July 22nd - The Mad Old Baggage noted the other day that buddleia was known as the ‘butterfly bush’ - and she’s right. By a busy roadside in Walsall, the purple, masonry-destroying shrub is quietly reclaiming the built, and using it to nurture the lepidoptera.
It may be a plant of the margins, scrubs and wastes, but buddleia is a bright, beautiful shrub that clearly supports a whole host of bugs - which can’t be bad.
A fantastic sight.
July 22nd - I think this must be the earliest I’ve ever seen ripe blackberries - albeit in small numbers. It’s so early in the season for them, I couldn’t quite believe it. Rosehips, too - summer is definitely cranking on a notch. With the bright sunshine and very warm days of late, so much fruit is ripening.
This is definitely one of the best summers for a good few years. Get out and enjoy it - it’s stunning.
July 21st - The lads are still working hard in a field further up Green Lane. The small herd of cattle continue to live in the watermeadow, which is looking noticeably more cropped than it was. The cows themselves are all looking in fine fettle - but I do have a soft spot for the brown and white one.
Is it me, or does he seem to be smiling?
21st July - It’s been a lovely day, but the ride home was hard. I’d been on my feet all day, and to be quite frank, the left one still hurts, and was punishing me on the way back, as were the hills and the wind. All I could do was try to relax, click down the gears and enjoy the sun.
It’s been a good season so far, warm, sunny and not too wet, and this shows in the fields around Grange Farm in Green Lane, Walsall Wood. The barley on the edge of jockey meadows is hypnotic to watch in the breeze, and the oilseed rape on the corner of Green and Mob Lanes is golden.
Soon, the harvest will be upon us, and a new range of sights and sounds.
July 20th - A day coloured mainly by the sad news of the loss of a good man, but as I rode the canal mid-afternoon, taking it gentle, I reflected on life. I noted a family of 4 cygnets and mum - dad seems to be gone - doing well up in Walsall Wood. I think they’re from up the canal in Pelsall. They are healthy birds, clearly getting by just fine.
Further down the water at Catshill Junction, the swans from Catshill still numbered seven youngsters and two parents. Nature is cruel, but the cycle of life continues.
I’ve grown very attached to these birds, have many of the local residents. It’s odd that we take such beautiful but grumpy and obstreperous characters to our hearts, but we do.
We feel great sadness at the toll of nature, and predators. But that’s the roll of nature’s dice, and it was ever thus.
And life continues, as it always has.
July 20th - Last week, I noted a quantity of sectional piling had been delivered to Ogley Junction maintenance yard ready for a job locally. I wondered where the site was - and now I know.
My attention was drawn by a couple of readers to a work cabin appearing at the Black Cock Bridge, and it seems the work is being done on the embankment at the rear of houses in Bans Close, Walsall Wood, fifty metres or so from the bridge itself..
The interlocking piling is driven into the bank to strengthen it, and minimise the effects of erosion. Here the canal runs above ground level, and the embankment is built up to it, and the top level of the bank is only a couple of inches above the waterline.
Surveyors were here in the spring, and left their telltale spray paint and post datums, and this must be the result - fixing up the canal and securing it in a weak spot for another few decades.
Let’s hope they attend to the erosion on the towpath side, too.
July 19th - I was still suffering with my left foot, so rest was in order and I didn’t do anything except cruise out for a bit of fresh air and some shopping. It was an odd evening - at 6pm on Saturday, Brownhills is usually dead and deserted, but it had rained nearly all day, and right now, from the Pier Street bridge, the town was coming alive - people were walking, jogging and getting shopping in.
All the time under a dramatic, somewhat threatening sky.
July 19th - I see this wonderful Christiana cargo bike about a lot - huge covered box on the front, hub gears, massive bell and brooks saddle. It’s built like a brick outhouse. I often see it in Pelsall. Today, it was parked up outside Aldi in Brownhills.
