February 25th - First time in Tyseley for a while. Leaving in a mediocre golden hour, I was reminded of the view from Wharfdale Road, and it caught my breath.
Somewhere over the terraces, chimney pots and quiet suburban streets, there’s my city. Right there.
February 24th - The huge marlpit at Stubbers Green that feeds the Weinerberger brick plant with raw clay is impressive. These extraction processes are not as simple as just digging a hole. The pit is dug in a pattern decided by engineers to ensure safety and drainage. In an impervious material like marl, accumulated water from the elements and surrounding environment is an issue to contend with. Here, a floating pump on a bouyancy raft made of empty drums returns water to a surface lagoon. Roadways and access tracks crisscross the site.
Extraction didn’t seem to be in progress when I passed today, but excavators load huge trucks with the red, surprisingly dry material, which is conveyed to the plant on the far side in an endless chain. The factory was running, however, as I could smell the distinctive note of baking clay in the air.
Although ugly, and many consider it a blight, this is a factory and facility that provides much employment to the local area, and the bricks produced are good quality. I find it fascinating in scale and procedure, and could look into that void for hours.
One of the fascinating aspects is looking at the rear face, and seeing the subtle colour changes in the clay as the geology yielded its secrets.
February 24th - Headed home mid afternoon after an early start, I did what I usually do at such times and came though Aldridge to avoid the mania of the school run traffic. Zipping along the canal, just by the overflow in Aldridge, a tiny clump of four beautiful purple crocuses. They were the only ones I could see, and stood quite alone. I wondered how these harbingers of spring came to be here; but it doesn’t matter how, just that they were. And I saw them, and their existance made me happy indeed.
February 23rd - I was grey and very, very windy when I headed to Chasewater, but it still felt springlike as it was very warm for the time of year. Chasewater was very choppy and largely deserted, but heading back over a drying-out Brownhills Common I noted the paths and tracks were already beginning to self-heal from the felling activity here a few weeks before. I also noted some great information signs, the most interesting point on which was that the felled wood was being used locally.
This whole project has been beset by poor communications, and had some of this information been available at the outset, much of the hysterical reaction to the works could have surely been prevented.
Hopping on the cycleway at Engine Lane, I noticed someone has been hard at work there, cutting down the undergrowth and overhanging bushes and opened the whole track out - nice one.
Wonder who was responsible for that? Whoever it was, I salute them.
February 23rd - There’s enterprise for you. I noticed this van parked up at Chasewater Basin, and it seems to belong to the owner of the narrowboat moored nearby. It never occurred to me that boaters may need a chimney sweep. But advertising the wedding gig? Canny.
I like it.
February 22nd - Spring certainly felt on her throne in and around Walsall Wood. The crocuses were coming into bloom on the High Street, the Canada geese were developing their customary mating territorial aggression on the towpaths and the display outside the florists was gorgeous. Sadly, on what was probably the best cycling day of the year, I had other stuff to do, and my ride was short - but oh my, it was enjoyable. It’s been so long since the weather felt as favourable as it does now.
February 22nd - Out early on an errand. I had to get some stuff from Screwfix, so I headed up to Walsall Wood on a fine, dry sunny spring morning. Taking to the canal, I noted that the embankment is now collapsing away near Clayhanger Bridge in addition to the area between Catshill Junction and the Pier Street Bridge. Clearly, the poor weather is taking a heavy toll, and the Canal and River Trust (which used to be British Waterways) have still yet to visibly attend to the previous problem I drew to their attention.
In the meantime, watch out if you’re cycling or walking here - the holes that open up are narrow and deep. Take care.
February 21st - Returning home in the wee small hours, I was irritated to discover I’d forgotten my camera. As I sped from Walsall on deserted streets, there was a fine drizzle but the wind was behind me. I saw nothing but a handful of cars, a couple of foxes and a started badger. The phone is useless in low light, but these do capture the atmosphere quite well.
I’d quite forgotten the otherwordly atmosphere of being out on a bike at 1am…
February 20th - The week before, the canal overflow at Clayhanger had been a raging rapid of water flowing from the canal into local drainage. I posted at the time that I’d never seen anything quite like it, and I was seriously concerned over the possibility of subsequent flooding on the River Tame, when most of the canal overflows in Walsall drain to.
A far from dry week later, the flow is reduced - still high by normal standards - but gone is the angry torrent, and my fears of flooding proven unfounded. Whilst we’ve been far more fortunate than other parts of the country, it does go to show that despite massive development over the years, the local drains and water system is incredibly capacious and resilient.
February 20th - My morning commute was back to baby weather - wet and windy - but there was no heart to it, and the day soon cleared. I returned hume, still deliciously light at gone 5pm, in the most golden of sunset hours. The red bricks that seem to make up most of Walsall’s non-concrete architecture look great in this light, bringing magic even to the dismal design of the Saddlers Centre. Great light and great sunsets, and the extension of the day make for wonderful journeys right now.
February 19th - Meanwhile, at the other end in Telford, another sign of spring: daffodils are growing well on the verges and along the cycleways. I love to see them, and last year they seemed so late. I notice crocuses out, too. I’m a bit concerned, really; the heavy snows of last winter returned in late March. Although it’s wonderful to see such early signs of spring, I hope they’re not wiped out by a return to winter… but this is churlish. The weather is such an improvement, as is the cycling.
Hopefully, the weather will open out a bit now.
February 19th - It feels like spring, and I welcome it. More than the cessation of rains, I welcome the dropping of the relentless wind. Setting out for Telford on a spring morning, the sky was still lovely from the night before, and the ride felt good. Even the usual poor performance from London Midland couldn’t dent my good mood…
February 18th - A great sky tonight, and a good sunset although I wasn’t in a good place to catch it. The day had been showery, but mostly dry and sunny, with a low wind. I really feel right now that the weather is, at last, settling down a bit.
I was on the lookout for good views of the sky on my way home from Walsall, and found myself unable to get any, but plenty of urban textures and skylines.
I bet it was beautiful at Chasewater, or up on Barr Beacon…