Search This Blog

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Surfin' UK A-roads

Today took us from Wolverhampton to the sleepier climes of Shropshire, surfing along a busy A-road. I use the term 'surfing' deliberately, because that's exactly what it felt like today cycling in the rain. . .

. . .you're peddling along at a regular pace, not too slow, not too fast, bobbing along on the side of the road as cars slide past - a Fiesta, an Almera, you barely notice them pass by. A light coat of drizzle hits your face and trickles down your neck, but you brush it off without a thought. Occasionally you hear a dull thud and glance over your shoulder, but it's only a white van, nothing worth pursuing. 

Then you start to hear something in the distance - a deep rumbling, the dull crunch of rubber on tarmac and the clank of buckles on canvas - and your pulse starts to quicken, you start to peddle faster to match your racing heartbeats; it's coming, this is the big one. 

Faster and faster you peddle, trying to match your wheel-spin to that of the juggernaut coming your way. You'll never match it, but you will always try, and as it rushes past you feel the wind buffeting you along, the spray from those monstrous wheels hits you in the face and arms and you're riding in its terrifying and exhilarating wake. It's not over yet; even on this black sea all waves see double and there is always a frustrated Clio, or an impatient Yaris, sailing just inches behind, buoyed up by the feeling of being behind the big boy.

Then they're gone, and you're left peddling limply on the side of the road, feeling the strain in your knees now that the adrenaline has worn off. But chin up, the surf's always up on Britain's A-roads and you can always come back for another ride.

EDIT: I'd like to say thanks to the amateur phenologists we met in Shropshire, who make recordings for Nature's Calendar, and especially to Diana who put us up for the night when we had nowhere to go!

60 revolutions per minute - this is my regular speed

. . . Or at least it is now that the thorn in my bicycle's hide has been removed. My bike is now a roaring lion again, ready to take on the mountains of the Midlands. What, no mountains? Oh well, I'll go charging down the A roads instead. Thanks for all your repair suggestions - I may try out the 'slime' if it happens again!

The gentle land of Wales has transformed into the gritty panorama of the West Midlands, where rugged farmland gives way to multicoloured breezeblocks. I genuinely like graffiti and there's only so much quaint farmland you can absorb at once, so this new landscape is a refreshing change. It's also a stark reminder of just how much of Britain is rural. When you travel through like this, the cities are the exception, little islands in the middle of the patchwork of fields that the country is made of. But for people living in the cities none of this exists; instead they have little islands of greenery nestling in the middle of their patchwork of housing and roads.

Even here spring is edging its way in, but the signs are more subtle and more human. Bunches of daffodils still squat on the roadsides, in dusty cracks of building sites and in neat little front gardens. Primroses and coltsfoot are also trying to make a show of it, but are lost among their more showy neighbours.

The less said about Redditch the better, really, and the Travelodge could have been anywhere, but afterwards we travelled to a little strip of greenbelt land in a corner of Halesowen called Lutley Wedge. Here we met Craig, who I first got in touch with through the marvellous medium of Twitter, and who gave us a guided tour of the springtime delights of this lovely spot. Craig spends most of the year working in Scotland but travels back down here every year during the spring and is the perfect nature guide. 

It's surprising to find such a wild spot so near Birmingham, but it's not the only place where spring is making itself felt. We spent the night in the city itself, where I was lucky enough to catch up (beer, award-winning pies and great company) with an old friend who lives on a canal narrowboat. We ended up interviewing one of her neighbours, Dave, about his springtime experiences aboard ship.

We then followed the canal towpath north-west towards Wolverhampton, where we've spent the day involved in more prosaic matters such as planning the next few weeks (finding accommodation for Easter is a big concern) and trying to find a laundrette.

