It would be difficult not to take to Rob Penn on first meeting – he exudes energy, enthusiasm and good humour.
Rob is an author, journalist, TV presenter and cyclist: he’s ridden a bicycle most days of his adult life, in over fifty countries on five continents. It’s fair to say he’s obsessed with cycling and bikes and his 2010 book It's All about the Bike documents his worldwide search for the perfect custom bike, while narrating the social history of the bicycle. In 2013, he cycled 1,200 km through the heart of the Amazon rainforest with former England cricket captain Andrew Flintoff for the two-part Sky1 documentary Flintoff's Road to Nowhere and then a year later the pair were to be seen travelling round Britain in a fish and chip van for the series Lord of the Fries. Here at WHC HQ we love puns – even dreadful ones – but that’s pushing it.
No matter, Rob is also fascinated by trees and woodland and it was through the Radio 4 serialisation of The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees that I learned about him and his writing. The book describes how Rob cut down an ash tree to see how many things could be made from it. After all, ash is the tree we have made the greatest and most varied use of over the course of human history. Journeying from Wales across Europe and Ireland to the USA, he found that the ancient skills and knowledge of the properties of ash, developed over millennia making wheels and arrows, furniture and baseball bats, are far from dead. Here in Hereford we have many people who still work with wood using traditional crafts and I am glad that when I heard him speak among the ash made artefacts he had with him was a hand-cleft tent peg. I have a bag of these for our bell tent made by H. W. Morgan & Sons in Mordiford.
Generous with his time, it is great that Rob has agreed to be part of an An Evening of Words and Music in aid of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve appeal on 30th March 2018. He will be in conversation with fellow nature writer Miriam Darlington, facilitated by Andy Friars, the director of the Hay Winter festival, but perhaps better known to the WHC audience as fiddle player with Lonesome Stampede. Music on that night will be provided by our good friends Slippery Slope.