October 16th - I’ve come to the conclusion there’s another swan family moved down here, probably from Aldridge. Nipping back into Walsall Wood on an errand, I spotted five cygnets and mum; they don’t seem as advanced in development as the Catshill brood, which are really quite white now, and these seem cheekier, and more unruly.
Looking for food along the embankment at the back of Barrow Close, they were watched by a distinctly unamused bystander, a large, grumpy-looking marmalade cat.
There’s a story there, I’m sure.
September 19th - There seems to be a lot of work going on with the local canals at the moment. At Walsall Wood, the embankment has be reinforced near the Black Cock Bridge, and near the Big House in Clayhanger, a month ago a pump appeared for a few days, and disturbance in the scrub showed work had been carried out surrounding the canal sluice drains there. Coming home down the canal from Aldridge, I noted that the sluice hear had been oiled, painted and digging had been going on.
Wonder why the sudden rash of maintenance?
August 31st - ‘Why the long face, mate?’ ‘Because the summer’s over and passers by keep asking me stupid questions.’
Gorgeously nosey donkey, who brayed a hello at me as I cycled past at the bottom of Lazy Hill. I did the only reasonable thing - slammed the anchors on and went back to give him some fuss and take a few pictures.
August 22nd - At the back of Brickyard Road in Aldridge is a small marina, home to a number of moored narrowboats. Today, the water was mirror-calm, and it makes for an unexpectedly pleasant sight in an otherwise very urban, scarred landscape.
Admiring perfect waterlilies basking in the late summer sun, it’s hard to imaging this oasis of piece is wedged tightly between two landill sites, Europe’s largest toxic waste facility and a working marlpit.
There is beauty everywhere, if you look.
August 23rd - I had to pop into Aldridge on an errand, and so I took the canal. There’s an autumnal nip in the air, and everything is ripening. A fine crop of elderberries, blackberries and haws will make some fantastic pddings and wine, and the rosebay willowherb is demonstrating beautifully why it’s know as ‘old man’s beard’.
The only disappointment is the acorn crop, which is very, very bad. Only the second tree I’ve seen with any fruit this year - oddly, the acorns that grew are fat and in excellent shape, but the tree is mostly carrying the dead buds of undeveloped fruit. Most odd.
And then, that heron. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that. A fine bird.
July 5th - despite the advancing season, the flowers by the canal at Aldridge are still wonderfully prolific and diverse. No idea what any of these are apart from the groundsel, but all beautiful and all within 10 metres of each other.
July 5th - I popped into Aldridge, and spotted this job ad that I don’t think I can refuse.
Kids today, eh?
May 27th - I got taken to task by a good pal the other day for suggesting - erroneously in their view - that the summer blooms were purples, reds and darker colours. Yes, there are some yellows and whites, but just look at these, all spotted in a 30 meter section of Aldridge canal bank.
I’m just about to make a prat of myself and name them, but welcome correction from anyone. Are you there Susan? Wilymouse, perhaps?
I think the top three are known as granny’s bonnet, aquilegia or columbine. I think the nest two are mallow. We have a rather excellent marsh orchid - first this year for me - then, I think, green alkamet.
Last one is a puzzle, but I’m guessing some sort of campion?
Whatever they are, they’re beautiful.
May 27th - Just on the canal in Aldridge, this skittish fellow. I gently placed the bike down to take a better picture. By the time I raised the camera again, he’d flown off.
This journal can never have too many herons. I adore these gangling, shabby and patient fishers. To me, they’re a symbol of the cleanliness of todays canals, and how far they’ve come. When I was a kid, you’d never, ever see this.
It’s a thing to treasure.
February 28th - On Monday, I took some photos of the Weinerberger brickworks marlpit near Stubbers Green. At the time, extraction wasn’t in progress, but as I passed this afternoon, far below me in the quarry, the red marl was being loaded into a continuous chain of trucks to be hauled to surface factory for moulding into bricks. Digging will continue for hours in a precise, designed pattern. The marl is surprisingly dry, and there is still lots here. This extraction will continue for some time to come yet.
February 28th - Returning from work mid-afternoon, with shopping to fetch, I came through Aldridge. Just opposite the Manor House I spotted these rings of crocuses planted around young saplings, themselves strongly in blossom. The sight and intensity of the flowers was a tonic, and the blossom beautiful in its delicacy.
Spring? This’ll do.
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 10th - In the same forlorn landscape stand the abandoned, decaying former Focus DIY store. A victim of the recent recession, the chain it was part of collapsed some time ago, and this site has been vacant ever since. There had been DIY stores in this spot for a long time; an older building here was host to Big K and latterly Do It All, on whose car park many local kids learned to drive. Latterly replaced by this once smart, modern building, it now rots, a testament to commercial failure.
There is a persistent rumour that Asda will move in here; the rumour endures, like a similarly untrue one about Morrisons taking over the former Blockbuster store in Brownhills because those companies bought a handful of the previous owner’s stores when they went bust. This site was of no interest to Asda, and its future is unknown, but the empty building probably won’t stand long, as it attracts antisocial behaviour and flytipping.
The golf ball was just lying there, in the car park. I have no idea where it came from, or how it got here, so I recorded it for posterity.
February 10th - I came home in the early afternoon, just as the rain was clearing. I’d had to call in at Aldridge, so found myself in the hinterlands between Walsall Wood, Leighswood and Stubbers Green. This is a very scarred landscape, mainly from brick marl extraction. The geology of the former quarries here is perfect for landfill, and for decades, as a site is abandoned by the brickmakers, it is adopted by the refuse industry.
Now at the capping and landscaping stage, Vigo Utopia was a massive hole in the ground when I was a child, but now stands high above the surrounding area. Bulkheads tap off the methane and pipe it to a generator plant. Eventually, this mound will be a public open space, but that’s some way off yet.
Of course, the brickworks are still busy, and there’s still marl to be extracted, and there will therefore be further space for landfill. A vicious cycle of blight and nuisance, it renders this landscape hostile, ugly and barren, particularly on a dark, wet and blustery February Monday afternoon.