Black Bryony

Black Bryony berries garlanding its way through the ivy.

All autumn I have been enjoying the sight of black bryony berries garlanding the hedgerows. They are of course a fairly common plant in most of England, but one I only tend to see once the bright red berries have ripened. The flowers are fairly small and insignificant.

Black Bryony in Hawthorn hedge.

I have wanted to take a picture of the berries before, but mostly I see them while cycling, along roadside hedges that are not always good places to walk with a camera. They also drape themselves so sparsely that they don’t frame well. Then this year a new cycle route was opened up to me (see earlier post, Cycle Roads) and it grew in these traffic free hedges in such profusion that I wanted to have a go. A month ago the leaves were still yellowing and showing their bindweedy shape, but now they hang brown or have dispersed into the hedge bottom to be recycled into next year’s crop. Getting camera, weather, time and leg that can be walked on all together has taken some time… (These were taken with our old compact camera – the DSLR camera I got this year would have done a better job at putting the background out of focus and letting the berries shine, but would have added an extra weight / balancing challenge I wasn’t ready for. Work in progress!)

There are two bryonies, named white and black after the colour of their roots, both looking very similar for most of the year since they each have mid-green ivy-like leaves, small insignificant greenish white male and female flowers followed by red berries, and they climb up hawthorn with abandon. However they are completely unrelated to each other. White bryony, Bryonia dioica, is a member of the curcurbitae family (ie courgettes and melons) so climbs with tendrils, and is dioecious, while Black Bryony, Tamus communis, belongs to the Dioscoreaceae family (ie yams), climbs by twining, and is monoecious. Both are poisonous in all parts.

Black Bryony berries and ivy.

Black bryony berries and juice or pulp from the root have been applied directly to the skin for bruises, strains, gout, rheumatism and hair loss because the calcium oxalate it contains as crystals irritate (or stimulate?) the skin. It has also been used to cause vomiting in careful doses, and when mixed with wine or honey, black bryony has been used for gravel or asthma. An overdose is likely to cause a painful death however. All parts also contain saponins, another poison, although one which is normally deactivated by cooking – but the young shoots are cooked and eaten like asparagus in southern France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia and Greece.

I managed to meet Black Bryony in meditation, and found a very interesting energy which was willing to communicate with me, appearing briefly in a dark female form and very beautiful. Its element is fire, and its focus is transformation – hence is medical uses. But transformation can be destructive to some if they are not willing to change, to let some parts die down. It was used in alchemy for this purpose. [I cannot find any evidence for this as yet, although I’m not an alchemist so it may turn up…] It has been particularly active along the lane to create the transformation that I have seen this year. It has developed strong roots in the course of this work so will continue to grow well there, but doesn’t need to spread further. It also brings harmony, creating links between species. It does not help the fiery aspects of will, or of strong focus and intention.

Black Bryony makes a garland under a hawthorn branch.

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Cycle Roads

Cycle 'Road'

Cycle ‘Road’

Once upon a time no cycle tracks were needed, because there was so little traffic bicycles had the roads to themselves. Then cycle tracks started to be created, first alongside busy roads and later on old railway lines or other random routes into the countryside. Sadly this isn’t a fairy story with the happy ending of a wonderful cycle network as enjoyed across the North Sea; councils here soon realised that they could tick boxes by incorporating painted cycle lanes on wide roads, and then abandoning them at narrow points or trees. Or assuming the average cyclist travels at eight miles per hour and is just out for a leisurely potter so won’t mind barriers or awkward junctions.

A downhill stretch.

A downhill stretch.

But just occasionally something comes along that is truly a Cycle Road, with a beautiful smooth surface and no through traffic except for bicycles. This is the case for a newly resurfaced road that runs for 2.5 miles in Derbyshire.

Once used for open-cast coal mining, the road was originally concrete slabs but had deteriorated badly through the last few decades of neglect. Imagine sharp-edged, deep, puddly pot-holes randomly placed along the whole length – having tried it maybe three times over the past 15 years I would consider it virtually unrideable on a ‘road’ bike, and I used to ride along a dirt track for a mile every day as part of a school commute!

