing my son's army waterproof and green waterproof trousers. With all the undergarments, scarf, coat and notebook etc I must have looked very lumpy. All's well that end's well and if the said lads read this remember my request for the Met' to sponsor me.

Speaking of ...... please do so on :-

RSPB   -



Thanks to Eileen Ellis for her donation today.

By the way - can I count the free-flying greylags? LBB/H/C and BH gulls there and a goldcrest as well as the ducks.

the history? Well it was a pig farm before becoming a leper colony in the 13th Century, with that being the reason it was named St James. Henry VIII bought it as a deer hunting place and James I built a duck decoy for food. Pelicans, those pigeon eating ones of the front pages not so long ago, were given to Charles II by a Russian ambassadour in 1664 and there use to be an aviary.

[See PCs I was writing up bird-related notes!]

Now there is a reed bed growing and it states both reed and sedge warblers can be heard in the Spring.

So chastened I went gingerly past Buckingham palace, with my camouflaged waterproof now removed and found an English heritage site at Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner. being a member went in and took a lift to the terrace with its views over London. Monica from Poland let me in.
Displays about the NZ and Australian sacrifice during the World Wars and the memorial outside were read, as well as the display about the history of the monument. It seems that the original Duke of Wellington bronze was too large and heavy so new designs were asked for.

Respect paid to the 100,000 Australians killed during both wars. Horrific figures, especially for WW1 where of 300,000 soldiers from a population then of 5 million, 60,000 were killed and another 150,000 either wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

The Memorial is poignant with 23,844 place names where 'families grieved and endured'.

Also here was memorial to the soldiers of the Royal Artillary who died.

Over the road and into Apsley house - residence of the Duke of Wellington. A divorce gift from Napoleon to Josephine, rejected by her, of a wonderful model of Karnac and other Egyptian temples, was the most interesting thing to me in the 'plate room'. [The Sevres Egyptian dessert Service]

How about the 4 metre high marble statue of Napoleon in the buff. It said that he didn't like it and consigned it to a basement in the Louvre. [fig leaf too 'petit']

Many, many oil painting 'photos' of the main characters from the Battle, incidentally which was fought on my birthday 18th of June, adorned the house. I say photos because it shows their role at the time. Huge canvases in most cases, one caught my eye; a more subtle work entitled 'Lovers with Woman Listening' by Nicholas Maes. Delightful.

Jennifer, one of the attendants/guards showed me the hidden Versailles windows and was a charming guide to the house. English heritage should give her a raise.

So to the Science Museum where I saw once again the amazing IMAX 3D film about the International space station. I wonder how many times I'll see the real thing passing over on my journey? Still jumped at the Russian space rocket take off. Still wondered at the beauty of our planet as seen from space and it seemed apt to concentrate efforts on compiling ntes on the Copenhagen from the Climate Change display, which incidentally is tucked away near the back of the museum instead of it being the first thing people see when they enter. Said so to 2 attendants and they said that there's going to be a larger climate change exhibition in 2011.

Into a short 'experience through sensory stilulation' film of the Apollo 15 landing and use of lunar rover. Smoke, bubble, water spray and moving seats. Enjoyable but ..... short.

back to the Climate Change exhibition and a long conversation with a 19 year old Catalan girl from somewhere near Barcelona. She wanted help in leaving a comment about what she thought about CC. It took some time but it boiled down to that 'the World will still be here after humans are extinct because of their enduced Climate Change.'  Maria, she photographed me in front of the Apollo 10 command modele that came down to Earth after circling the Moon. Goodbye and then to the Rocket, Stephenson's Rocket. Spitfire and Hurricane, V2 and a replica of the Lunar Module. So much to see but time up and a walk to the same internet cafe on tottenham Court Road as yesterday.

Enough you cry. Where's the birds - well tomorrow should be lots, maybe some good ones too - penduline tit, serins? Well maybe. Read more tomorrow if you've got the stamina.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

London! January 12th 2010 Biking Birder relaxes.

Please sponsor me at

Asthma UK

or  WWT

If you can give me shelter on my journey please check my route and get in touch. Thanks    Meanwhile >>>>>>

Breakfast with a Tim from Detroit in the youth hostel. He'd met billy Connelly in a cigar shop adjacent to St. James' Palace the day before.