We really have been powering it along over the past few weeks (regardless of the occasional suggestion that we're doing the Land's End to John o'Groats trek very slowly) which seems to reflect the sudden burst of speed in the springtime flora and fauna. This means that we can afford to take the next few weeks easy, mileage wise, but it comes at a time when I'm feeling much fitter anyway. The feeling of managing to get up a hill that I was sure at the bottom was unachievable is a satisfying one - to do it without great pain in my legs is fantastic. I do have plenty of great interviews planned, however, so we'll still be busy as we travel to Manchester and Leeds in the coming weeks.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say that if you're enjoying following our story then please pay a visit to where we're looking for people to donate a few quid to the editing of the final film. We're collecting a mountain of great footage as we go but we really need your help to get this film realised. All donations are very welcome and all donors will be get a thank-you credit on the final film. There are also some neat perks to entice you in!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Rooks and grannies

Today we crossed the border again into England, so it seems a fitting time to summarise Chasing Spring's adventures in Wales. 

We spent an extra day in Cardiff resting, doing some more filming and being looked after by Matt's parents. With the help of my friend Gary, I also got to speak about the project on Radio Wales' drivetime programme (if someone can find it on iPlayer please post a link!). Waiting to be interviewed was nerve-wracking (I prefer to be on the other side of the table) and felt much like waiting for an extraction at the dentist but the presenters put me at my ease. Too much at ease, in fact, because as Matt has already pointed out, I did forget to actually plug the website.

Yesterday we got a last-minute interview with the city council's horticultural team and picking up our new mic took longer than expected, so the morning was pretty busy. Once we finally left Cardiff, we made our way back along the Lighthouse Road to Newport, picked up fragments of the NCN 42 (where it was actually signposted) toward Pontypool, crossed to Abergavenny and on until arriving, utterly exhausted, at a B&B near the village of Pandy. The landlady, Mary, made us very welcome in her home, to the extent of driving out to find us when we hadn't arrived yet, welcoming us with tea and sponge cake and showing me letters from her great-niece. I also spoke to her friend Olive on the phone - I think we'll be talk of the town for a little while to come. We forgot to bring cash to pay her, what with our hardened city ways, so she was kind enough to drive us down to Abergavenny to find a cash machine.

Leaving Pandy, we rode to Ross-on-Wye and then onto Ledbury. The mist was thick and cold today, dripping all the way down from the hills right into the valleys so there was no respite from the chill. The ride itself was mostly notable for the wide variety of roadkill on display, although I'm finding the physical side of the journey pretty demanding at the moment, so I'm not the most canny observer.

We're currently tucked into the attic of a bunkhouse (Berrow House) in a tiny village tucked in the Malvern Hills just past Ledbury, alongside a group of raucous teenagers and their teachers (who are having a few sneaky beers). The landlady here is also called Mary and is equally loquacious and welcoming. As with the previous night, it feels much like being enfolded into the pillowy layers of a giant bosom, made of grand-motherly affection, sloping ceilings and the rolling embrace of the hills. But what starts out comforting after a weary day of exercise soon starts to suffocate; I'm looking forward to the urban anonymity of the Travelodge in Redditch tomorrow.

Unfortunately we hadn't thought to bring food with us, and a two mile schlep to the nearest pub turned out to be fruitless as the place was closed (permanently it seems). However, we did acknowledge Earth Hour by not using any electricity for on the dark country roads, jumping at the barking of guard-dogs and the leathery wings of rooks in the trees. Bread and custard creams for dinner tonight.

Rolling with the punctures

As an aside, I keep getting punctures n my front tyre - we've had to change the inner tube four times in the past few days. Any idea what I'm doing wrong?

Friday, 25 March 2011

Lessons from a hilltop in the Brecon Beacons

I'm tired, very tired. So this will post will simply be a series of things I have seen in the past two days:


The inside of the BBC Radio Wales studio.

Clean socks and lovely bean salads (thanks Matt's parents!).

The inside of my front tyre after I acquired another puncture.

A dead badger on the road followed immediately by a pasty.

Our new camera microphone.

