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.
March 10th - I’ve not seen anything like this before. Today, I was travelling from Acocks Green to Tyseley, as I often do. One of the routes I take includes a shortcut down an alley that used to be Rockwood Road, which crosses the railway between Alexander Road and the Birmingham City Mission. On the footpath, just as you leave the railway bridge, there’s an pecuiar, improvised bollard made of cast iron and steel, about a foot high and 8 inches diameter. It bears the legend ‘Great Western Railway Co. Boundary 1888’.
It doesn’t take the brain of Sherlock to work out what it is, but why? I’ve never seen railway property delimited like this before. Further, I must have passed this scores of times without noticing. How did such a trip hazard survive 126 years? Is it listed? Are there more? Is it important historically, or just a curio?
February 16th - It was a gorgeous day, and a reminder of what this country is like when the sun shines properly. With the sun on my back, I rode out at lunchtime to check out the floods of the Tame Valley, around Hopwas, Elford and Croxall.
I was expecting the Tame to be in flood. This wasn’t the case at all - the Tame had clearly stayed in-channel, and although brisk, the Footherley, Black and Bourne brooks were all below capacity, too; although we’ve had record rainfall, it’s clearly been spaced out enough to avoid the horrific scenes locally that we saw in 2007.
Of course, other areas have not been so fortunate.
What is evidenced is wind damage. At the hump bridge on Gravelly Lane, Footherley, tree debris blocks one arch, and a whole tree lies similarly before the Elford Bridge. Clearing the detritus from trash screens and under bridges is an essential part of waterway maintenance, and this will have to be removed.
The technicians that do this work have plenty to do in the coming weeks - their work is essential, and I wish them well.
January 27th - Telford. Unusually, off to Priorslee to pick up some paperwork before heading back across town.
I love the desolate symmetry of this cycleway bridge over the motorway. It twangs gently as you cycle over it.
Of such things, tiny pleasures are made.
January 23rd - I had to nip over to Pelsall on an errand, so I cut over The Spot and up the old railway trail. I love the view from the bridge over Clayhanger Lane. It was a great evening sky, too. If only I’d have caught it half an hour earlier, I reckon this might have been a decent spot for the sunset…
December 29th - I stopped by at Hademore on the way back. This sleepy hamlet was once a cluster of farms, houses and an explosives depot (yes, really) surrounding a level crossing. Now, the crossing has been removed. Some railway cottages were demolished in the upgrade of the line, the old signal box moved to Chasewater, and Hademore found itself riven in two by the railway and bypassed by a loop of horrid road with an equally abhorrent utilitarian flyover.
There is great history here - on the long road from Whittington to Elford the Marquis of Donegal had his house, Fisherwick Park, and the surrounding grounds were designed by Capability Brown. They were all carried to dust, however, when in 1810 the estate fell into the possession of the Howards of Elford, who ploughed up the lawns, demolished the hall and converted it all back to farmland.
A few relics remain, including the big old gateposts that stand here, moved from a site nearby when the railway would have ploughed through them itself.
The other relic on this once-busy road is the Post Office K6 red call box; now with it’s phone removed, it still has a working light, shining like a beacon in a shorn hamlet that nobody passes through anymore.
I guess this is just the sadness of things.
December 16th - On my return, I stopped to play around with long exposure shots at one of my favourite spots - the footbridge over the Chasetown Bypass near Chasewater. I love the curving lines of the road here, the streetlights and the way all the surfaces and lines interact. It’s a lonely spot, but there’s something quite beautiful about it at night.
I guess it’s that Late Night Feelings thing again…
December 13th - Further along the canal,I played again with night photography. Interesting that the lack of moonlight tonight made for such grainy images, but I like them, all the same. I hated it at first, but I’m quite getting to like the ghost-flats in Brownhills. The colour comes alive at night.
October 14th - I hopped on to the canal on my way back, and as the sky cleared, dusk fell. It was beautiful, in a quite understated way. I love the canal overflow at Clayhanger Bridge. I adore watching the flow of the water; powerful, noisy, yet soothing. Flowing strongly after a weekend of rain, I listened to it for ages. When you’ve been feeling under it for a while, simple things like listening to the rush whilst watching a decent sunset form can really pick you up.
I cycled homewards lifted.
October 12th - It’s quite hard to take photos on such a rainy day. You find all the good pictures are facing the rainfall, and because the light is poor, you need long exposures, usually resulting in the lens gathering raindrops. I stopped on the Pier Street Bridge to check out the golden streetlight on the canal surface, and managed to keep the lens dry enough to capture the narrowboats in their moorings. Spinning round and interested in the combination of light, wet surface and steelwork, I didn’t realise I had gathered the raindrops. But they worked out quite well, really.
September 24th - my love affair with Darlaston is decades old and shows no signs of abating. I adore the place, from the grimy industrial backstreets, to the quiet loveliness of Victoria Park. Here, half a century ago, trains thundered through this cutting serving the freight needs of the Black Country, but now, landscaped into a lovely open space, it makes for a nice traffic free ride away from some of the worst traffic of the town centre. In spring, this spot is lined with snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils.
I always liked that footbridge, too; it’s an inspired touch.
September 22nd - It’s not been a great weekend, really. I seem to have contracted a cold, which left me feeling hungover on Saturday and just plain horrid today. It was with a sinus-generated migraine that I finally got it together and headed out at dusk. I found the dark soothing, and it made the visual disturbance less apparent. It was very still, and the sunset was gorgeous. Any other weekend I’d have been over the hills and far away, but today, my energy was sapped just doing a small loop on the canal around Clayhanger.
Hopefully, tomorrow will be better.
September 11th - It was raining as I cycled home from Walsall, but for once, I didn’t mind. The wind was behind me, the air felt warm and the bike was moving easily. The events of the day were taking their toll and to my shame, I dismounted and pushed up the Black Cock Bridge. On the adjacent pedestrian bridge I liked the combination of rain, sodium light and metalwork.
The day was long, mentally I’d had a close call, but a weight was off my mind, and the promise of another day lightened my heart.
There’s tomorrow. There will always be a tomorrow.