These are tremendously popular in northern mainland Europe, as well as other brands like the Dutch Bakfiets. You often see children being conveyed to school in them by parents over there - but here, this is clearly on a shopping trip, and a rare thing indeed.
A wonderful utility bike and I salute the owner.
July 18th - Again, I made my escape, and I slipped into Birmingham mid-afternoon and got the train to Kings Norton, intending to ride into Birmingham University where I had a call to make, and then on to the city centre along the canal, which is great from King’s Norton all the way into the city.
It is when it’s open, that is…
It turns out the towpath is shut until September between Bourneville and University, for resurfacing. I slipped through the barriers easily at Bourneville, and rode a peaceful and generally rideable route all the way to the barriers at the other end, which were impossible to transgress, so I doubled back and found a way over wasteland down to the Aston Webb Road.
Hot and bothered, I made the visit I intended to, and rode into Brum on the canal, which was lovely.
It was again a great afternoon - but very, very hot indeed.
Just one thing spoiled it - I have a foot injury, or so it would seem. I don’t know what I’ve done, but my foot is agony to walk on; not bad to cycle on, but it makes it more difficult. This is unusual for me, and I hope it heals soon.
Rather than ride home from Birmingham, I caught the train.
July 17th - On my return, I was held up by some rather familiar beaked* villains. This is Coulter Lane, Burntwood, just outside the farm where they sell asparagus. It’s a good couple of miles from Chasewater - yet these honking, hissing impediments to cycling progress are clearly the Chasewater geese - domestic birds set free some years ago, that generally hang around the boating lake, grumping at anyone and anything.
Are they regulars here? Is this actually their home? Do they commute?
So many questions, so little time…
*yes, I know they have bills, not beaks, but it doesn’t scan as well.
July 17th - I slipped out of work early to get some time back, and with a wonderfully hot, languid afternoon in progress I rode straight up onto the Chase, and barely stopped except for a well-deserved ice cream at Birches Valley. Dropping down into Rugeley, I enjoyed the long, cool downhill, then hopped onto the canal - a peace green sanctuary where the weeping willows looked stunning.
A perfect afternoon.
July 16th - Working late, stopped off for a Chinese takeaway on the way home.
Just what do bored staff do in such places when it’s slack, then?
A variety of animals and flowers, mostly folded from the local newspapers. I loved it. There’s creativity in the oddest places if you look out for it. There’s clearly a talent here.
July 16th - Hey, South Wigston has a station cat. With the close proximity of dense housing, and embankments and wastelands full of small, squeaky things, it was inevitable, really, but I’d never seen this young lad before.
He was doing monorail cat on the pedestrian barrier until I appeared. He hopped off when I got out my camera, but did pose for a few shots… a lovely lad, clearly.
Like pubs, every station should have a resident cat.
July 15th - Also a pain is the himalayan balsam. This tall, beautiful plant is growing in abundance now, and flowering strongly on damp waste ground, stream banks and the hinterlands and margins. It’s beautiful pink/white, metallic-scented flowers hide the real problem: this is an invasive species introduced by the Victorians.
The plant grows so tall and thickly that it chokes all beneath it, yet once established, like japanese knotweed, it’s very hard to remove.
The A461 Pipe Hill at Lichfield, and most of the verges to the waterworks at Pipe Hill are full of the stuff, season by season edging it’s way to Muckley Corner.
A beautiful undesirable.
July 15th - This journal illustrates many things, but mostly, it illustrates my ignorance.
Three weeks hence I stopped to admire this horse chestnut tree in Festival Gardens, Lichfield, and noted how fine it was looking, laden with young fruit, and that it was showing hardly any leaf miner activity.
It is now. The leaves have been absolutely infested with it.
The leaf miner is a pain - it can cause early leaf fall and there’s speculation that this tiny moth larvae can cause poor fruit development, but otherwise, this infestation doesn’t affect the overall health of the tree. It just makes the poor thing look terribly diseased.
Next time, I’ll keep my mouth shut. Can’t help feeling I cursed my poor arboreal brother…