A woman who looks exactly like the Queen.

Boy racers.

A fly approaching my eyeball.

Letters from the great-niece of the landlady of the B&B we're currently staying at in Pandy. I was also instructed to speak to her friend Olive on the phone. I do not know who Olive is.

Things I didn't see:

Falcons nesting in Cardiff's city hall.

Signs of intelligent life from the boy racers.

That pothole.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

You can lead a horse to water. . .

As we left Glastonbury, I thought we'd left the hills far behind, but choosing to go along the Old Bristol Rd straight north towards Bristol (to avoid being pasted over the M5) meant more uphill struggles. Walking my bike along these roads is like dragging a stubborn and very stupid pack-mule, which can just about flail its way downhill but refuses to climb anything with an uphill gradient.

We rode towards the murky city of Bristol over the shores of Chew Valley Lake, which I never previously knew existed and which sounds and looks like it belongs in the US. The peacefulness of the calm water reflecting the clouds, the randy swans and moorhens chirping reedily was ruined, however, by the trucks endlessly clanking past on the way to and from the city.

Bristol is now marketing itself as a bike-friendly city, and the cycle routes are fairly well signposted (and free maps are easy to get hold of), if not entirely pot-hole free. But while the battle with drivers on the road is slowly being won, many of these routes involve bikes and pedestrians sharing many the same space - and not all walkers have cottoned onto this yet.

The night was spent at the surprisingly nice YHA on the riverside, although I was tormented by the sounds of a woman snoring in the bunk below mine and had to fashion earplugs out of toilet paper.

Leaving Bristol in the blazing sunshine along the road to Avonmouth I was struck by a sense that I was in Africa (maybe because I'm currently reading  Ryszard Kapuściński's Shadow of the Sun, about his time as a reporter in Africa). The brown waters of the Avon looked as dark and impenetrable as the Nile, with muddy banks that would slide under your fingers if you were unfortunate enough to fall in; the red bus lanes looked like patches of desert, bordered with scrubby bush and rusty fencing.

We cycled through an industrial estate and towards Avonmouth, which is notable for being a place to stop for change for the Severn Bridge toll, and little else. Even in this bleak area, spring is making itself felt, and perhaps  as a cyclist, riding on narrow paths and fringes of roads or pushed up against the hedgerows, you notice it more. Here at the edges branches are poking out, catkins are lying coiled in piles to derail you, grass is sprouting out of pot-holes. Everything is pushing, thrusting and grabbing, waiting to slap you in the face for daring to intrude on its territory.

Despite this outflux, the stories I hear are still ones of warning, that the weather is too good, too early, and that there will be a cold spell yet. All this life will have to shrink back, freeze and start over again.

And then we were over the Severn Bridge (more on that in a minute), which means the first part of our journey, the Westcountry, is complete! It's a part of the world I'm very familiar with, but it was interesting to see it to from a new perspective, out in the open air for long hours at a time and meeting people I would otherwise not have spoken to.

So the Severn Bridge - epic, glorious and wonderful. As a child I had a recurring nightmare about a long white bridge that stretched for miles but as I travelled along it got narrower and narrower until I was crawling on my hands and knees staring into the sea. The first time I crossed the Severn Bridge, I recognised it from the dream. I started the crossing in terror but the moment I reached the other side, realising there was an end, fell in love with it and have enjoyed crossing it ever since. Today, cycling over the old bridge further north (the newer one is only open to motor vehicles), I could see its vast beauty and the whole expanse of estuary glimmering in the sun. It's a shame how few people see this as they fly blindly over locked up in their cars and trucks. 

Then it was on into Wales, along the coastal road past St Brides, where the daffodils are rife. But that's a story for another day.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Where be that blackbird to? He's off to Glastonbury

Just a few miles can make a huge amount of difference. Today we managed to escape the mountainous murder of Devon to tackle Somerset and already the whole landscape has a different feel to it. 