One gate ...

One gate …

Now it is a perfect ribbon of smooth, black tarmac, traveling between hedges by the sides of fields with only the occasional farm or house along its length – and one gate to stop through traffic but which kindly leaves a bicycle-sized gap to one side. I suddenly feel like my dreams can come true, and that my belief that if it the right thing to be cycling with M, it will all work out okay and she will stay safe. There are fields, hedges, trees, a small woodland and streams that cross, connecting me with nature as I ride and watching the seasons change, instead of dodging traffic. It puts me in mind of comments made by Ordinary cyclists (ie penny farthings) in the nineteenth century, enjoying bowling along a beautiful surface. Oh how they would have loved this – and how we will too!

Cycling in the Nearly Rain

I don’t usually take M cycling in the rain. I don’t mind for myself, but I do like to get warm and dry afterwards. So it was unfortunate that the first opportunity we have had to go for an actual cycle ride, somewhere new, rather than just ‘transport’ on our regular route, it drizzled the whole time. Luckily M is still of a size to have a onesie rainsuit to fit her…

Since May we have upgraded the bike trailer for a Weehoo. For those unfamiliar with this relatively new tagalong, it features pedals but also a strap-in armchair seat, so is suitable from age 2-9 for children over three feet tall. The fact that M is not yet a pedal bike rider herself makes it exciting from her point of view, to be able to pedal and signal and have her own bell to ring, but I have found it rather challenging to pull!

The two-wheeled trailer we had acted as a big dead weight behind me, steadying out any wobbles from either of us, especially mine when in bottom gear uphill. The Weehoo, by contrast, amplifies every slightest error and is therefore subject to some interesting passenger-affected manoeuvres. However having only the one wheel, and the potential for passenger help up the hills (this is Derbyshire!), after a bit of practice I am finding it easier to pull despite being virtually the same weight overall.

The other big difference between the trailer and the Weehoo is starting and stopping. I have found a kickstand to be an essential piece of kit as, while I can just about manage to straddle the trailer bar to do up the straps for M, turning around without dropping my bike requires a level of gymnastic ability that I no longer possess. It also requires a very flat and stable area of ground. Luckily undoing the straps is easy and something she can almost do by herself before climbing out of the seat – provided she is awake! I have returned more than once with a sleeping passenger and have been sorry I could not simply leave her where she was, like I could with the trailer!

So for our first leisure ride, we had the opportunity to cycle the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire’s Peak District. I have walked a few sections, but a few years ago the six tunnels were reopened and cyclists have been able to ride a 8.5 mile stretch from near Bakewell to the railway junction outside Buxton, where trains still run. It is a slow ride! It can be pretty busy, even on a damp day, and the Weehoo makes fast changes in direction tricky; even with the flag flying it was pretty invisible to walkers who assumed a nimble solo rider on a touring bike could get round them easily. Also starting from the Bakewell end, the trail is gently uphill almost the whole way, with a fairly rough surface – but even on the return journey there were too many people to go at more than about 10mph. The Buxton end has a different surface, which sprayed mud and surface water a lot more – the crud-catcher on the Weehoo, which always scratches or digs into my legs when holding the bike upright, remained completely clean thanks to my mudguard, yet the pedal area and passenger still managed to get a good coating. The Weehoo’s wheel could also do with a mudguard, as it flicks mud all over the place including the back of the seat up to the passenger’s head, and onto the tiny panniers that fit it. Yet another thing to sort out for next time!

There are several potential places to stop along the trail, with benches or even picnic tables, facilities and ice creams, but sadly the weather was not conducive to us taking advantage. Instead we enjoyed walking through one of the tunnels and eating an emergency rations chocolate bar in the dry.

I would love to say M’s verdict was big smiles, and that is what she gives me most of the time, but on this occasion I had a contented sleeper for the last three miles instead – and memories of rain. I guess we will have to go back and do it again when it is sunny!