What do people think about the charge to enter cathedrals? £12.50 to enter St Paul's. Didn't. Instead first went to the chapter house to 'discuss' the issue then walked to the National gallery and enjoyed the whole day there for free. Where does one find God these days - not in a cathedral.

Saw a protest on behalf of one John Twomey and went to find out why. Trial with no jury. Strange!

Barnaby Bear photographed on a Trafalgar Square lion but where are the pigeons?

Had a wonderful day at the gallery. Paintings by 'you name them they've got some' artists- Van goch [sunflowers], Leonardo Da Vince [Virgin & Child], Degas, Klimt, Picasso, Cezanne, Seurat, Monet/Manet, Goya, Constable and Turner.

An interesting large piece titles 'Hoerengracht' was different - prostitutes and cookie tin hats.

Lunch, provided by me but taken in the Gallery cafe, was pleasant with chat about cricket and teaching provided by 2 lovely people - Bernard & Ursula McCarthy; he a retired Head, she a retired chalkface Primary teacher.

What would oil painting masterpieces look like with the cracking repaired?

A school party from St James's School, Pettswood Bromley in kent were having someone explain Titian'sBacchus & Ariadne. On first seeing it I wondered why a few stars were in the top right corner. By the end of the sharing I knew. It was a reward for Ariadne marrying the God Bacchus; she'll become a constellation. The children were so well behaved, their teachers and parents must be proud. Their answers to the Gallery staff's prompt were succinct and intelligent. A pleasure to observe.

So to the Portrait Gallery next door and contemporay mixed with the old : Tudor paintings I remember from so many History text books in front of me in the 'flesh'. Photographs and paintings of the famous, yet it was an eyeless boy from Vietnam that I remember most. No eyes, never had any, just skin where eyes would be; all as a result of the Vietnam War.

So now what to do? Want to get to Rainham so that the tour can continue.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Monday 11th january 2010 Barnes WWT reserve

Please sponsor me at :-

Asthma Uk



Sorry that it has been so long since the last update. No access to the 'net Maybe a summary will help. Please email   or phone  07988754090   if you want to contact me.

If you can offer accommodation anywhere on my route then PLEASE do so. thanks Right .........

* Bird list 2010 - 76 species now, including barn owl, chiff chaff and another bittern.

* Saturday - finally escaped from Hemel Hempstead by wlaking along the canal towpath to Uxbridge, pushing the bike all the way. Said goodbye to the wonderful Richie and Maddy and had a cup of Bovril on a barge with Tim and Amber, with their 3 dogs, Lady, Muffin and ... can't remember.
A barn owl was seen just north of the bridge under the M/A 40. Police at Uxbridge helped me get a B & B and a £5 donation into the RSPB tin.

* Sunday - At last on the bike, now unladen and a ride to hedgerley to see the RSPB reserve there called Church Wood. Photograph at the entance to Pine wood Studios by a recent visitor from Kabul. "What do you think of the situation there?" - ****ed up the reply.
Met Jean and Doug, with their dog Sidney and had chips and sarnies in the local pub. Many thanks to them for such a treat. I even took a doggie bag from here for later consumption. Said goodbye to have a go at sledging on the hill. Eventually looked around Church wood and saw a female roe deer, green and great spot woodpeckers and some titmice. Lots of deep snow and lots of deer tracks. Cycle back to the same B & B in Uxbridge after a stop for tooth ache remedy in the town centre - it's agony!

* now for today. London roads are great for cyclists as there are lots of cycle ways along the major roads. Soon-ish got to the Wetland Centre at Barnes and met Brenda, Evy [a half-French girl with no French] and John who kindly showed me around. A Photographer from the local paper had me in reed beds and on the bike.
Cycled to Buckingham Palace and Big Ben before reaching St Paul's YHA, my accommodation for the next two nights. The last time I stayed here was for Charles and Diana's wedding. I can even see the exact spot that my fiance at the time, Joy, and I stood and where we met Spike Milligan and harry Secombe as they got out of a taxi. Beatiful glimpse of the cathedral from the reception room.

Friday, 8 January 2010

5.00am Friday morning. January 8th 2010 Escape! {possibly}

Well I'm up early and am answering emails. BBC Wildlife have been in touch and Leica have donated a jacket. Wonderful people have sent messages and I'd like to take this opportunity to give a massive thank you to those people who have sponsored me. It appears that the link to the charities Just Giving sites are nt working and I'll fix that asap. Thank you so much everyone.