Yesterday, the buzzing of the bumblebees that filled the hedgerows sounded like a crackle of electricity, a life-force running the roads, the veins of the countryside. Today the crackling came from pylons hanging heavily over the Grand Western Canal. The ducks seemed unperturbed but it gave the land an artificial feel.

We started today by following the NCN 3 along the canal bordered by farmland. It was such a pleasure to cycle on flat ground for a long stretch, and to be alert enough to notice the algae blooms and the reeds shedding their winter coats like little sheep. I even had a few moments of childish glee continuing to cycle under the tiny footbridges across the foot-deep canal, despite the authoritative notices that this was STRICTLY FORBIDDEN - CYCLISTS DISMOUNT.

The lulling ride also got me thinking about the outdoor music I'm hearing, now that I don't have headphones permanently plugged into my ears. It's like hearing a symphony that I can appreciate on one level but, at least at first, I couldn't distinguish the different strands that make it up - I've never been taught to listen out in the right way - and all I could really make out at the start was the bass-line cawing of crows. Now I'm starting to be able to hear the blackbirds' song (such a British bird, the blackbird, with its descriptively pragmatic name but with so many songs written about it) distinctly and I can clearly make out gaggles of bluetits arguing in the bushes.

I'm also learning the distinct melody of my bike, and hearing when something is wrong and out of tune. In fact, I get into such a sonorous mood rhythmically peddling on these stretches of flat ground that when my feet occasionally slip off the pedals it's as if a CD has skipped or someone has pulled the needle off a record - jarring and deeply unpleasant.

The most difficult part of the morning was trying not to run over the dogs that kept getting in the way, and keeping a smile plastered on when helpful people pointed out how much stuff we were carrying in our panniers.

At Taunton, we had to make our way over to Glastonbury on busier A and B roads, across the pleasant Somerset Levels (landscape stretching comfortingly into the distance) and the Mendip Hills (less hilly than they sound). Matt's bike has started making increasingly alarming clanking sounds (yet another thing that needs sorting in the morning). 

We ended up doing about 46 miles today, not very impressive for hardcore End-to-Enders but far more than we've managed in a day yet and without too much strain, so I'm very pleased. I hadn't originally planned to go through Glastonbury but there could be some good filming opportunities now we're here, at another hostel over a pub.

Tonight's playlist includes: Blackbird - Beatles; Blackbird - Unthanks; and of course Blackbird - The Wurzels

Saturday, 19 March 2011

No moor hills please

Having decided to stick to around 20 miles a day for the moment we took the NCN 27 north from Plymouth across the edge of Dartmoor. We arrived yesterday evening at the Tavistock Bunkhouse, newly opened in January in time for the spring and summer outdoor sport seasons (with enough time to sort out teething problems). It's run by the friendly staff from the Union Inn next door - specifically Fran, or 'Big FJ' as he's known, who keeps the beer and banter flowing in equal measure. It's a clean and functional place to stay but I did bristle at the idea of shower tokens limiting how long you can wash for. We christened the bunkhouse bikeshed by giving our bikes a much needed clean and oil, somewhat redundantly as it turned out as today's journey was just as muddy.

After a proper English breakfast we continued along the NCN 27, a well signposted and well-kept cycle path used regularly for the Devon coast-to-coast cycling challenge. It was busy with cyclists and walkers today. Thankfully there were few hills, although there was a scramble through a quarry at one point which was decidedly un-cycle friendly. The few hills we did have to walk up made me think of what a Sisyphean task this journey is at the moment - rolling bikes up one hill just to go up another one that is, to all intents and purposes, identical.

Along the way we passed people foxhunting on horseback, conspicuous in bright red jackets on the scrubby dark moorland. As we cycled towards them they stood stock-still and seemed to be staring right at us, looking like a strangely artificial tableau - alert but inactive. But at the reedy sound of a horn in the distance, hounds started to whine, the horses pricked up their ears and the riders seemed to come alive. I suppose that, like us, they were waiting for the signal from an animal to spring into action. Any chance of filming them quickly vanished as they smoothly outpaced our bikes on the bumpy ground.

