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.
February 5th - I know little about this, and although peripherally aware of the Aldridge Garden of Reflection for some time (if that’s the right name), I’d never stopped to look. Today, passing through the town on my way home, I stopped to check it out.
On the corner of the High Street and Little Aston Road is a small, landscaped and sculpturally paved area with benches, flowerbeds and decorative friezes in the paving. It’s very sweet, and a little oasis. The reliefs in the paving relate to aspects of Aldrige life - history, present and so forth. There’s an interesting large compass too, pointing out the nearby major landmarks. Overall I was very impressed.
Not sure who was behind this, although Aldridge Rotary Club are mentioned. I must find out more about it.
I wish I’d stopped to look here sooner…
February 5th - One step forward, two back. I was again out early, and returned mid afternoon, and unthinkingly clashed with the school run yet again. I hopped on the canal as I did the previous afternoon - but the the day’s downpour had transformed the drying out towpaths of the day before into slimy, slurry-smothered watercourses once more.
Whoever’s doing the rain dance, you can stop now. Honest, it’s OK…
February 1st - I’m coming to realise the value of multi-storey car parks as crow’s nests for taking a view of a town. I rode up to the car park on the roof of Aldridge Shopping Centre to see if I could find a decent photo, and I wasn’t disappointed.
One thing that’s always piqued my curiosity here is the truncated access ramp that never was; at the back of the centre, an unfinished sloping access way is abruptly truncated on the edge of Rookery Lane, hanging in mid air without explanation. Legend has it that the required planning permission was not in place to complete it, or denied, and the alternate spiral one further down was built instead.
Wonder if that’s true?
February 1st - I nipped into Aldridge for a change and some fresh air, at lunchtime before the weather broke again. It was very windy indeed, and cycling against it was hard; but I knew it would, at least, blow me home.
Sometimes the very art of cycling is to head off into the wind.
I took a look at Aldridge Manor House - once the home of Walsall Youth Services, and still location of a great youth club. This well-loved building and the services it hosts are hanging in limbo; Walsall Council spotted the monetary value of this listed building, and having little other family silver to sell, the million or so it may receive for a sordid development opportunity proved too much for burghers to resist.
Interestingly, closure dates have been continually exceeded and postponed as the Council seems unable to find a suitable location in which to host the displaced youth club, and buyers seem to be in no particular hurry.
I’ve got a piss-up I’d like organised. I figure a brewery might be a really good place to hold it. I don’t think I’ll ask the council to organise it - all evidence suggests they’re incapable of such a task.
November 22nd - The great sunsets continue. Sadly, I was in the wrong place to catch today’s properly. On my way home from work, I had to pop to Aldridge, and dived onto the canal to avoid the traffic. As I came back through the wood, the dying sun set the sky ablaze. Just wish I’d had a better view. Bet it was spectacular at Chasewater.
November 22nd - Passing through Aldridge on the canal on my way home, the scent of woodsmoke was never far away. There are few things better than seeing an occupied narrowboat with a nicely smoking chimney. The sight and smell are a joy to behold - and the whole scene was set off beautifully by the autumn colours.
June 30th - Up on Barr Beacon for the Bands on the Beacon gig, it was a bit grey when I left. The view from up there is still remarkable, tough, and presents a great panorama not just of Walsall, but most of the Black Country. great to see St. Matthews still so prominent in a landscape of modern high-rise buildings, and also pleasing to note the greenery in a formerly very urban environment.
May 11th - As I returned, I passed a particularly intemperate Canada goose on the towpath, standing sentry on one leg. He hissed and honkey at me grumpily, and I couldn’t see why. Just as I was about to squeeze respectfully past, I followed his gaze. There, upon the opposite bank was his mate, and their brood of 3 (or possibly 4) goslings. She looked like she was still sitting. Those guys had cute in shedloads, and are the first goslings I’ve seen this season. Marvellous.
May 11th - I had to go to Aldridge in the afternoon. It was one of those intensely frustrating days when it was bright sunshine one minute, and raining heavily the next. I returned via the canal, always a joy. The view of the marina from Northycote Bridge was wonderful in the sunshine. It rained twice again before I got home…
Hope the warm weather returns soon.