Following on from the success of our 2012 Ride for Research event in Reading City, the second ride in 2012 was held in Birmingham. Organiser Russell Ball tells the story.
The rock of this ride was Pete Wharton who organised a picturesque thirty-five mile route through the leafy suburbs of Walsall and the famous ‘venetian’ canal system that threads its way through the heartland of Birmingham.
As usual, the ride risk assessment (RA) was carried out the day before. Pete, Mick Boddy and I left the Walsall Parks Depot – the start and finish point – to assess the complete route and record any potential ‘ride hazards’. Both Pete and Mick are sportive cyclists and ride bikes weighing in at least twenty grams! A cracking pace was set as we whizzed round the route and at times I struggled to keep up. However, a small victory was mine, as nearing the ride’s end along a muddy rutted canal tow-path, they both fell off their thin tyred road bikes with Pete almost taking a canal dive! Settling into my bed later that night, my legs throbbed and ached. Roll on the next day I thought, the riders are in for a scenic – yet challenging – West Midlands tour, albeit at a more sedate pace!
All photos – credit Mick Boddy
Ride day was dry but a swirling gusty wind had stirred to test everyone’s pedal power. Thankfully, much-needed fuel was laid on by Lesley Adams in the form of scrummy fresh homemade ciabatta rolls and cinnamon buns. After the RA briefing and a few cups of tea, the fourteen strong RfR team set-off (including a group of three from Team Amey): bedecked in bright yellow RfR t-shirts. The first school, Whetstone Field Primary, was just around the corner and on arrival we ambled over to the planting site. We waited in anticipation to see the pupil’s expectant faces. Minutes later we were not to be disappointed as twenty-plus smiling children filed out and gathered round the prostrate Judas tree that was lying adjacent to its planting pit. Many riders were taken aback by the range of poems that had been produced for our visit. My unenviable job was to spark-up debate about the value of trees. Having now done a few rides, it’s hard to judge how this will turn out. But one thing’s for sure, school kids are now well-informed about such things and as Moray Simpson later added, this is very refreshing for ‘public-bashed stressed-out’ council tree officers. One pupil even knew where Anglesey was (Moray’s ‘home-town’) and duly received a prized RfR yellow t-shirt. After a lively debate it was tree planting time. A flash of hands went up as pupils waited in line for their turn with a spade. We just stood back to see the back-filling done in minutes! After some joyful photos in beaming Walsall sunshine we departed for Maney Hill Primary School.
If you can imagine a mini leafy San Francisco with countless undulating roads, you’ve got it about right. This quiet scenic route tested the pedal power of many riders. But the real crunch-factor was the gusting wind that had whipped-up. At some points, it was necessary to cycle hard even downhill just to maintain a pedestrian pace! Consequently, the yellow ‘t-shirted’ string of riders opened up. So as not to lose anyone, however, the front leading-pack would always wait: never far away.
On arrival at Maney Hill Primary School, we were ushered into the staff-room for a welcome cup of tea and a respite from the wind. Lively banter between riders about their various cycling abilities sparked-up and filled the room. Bon ami was in no short supply. Even discussion about the future 2013 RfR ride in Ireland was high on the ‘agenda’. Once again, this time around a field maple, we waited for a small group of eco-project students who had recently installed a wildlife pond. As before, the pupil Q&A session centred on tree benefits and I asked Tom Wilson (Barcham Trees) to estimate how high the tree would be in twenty years, when the pupils had produced children of their own. An estimation was made with a stinger missile retort from one pupil who piped-up “I’m not going to have children”! Bang. This floored me. As Lesley later explained, such subjects should be approached ‘with caution’. Even at 50 years old, for me every day is still a school day. This time back-filling spades were not immediately to hand so what did the pupils do? Backfill by hand! The glee of handling soil and getting grubby hands was clear for all to see. In a youngster’s modern-day 99% germ-free Dettol world this is something to be valued! A quick fire RfR yellow t-shirt prize went to the pupil who’d remembered the tree species we had just planted.
Hunger stirred and we left the school to pupil’s cheers, destined for lunch at the Birmingham Botanic Gardens. En-route was a jewel! Sutton park, allegedly, the largest gated park in the UK. Once in the park, the topography levelled out and trees flanking the route provided an effective wind-break. After a few miles we left the park, rode alongside a large Slimbridge-like wildfowl filled boating-lake and headed for the Birmingham canals. This winding network, probably also unique in the UK, provided an obvious flat route for riders, punctuated with numerous bridges that posed sharp pace draining inclines and declines. Sitting on a bike, the low overhead bridges provided a challenge for some, notably the 6.2ft. high plus frame of Gareth Hare. Now riding in single file, the industrial heartland of Birmingham, mixed with new swanky flatted developments, could be appreciated either side of the canal: that with the returning gusty winds had rippling surface waves.
Finishing this canal stretch, we emerged up on street-side now a little shaken due to the tow-path cobble stones. Within a few miles we reached the Botanic Gardens for a well-earned packed-lunch and brief tour from Simon Gulliver (Curator). Refreshed and recharged, we mounted bikes again for a brief ride to the third and final school: Nelson Primary to plant a Red oak. Just a small school group again, but how they nearly blew me over with their resounding “Good afternoon and how are you?” welcome. The tree benefit Q&As went well but I fell at the final hurdle when a pupil responded that strawberries grow on trees. Arbutus flashed into my head, wires got crossed and I nodded in agreement… well I’ll be more prepared for that answer next time! Many young arms then assisted Keith Burgess to guide the oak into it’s hole and with a flurry of hands, the pit was backfilled to finish the job. This time the yellow RfR t-shirt was awarded to a chirpy young chap who’d had his birthday just days before.
Job done, with all three school trees planted, we headed back to base. To avoid the previous undulating backstreets, we rode along some busy Birmingham roads. What a contrast to the quiet canal towpaths we’d just ridden and that probably had never been fully experienced by the Brummies we were cycling past. We did have, however, a final stretch of quiet canal to ride before emerging a few miles later at the Longhorn Pub for a pint before the final hike back to base.
For me, the ride met all expectations. As usual the school kids were the stars of the ride and let’s hope the planted trees live on as a lasting legacy of our pedalling-power efforts. Well done Riders one and all!!
Many thanks again to Pete for a cracking route and for also organising the school tree planting ably assisted by Ian McDermott who took care of the Walsall tree planting. Mick Boddy’s ride organising efforts are also very much appreciated. Also thanks to Amey who took care of the tree planting in Birmingham. Special thanks to Acorn and Capita Symonds for respectively sponsoring the lunch and ride insurance. Thanks to Birmingham Botanic Gardens for being our lunch hosts. As for all events, our thanks to tree sponsors Barcham Trees.
Riders: Lesley Adams (Symbiosis), Mark Ashman (Tree Contractor), Russell Ball (Arbol EuroConsulting), Mick Boddy (Symbiosis), Keith Burgess (Amey), Gareth Hare (Lichfield Council), Jonathan Mills (Capita Symonds), Mark Postlethwaite (Amey), Ian McDermott (Walsall Council), Moray Simpson (Wrexham Council), Ellen Tune (Amey), Peter Wharton (Wharton Arboriculture) Tom Wilson (Barcham Trees) and Richard Wood (Birmingham City Council).