I can hardly complain about the riders and their jackets, however, as I stick out like a sore thumb. With my bright yellow cycling jacket and orange hair I look like a mobile daffodil. Wilting in the spring heat and smelling of chocolate digestives, I've started attracting attention from curious bees. 

The second half of the route today took us along the Granite Way from Lydford to Okehampton, passing over the Meldon viaduct which crosses the stunning gorge below (the photos really don't do it justice). This is also the end of the line for the old Okehampton railway which starts up again in a few weeks time. For tourist venues like this the start of the season depends considerably on when Easter falls and therefore when families will start to visit.

Passing more postcard villages, I couldn't help noticing how many homes have twee names like Spring House, Sunny View or Mushroom Mill. These sit perfectly on a day like today, with a clear blue sky, but how about the rest of the year? Are they a reminder of the joy of spring? Or a slap in the face in the middle of winter? I wonder how many are holiday homes, forgotten in December in London when 'Sunny View' is just a bad joke.
I'm now safely ensconced in a B&B in Okehampton, planning another route across the moors and cursing the contour lines which seem to show no easy way out.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A right old knees up

It was a full 35-odd miles on the road today towards my hometown of Plymouth (where the marketing slogan 'City of Discovery' is mostly about the discovering the surprisingly varied assortment of hills - gradient, camber, it has the lot) and my knees now feel as if someone has stamped on them.

It was another lovely day for biking along country roads and past farms, and I managed to eat an entire meal simply from the insects that flew helpfully into my mouth, but we had to briefly go onto the busy A38 towards Plymouth which was intimidating - busy and fast and completely unaccommodating to cyclists.

I was told that I'd picked the hilliest route through the whole of Cornwall, which is mainly because I'm dictated by where our interviewees are. I did, however, manage to add on a few extra miles by leading us along several 'scenic routes' (also known as the wrong way) which unfortunately led us down (and up) a few more hills than we really needed to do. I've already abandoned the careful plans I made earlier to mindlessly following the GPS on my iPhone, so I don't know how anything could possibly go wrong, but anyone who has foolishly let me navigate before knows how infamously bad I am at navigation. Thankfully Matt is amazingly forgiving (he also doesn't know quite how often I make these mistakes). Still, it's all building up cycling muscle for the Devon hills, right?

The good news is that I've got a home-cooked meal and decent bed to look forward to tonight and that one county - Cornwall - is now done and dusted. After this is over I'm going to live in a bungalow. In Holland.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Pot holes and revelations

I woke up today dreading the long cycle to Plymouth but the day turned out much better than I'd anticipated (mind you, I am still writing this through a haze of exhaustion on a tiny iphone keypad so please forgive any glaring typos).

We got up fairly early to meet my contact at the Eden Project. We left our extraordinarily heavy panniers locked up at hostel and I deeply regret all the unnecessary things I'd brought with me (I have an empty black pot with me. Why? What on earth did I think I would put in it? Did I think I would trade it for a spare inner tube in a moment of dire emergency? My own thought processes baffle me on this point) and have every intention of abandoning a load of it at the first opportunity.

The cycle down to Eden was grey and difficult, bruised and aching, and we realised how deep the potholes were that we'd narrowly missed in the dark on the way in yesterday. But just as we cycled into the Bodelva valley the skies brightened and the domes twinkled in the sunshine. The domes are meant to look vaguely organic, a part of the landscape like insect eggs or honeycomb and the whole project itself is always a hive of activity. Today we spoke to a couple of gardeners about their springtime tasks and how they personally know spring is coming.