Going to try to get to Slough via the canal network towards Rickmansworth. Won't be able to cycle but I can push 'Sid' - the bike. The roads yesterday had frozen ice and snow along the edges and the slushy tarmac was the domain of the traffic. I would be suicidal to cycle.

A fabulous couple Maddy and Richie rescued me yesterday and put me up for the night. I'm using their computer  at the moment and hope I haven't woken them up. Maddy is a teaching assistant at a local Primary school, taking care of a particularly difficult child. She went to a Rudolph Steiner school in Wales. Richie unfortunately a Liverpool fan [!] is a fascinating man. Such diverse interests, modern art and music, travel and life; great to meet them both and obviously very grateful for the bed and food.

By the way, if you see my  route and can offer accommodation, or any help, then please email me at  or text me on 07988754090.

Right now to try and get a couple of hours sleep before setting off for the big push!

Love to you all,


PS sorry no birds mentioned  - haven't seen many recently. Cormorant following the frozen canal the best yesterday.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Tuesday 5th to Thursday 7th January - Stuck in Hemel Hempstead

It's Thursday now and I'm actually sitting in the most wonderful cycling shop I've ever been in - Leisure Wheels - [] in Hemel Hempstead. They're repairing the bike from the damage from Tuesday's fall on the ice and they've allowed me to catch up on the emails.

Right, Tuesday - well it was a fabulous morning. Got down to Otmoor after seeing red kite whilst cycling to the reserve from Stanton St John where Richard and Lynn Ebbs had kindly put me up for the night. 19 Red-legged partridge had moved off the frozen [ should have taken more notice!] lane for another year tick and a yellowhammer flew over closely followed by a meadow pipit, both calling. [64 species - year list]

Down to the first screen and shovelor [65] was with a large group of mainly teal with some mallard and wigeon, all around the only bit of ice-free water to be seen. More red kites, 5 of them were seen here and a raven came over [66]. Phil, originally a Scouser gave some company and chat and he caught up with me as I went onto the second screen.

Bittern! Walked out from edge of left hand read [phraggy!] area and then after 10 minutes or so flew over the ice into the middle of the right hand reeds. [67]

Phone rings - BBC OXFORD TV girl has arrived for an interview. Poor girl. She really must have drawn the short straw to be out here in the bitter cold. Filmed riding, stopping by the gate, getting off and going through the kissing gate - 4 times. Interviewed C.C.C. - climate change, children and charities. I should add another C - contacting.

Off back to Richard and Lynn's to collect the panniers and off I came. Thick ice had been unnoticed until the bike went from under me leaving me rolling along the ground. Luckily only had a small cut on the palm otherwise just shaken. The bike though was worse off. The right hand gear system was broken and the pedal cover smashed. Got back up, fixed the gears as well as I could and walked for a bit until the ice seemed less. The gears started to work reasonably well but with a slight crunch now between each one.
Got the panniers, said a very sincere thanks to the wonderful Lynn [I'd said goodbye and thanks to Richard at Otmoor. This wonderful man was with a group of very dedicated volunteers carrying out a work party in the frozen area of hedgerow along one of the paths] and started off for Hemel Hempstead.

A group [herd? What is the collective noun for deer] of 41 roe deer were in a field to the left after about one mile and I stopped to look. The stag, resplendent with huge antlers, was keen to watch me. Oh yes, forgot to say a bank vole had been exploring Richard and Lynn's stone wall. I saw it as the Hounslow, Brentford and Twickenham newspaper reporter was talking to me.

A green woodpecker flew alongside me next [68].

Thame - post office for juice bottle - Lucozade Sport.

Prince's Risborough - a beef lasagne and hot chocolate in a cafe opposite Marks & Spencers. Didn't catch the name but recommended.

Dark now - 5.30pm and a climb/walk up and over the Chiltern Ridge to Great Missenden.
Up and over again - thick, heavy snow falling now - down towards Chesham. An ambulance pulls me over. Do I look that ill? No it's the back light not working - reason broken cable. Dropped skiing glove in the panic. Walked back half a mile or so and found it.

Into Sainsbury's at Chesham. No back lights for cycles or anything for cars. Buy a torch, tie it to the back! No elastic bands, no string. Use good old British ingenuity. A pair of 'value' ladies tights and an RAC £4.99 torch.

