August 5th - Another saying my Grandfather used to use a lot was ‘It’s always a good year for something.’ On this, the old man - who lived life much more connected to nature than I - was bang on. Every year, every season, is detrimental to something and benificial to something else.
This year we have an absolute wealth of early blackberries. They, sycamore, horse chestnut and beech appear to have done very well indeed. Oak and fruit seem to have had a very bad year. This is the first acorn I’ve seen - last year, the boughs were heavy with crab apples, damsons, cherries and acorns. This year, very few. Rowan, Hawthorn and cotoneaster seem to be doing reasonably well, though.
I guess it’s just how the weather falls. One late frost and the fruit crops are ruined…
July 27th - After a day of unexpected but nice things - a meal out, some good family time, a bit of productive bike spannering - I slid out on a finely-tuned steed to enjoy the cooler air that had come in during the day. At the canal in Walsall Wood, near the Black Cock Bridge, the embankment strengthening I recorded last week has come on apace. The sectional piling now seems to be working it’s way up to the bridge itself, and is fascinating to see.
I heard last week from a comment on Facebook that residents here had been waiting for this work for years. It looks like a decent job, and I hope it solves their problems.
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 11th - I made an escape, of sorts.
The rush now over, I had loads of errands and calls to make in the Black Country, and I took the opportunity to make them on my bike - nothing better after a stressful period at work than a sunny afternoon in the industrial heartland I love. Wednesbury, Moxley, Great Bridge, Lanesfield, Netherton and lots of canals made for a great day - including an excellent portion of hake and dumpling from the excellent Carribean takeaway in Great Bridge.
`Talking of bridges, between Moxley and Toll End, I spotted this one; the eagle eyed will note that this decaying, derelict railway crossing - The Hempole Bridge - is almost identical in construction to the railway bridge over the canal near the Pelsall Road in Brownhills, which is a listed structure, due to it’s rarity. Note the same blue Freakley Brothers bricks; the pattern in the cast plates, the pre-girder hot-rivet and cast truss metalwork.
Sad to see it lost.
June 24th - The wildflowers have peaked now - as summer draws on, only the old familiars will really remain as the more showy specimens fade. One of my favourite long lasting flowers - up there with birds foot trefoil - is this vetch, an electric blue/violet delight. It’s growing in abundance on Clayhanger Common and near the Pier Street Bridge in Brownhills, and is really rather splendid.
It always seems alive with bugs, too, so it serves a useful purpose to boot.
June 15th - It was only a short run around Brownhills and up to Chasewater, as I wasn’t feeling to clever and it was a dreadfully overcast, grey afternoon.
My mood was lifted though by all the young animals I saw around and about - two families of goslings at different stages of development at the Watermead; a foal grazing on a lush meadow yellow with buttercups at Brownhills Common; the Catshill swan family, still numbering seven, growing all the time.
Inbetween, too quick to capture, I saw terns, a couple of herons, rabbits, squirrels and buzzards.
I particularly liked what I assume to be the foal’s mum, who was wading through the pool in their meadow munching on the lush green shoots growing from it.
I might not have felt any better physically, but the sights I saw cheered me up no end.
June 13th - I cycled home from work on a sunny afternoon, and called to do some shopping on the way. I noted that the Pier Street footbridge has had a clean and is the process of getting a lick of paint ready for the canal festival in a couple of weeks. It’s nice to see, and Brian Stringer has been working hard to make this happen.
The marina has also had a mow and tidy up too. It’s a nice spot on a sunny day, it really is.
June 12th - They missed one! Thankfully, here are still one or two marsh orchids the mower didn’t slay; I spotted this healthy speciment on the opposite flank of the Clayhanger Bridge opposite the towpath. I still can’t forgive the buggers for mowing the others down.
These are gorgeous blooms. Look out for them.
June 2nd - Growing steadily, the swan family of mum, dad and 8 cygnets seem happy and contented, and the little ones are larger every time I see them.`Today I spotted them under the pedestrian bridge in Brownhills, and were clearly hoping I had some titbits for them.
This is a large brood and I’m surprised they’ve all survived. The proud parents have clearly been doing an excellent job, and I notice the locals have really taken this family to their hearts.
A fantastic thing to see.
May 25th -Darnford Bridge Farm is still decaying, slowly, although there does seem to be some activity in the yard now. This old farm sits in the middle of a short, unnamed, potholed, unadopted cut through between the A51 Tamworth Road and Darnford Lane, just on the eastern side of Lichfield.
There’s been planning permission granted here since 2013 to build a large house and swimming pool, and I think maybe someone is planning to start work here soon.
I’m not against the plan; the farm is derelict and needs sorting - but the overgrown gateway and white lilac in the hedge will be missed, as will my prurient stops here to nose around when I pass…
Everything must change, I guess.
May 12th - Whilst taking my call and being glared at by the local wildlife, something else caught my eye at the canoe club on Silver Street. Tethered out of harm’s way is a mobile work raft. I can’t be certain, but Brian Stringer mentioned that the exterior of the Pier Street Bridge was to be cleaned for the canal festival, and I think that’s probably what the platform raft is for.
They’re a common sight where bridge maintenance work is going on.
April 24th - Commuting in spring is a joy. Sod the traffic, taking 10 minutes extra and hopping on the canal, or taking a backway rather than the main road provides all manner of rewards. From the beautiful deep pink blossom in Shelfield, to my first set of mallard ducklings at Bentley Bridge, to the guerrilla seeded cowslips on the bank of Clayhanger Bridge the ride is full of contrasts: colour, life and sound.
April 20th - For an evening spin, it was pleasant enough; the wind was grim, but at least I’d fixed the problem with my gears. At Chasewater, the sunset was nice, but unremarkable, and I was surprised at how tiny the gull roos was. I could hear an owl calling near the dame, but I couldn’t see it. On the way back home, the sky darkened, and it looked very, very black over Bill’s mother’s.
Luckily, I just got home and got the bike in as the heavens opened… I do hope that nice spell wasn’t summer.
April 8th - I took the canal for the commute today, joining it in the centre of Walsall. Haven’t done that for a while, and it wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made, to be honest. It was wet and heavy going.
Passing Bentley Bridge, it gave me chance to look at the land clearance that had gone on here of late; a whole line of trees and scrub have gone from the roadside of Bentley Mill Way. I assume this is to do with upcoming road improvements here.
I still love that you can see the two spires of Wednesbury from here. But such a blasted, scarred landscape between.
March 14th - I escaped work in Tyseley at lunchtime, and headed onto the canals of Brum on a fine sunny afternoon. From the Soho Loop, Winson Green; polyanthus in Centenary Square; the canal mural opposite The Bond in Digbeth; Galton Bridge and Ludgate.
Sometimes, this city still feels like it’s mine. A cracking ride.