Getting back from Eden the thought of another 30 miles on the road was too painful to bear, so we decided to stay another night at Golant, go for a stroll for food in the gorgeous sunshine (I'm built for walking, not cycling, that's for sure) and generally rest the aching muscles for an afternoon. Spotted a pig that looked like it had been given a makeover by Peggy Mitchell and a gaggle of bluetits arguing in a tree.

I also managed to catch up with the news, which isn't so great as I'm now anxious for news of my friend in Toyko..

I'll post a video diary tomorrow from Plymouth once I've managed to get the blog to show them properly and will sort out any remaining feed problems. Lots of photos coming soon!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Blinking lights and revolutions

I woke up yesterday with the words 'horse sushi' in my head, which seemed to pervade my thoughts throughout the day. After a hilly start towards St Ives it has continued to be hilly. You're going to hear me talking a lot about hills so if you're of a nervous or nauseous disposition look away now.

The day started badly when Matt woke up with a painful neck. Some painkillers, anti-inflammatory cream, and a few hours of recuperation later, he felt OK enough to get back on the bike. We cycled down to St Ives harbour which was bustling with Sunday afternoon visitors soaking in the unseasonable warmth. The ice cream vendors were starting to trade well again and men were out painting their rowing and sailboats (a sure sign that spring is on it's way that people are starting to mend the damage and neglect of winter).

In the harbour we met Richard, a man who hand-makes willow lobster pots the traditional way. He claims to be one of the last people in the country to have this skill, if not the last, and here in the harbour his tough physical work is watched by curious tourists. One or two may buy a pot for decoration but at this time of year he mainly makes money by selling his homegrown daffodils (various breeds, whatever takes your fancy). He told me about visiting the Orkneys and watching the daffodils spring up in early May so it looks like we're pretty much on target on terms I'd following spring (mind you, he was last there in the 1970s...).

He's not the only one. All along the country lanes people are selling daffs by the bucket, even though you could pick a bunch yourself from the plants growing by the side of the road. There's a pride about the Cornish daffodils, which also appear to be the basis of the local economy at this time of the year. People tell me theirs have been out for a few weeks already and that we've missed them at their best: "They're all ageing now." We pass fields of workers picking daffodils, whole swathes left in the ground because their stems are deemed not quite long enough. Those will be ploughed back into the ground ready for next year's crop.

The country lanes we chose to go down yesterday were beautiful in the sunshine but the hills were relentless. No sooner have you got to the top of one than you can see the peak of the next and the steep climb to get up it. Even the simple ecstatic joy of speeding down a hill is tainted with the knowledge that a down will be followed
 by another up. Many times we simply had to get out and walk, catching our shins repeatedly on the pedals and bouncing off the panniers. Pushing my bike up one of these hills a babbling brook nearby seemed to be mocking me, giggling to the birds at my inability to perform a basic task. But then, what does a brook know about climbing hills?

At one point I saw what I'm certain was a swift, and earlier today the surprising scent of wild garlic put me off my stroke (isn't it far too early for both these species?)

The evening was spent in a pleasant family-run hostel in Falmouth, in an area where every house is a guest house of some variety. Because the holiday season hasn't started rates are low and we seem to be getting dorm rooms to ourselves.

Today was another difficult day but manageable. Unfortunately one of our planned interviewees, a commercial daffodil farmer, couldn't meet us because he's in the US, but that's the nature of this documentary and our last-minute planning. Instead we made our way across the water on the lovely St Mawes ferry to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, to speak to one of the gardeners about how the place prepares for spring. People were very accommodating and it made for a great interview, once we'd sorted our technical issues such as a low camera battery and spare tapes.

We then carried on toward St Austell and onto the friendly hostel in Golant, a large rambling house like the set of Cluedo accessible only by a mile-long track. After a hearty dinner I now need to make some decisions about our future route, and particularly how far we can realistically go tomorrow without our knees caving in.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single sand martin

Well it has begun. After months of preparation and literally hours of strenuous training we started the journey north. 