Off again - snow ridiculour now but up yet another hill and on a very dark 'pot-holed [!!!!!] road towards Berkhampstead. The A41 - a snow-bound dual carriageway that felt like a motorway. Must take it - it's the straightest way. Past a Premier Inn - no, had promised hemel Hempstead landlady, Mrs Peters, that I'd be there. 5 miles - stops and slogs - the junction. The workmen. The Police Station - well I needed directions for 47 Crescent road - the cheapest B & B in town. 945pm. Fantastic Police Ladies [is that PC PCs?] and the B & B not too far away.

At last - sanctuary! Thrilled to have made it. Mrs Peters, the landlady greeted me in and got a hot mug of soup, toast, Christmas cake and 2 mince pies for me. Wonderful! Shown the room and shower but too tired. went to sleep perchance to dream.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

I'm Off and Cycling! Biking Birder hits the road. Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve

An early morning walk to try to hear tawny owl and therefore make it first onto the Big Green Year Bird list was cold, very cold but a clear sky, free of any cloud, with the almost full Moon setting and a red Mars was brightening to the east. The first sunrise of the new decade was an hour away. 7.12am and a crow beat the owl by seconds. 2 on the list and a quick retreat to the warmth of my sister Donna's [Donna Ralston, married to Charlie Ralston] kitchen.

Sunrise was seen over Waseley Hill as I was being interviewed on radio WM - 8.17am and by now the list was up to 17 with goldcrest and siskin written down together with common garden birds.

Late for the Big Off; 20 minutes late and the icy roads ensured a careful descent of a very steep road. Only around 5,000 miles to go and the first hill up had me thinking of what I was doing and what was I doing here. The ascent was a struggle, not helped by the fact that I didn't know how to change the gears on the new Cannondale bike. Would I get to Sandwell Valley RSPB reserve for 11.00am? Friends, family and maybe the press would be there.

I needn't have worried. The rest of the way through the Black Country via Blackheath and West Bromwich was delightful. Hellos and Happy New Years shouted to the Black Country folk with the comments being mostly reciprocated favourably. Arrived at the reserve at 10.20 and was greeted by the Upton Warren birders John Belsey, Dave Walker and Gert. A million thanks to these wonderful lads.

Ian and Ste' arrived - the T.I.T.S were together again [Terpsichorean Inspired Twitcher Society] - bearded tit Ian, Great tit Steve and Tom Tit me. The group nickname from the last Big Year 2005 was resurrected. In that year the 3 of us had travelled all over Britain, by car to be truthful, to try to see 300 bird species. Ian had managed it actually reaching 350!

Phil Andrews and his partner next.

Paul my brother was lost, had gone to the wrong Sandwell Valley centre. Phone call instructions and general amusement amongst the birders. Eventually he arrived with my children Rebecca and Josh. So proud to have them there.

By now Chris and Lee had opened up the centre and warm views through the window using the 'scopes soon gave the listers snipe and bullfinch.

An Express & Star photographer arrived to, well take photographs. His final one for a staged final farewell was the one everyone really wanted; a multi-fingered salute to get me going. Actually the guests were the ones who left, each taking their cue and turn. This left me at 1.00pm with a couple of hours to birdwatch alone and explore the frozen reserve. Circumnavigating the lake anticlockwise brought me to a small area of open water where duck, geese and a couple of mute swans were congregated waiting for food from the many New Year's day walkers. 6 goosanders were the star species but there was also the expected range of common duck, mostly in 2s. 2 male wigeon, 2 male pochard for example. A male gadwall and many mallard and tufted duck also here.

Photographs using the mobile phone taken by a Walsall angler to prove I had been there and only had around 190 more reserves to visit in 2010.

A long chat with a Dudley Birder Chris, memories and highlights shared. A fox went along the edge of the reded and flushed a few snipe. There was also a scampering water rail skating across the ice.

Back to the now closed centre and a meeting with birders Stephen and Tracey Potter. How does a birder male find a birder female? [and a fanatic Villa fan to boot] Great people and a pleasure to talk too.

If you do go to Sandwell Valley in winter then take a little bird seed to feed the very tame robins.

By now 39 bird species on the year list and time to cycle to Four Oaks near Sutton for a night's accommodation with Mary & John Evans; a fabulous couple who's passion for cycling was apparent from the moment they opened the garage. A line of quality cycles had an addition for the night.

Thanks to everyone who in their own way made my first day of the year so memorable.