The fates seemed to have been on our side in the days running up to the start - ordered equipment arrived just in time, bikes were allowed onto trains (despite the warnings of singularly unhelpful First Great Western staff) and parents went out of their way to drive and provide a sustaining supply of sandwiches. 

To cut a long story short (and to begin a much longer, but hopefully more interesting, one) we arrived at Land's End this afternoon just as the rain began to spatter. We took our photos in front of the famous sign (turning down the £10  fee of the official photographer - a man who literally takes his work home with him to avoid people stealing it), signed into the hotel End-to-End book (we're the third group to have started from Land's End this year) took some preliminary footage and set off. (There was more faffing than this would suggest, involving a cream tea, but that doesn't make for good blogging.) Land's End is not the most salubrious place at the best of times, but the rundown amusement arcade and hasty cash-in of a Doctor Who exhibit look even tackier completely empty and in the drizzle. 

Despite this, we set off later than planned and the pressure to get to St Ives before dark was on. The first section along the coast was lovely, the drizzle giving the sea and moorside a sad quality as if it didn't want to let go of winter just yet, just yet. But there were splashes of daffodils all along the road banks and gorse flowers were bursting through, so spring has definitely started to spring here. 

Then there were the hills. We'd been warned about these and I'd vainly assumed they couldn't be all that bad. They were - and these weren't even the bad ones. I admit we were defeated by quite a few and had to drag our unwilling bikes up them, telling each other repeatedly that at the end of this trip hills such as this will seem easy. Maybe they will, but they didn't feel easy today. 

After 17 miles we arrived just before dusk in St Ives, checked into the backpackers hostel and had a well deserved pub dinner. Off to bed now and hopefully plenty of springtime stories to begin regailing tomorrow.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Sightings update

Over the last month, dozens of sightings of frogspawn have been coming into Nature's Calendar from across the UK, with a dense mass in the South-West region. Frogs take around a week to develop in the egg before they hatch, so we must be due an explosion of tadpole sightings very soon (people who record frogspawn tend to come back to record the tadpoles as well). There have been a couple already in Cornwall, so on that front we're ready to go.

All we're waiting for now is a sighting of sand martins in the South-West. The first sighting has just been recorded in Canterbury, so we're keeping our fingers crossed that more will come in soon. Otherwise I'm tempted to travel down to Cornwall and hunt one down myself (with a camera, of course).

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Hasn't spring started?

The beady-eyed among you may have noticed that we only recently announced which animals and plants we were looking out for as our markers of the start of spring. The reason for this is simply that we've encountered our first, very general, problem with living seasonally - that it makes life bloody difficult.

The species we originally chose as our marker of the start of spring - hawthorn coming into leaf - starting appearing way back in early February and we weren't at all ready to start the journey. It was a particularly early sighting for hawthorn but, even so, it made us reconsider our choices and forced us to plan more flexibly.

Some of the issues we've encountered are specific to our project, the most problematic of which was that I had to find a new team member to cycle with after my previous partner dropped out for family reasons. Thankfully, Matt appeared at the last minute, with all the experience and skills we needed, and was as stubbornly enthusiastic about the project as we were.

Then there have been technical and equipment problems such as stolen bikes, missing and obsolete microphones and the nightmare of getting affordable insurance. A large production company would have absorbed these costs, but our pocket-sized budget has simply not allowed it.

Thankfully we chose a variety of animals and plants to follow, which now includes sand martins and frog tadpoles. After the recent explosion in frogspawn, the first sightings of tadpoles have started to come in - there have already been two in the south-west (25th February in Launceston and 1st March in Truro). Of sand martins we have heard nothing yet but we expect sightings to start coming in very soon. So we're nearly there, we're watching the skies, the fields and the water and keeping an eye out for the sightings on Nature's Calendar.

To everyone who has asked whether spring has already started because the Met Office or Springwatch say it has, I say: 'Probably but maybe not'. Either way, it's so cold this week that I unashamedly admit I'm glad not to be on the road.