BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

September 26th - Another great sky as I nipped down into Stonnall in the dying light. Coming back into Brownhills form Shire Oak, the view, as ever, surprised with it’s beauty.

The view down Shire Oak Hill to Brownhills is one of the best around here, but few ever seem to notice it. Yes, it’s urban, and not beautiful, really. But it has an interesting, busy urban charm I rather love - particularly at sundown, when the buildings catch the light and are rendered precious.

September 21st - A horrid, horrid day. Laden with a cold, the sun was out but I was in. Feeling cranky, miserable and ill, I battled technology and social media at home, and finally left for a restorative ride at 5pm. 

The air was still poor, but it caught the sun beautifully. Looking from Hammerwich over the fields to Brownhills, I was fascinated by the glow of the Lichfield Road as it rose to cross the Anglesey Branch. Riding over to Wall and back through the lanes around Chesterfield, the villages and old building looked beautiful, as did the odd flower of the evergreen, growing in the hedgerows at Wall.

It may have been a terrible, terrible day, but the golden hour was just what I needed.

September 20th - Things were still grey and the air quality still dreadful, but a very, very fine rain had settled on the town as I cycled to Chasewater. 

It’s good to see the old place busy now, and I love the way the Wakeline people have taken over and repurposed the old pier. Boats were speeding around, despite the murk, but I also noted the low water level - lower now than it has been for a couple of years. The valves are still open, so one assumes there’s a good reason.

Cycling back along the canal, it felt more like November than September, apart from the unseasonal warmth. Or maybe it was just a cold kicking in - at least that would explain the congestion.

September 17th - Recently on Facebook there was some concern over a swan that was found dead in Pelsall. The bird had been decapitated, and many were accusing vandals. The truth is less controversial, but sadly a little more gory.

The swan was, in all probability, killed by a fox. Anyone who’s seen the aftermath of a fox in a henhouse will know that Reynard goes for the neck.

At this time of year, this year’s cubs are driven out of the den by their parents to seek their own territories - that’s why we often see foxes sleeping on roofs and in quiet but open spots in late summer. Quite frankly, these canines are homeless.

The young, inexperienced adolescents are forced to fend for themselves - that includes finding food - and many will attempt kills that are well above them. So it probably was with the Pelsall swan.

Swans are not bright birds. As I came home along the canal, I spotted this usually aggressive lone bird fast asleep, drifting on the water. It had floated into the bank around the overflow, at Clayhanger Bridge, and the thicket nearby is usually host to a den of Brer Fox.

It would be fairly trivial for the fox to sneak up to the bird unseen, and go straight for the neck, which is about the only bit the fox can attack without the risk of being ferociously pecked. The kill, to an experienced fox, would be fast and efficient and lead to food for a week or more.

The fox that attacked the Pelsall bird was probably scared off, or attacked by other swans roused by the commotion, leaving their kill behind.

I couldn’t knowingly leave this swan to a similar fate, so after taking a few pictures, I gently woke it by speaking. I was greeted by wing-flapping, honking and hissing, and the white bird swam away from me.

Job done.

September 14th - Back up on Cannock Chase for the first time in ages, and I really loved it. From the Heron near Ogley Junction, to Abrahams Valley and Parrs Warren, I had a great afternoon, racing around and generally throwing the bike around. It made a change, it’s been a long while.

That foot injury has been really holding me back. So glad it’s healed now.

September 6th - Well, it’s coming on to autumn, and one of the positives about that is fungi. It looks set to be a bumper year, too - caps, toadstools, polypores, puffballs will all put in appearances in the coming weeks. 

These gorgeous shaggy ink caps - edible when young - were growing on Brownhills Common, in a spot where I’ve not seen them before. Pretty much perfect specimens.

September 4th - I forgot my camera today, so instead I grabbed it and my little tripod when I had to run a late evening errand. It was quite still in Brownhills this evening, and there were few people around. 

I am fascinated by the new white LED streetlights the council are installing in some places. Unlike the ones in Birmingham, these seem much brighter and clearer than the sodium ones they replace, and the cold white light the spread is somewhat otherworldly, particularly on street corners where old and new technologies overlap.

At the Pier Street bridge, I was fascinated by the lights shining off the surface of the canal, something I’d forgotten in the light days of a summer now passed.

Now autumn is upon us, I must sharpen up my night photography techniques.

September 1st - And theres the thing. Although I’m sad for the passage of summer, I’m returning home in the golden hour. Soon, the time of great sunsets will be here.

The sky was terrified this evening, and the dying sun caught the trees by the canal beautifully.

I always think I can’t do it, but I can. There’s beauty in every season - bring it on.

August 30th - I don’t go to Shire Oak Park nearly enough. This Local Nature Reserve, which was once a sand and gravel quarry exploiting the bunter sandstone ridge on the crest of Shire Oak Hill, is a wonderful and rare place. It’s teaming with wildlife, from rabbits to amphibians, mustelids to owls. In this sandy, sheltered enclave, deciduous trees like oaks and birch (and even the odd maple) are thriving, and the outside world seems a long way away.

The reserve is maintained by Walsall Council and on this dull Saturday afternoon, it struck me how clean and litter free the place was. Like all such spots, there’s occasional nuisance from ASB and the odd idiot, but this is a lovely, little known place.

The heather in bloom is gorgeous here, but as with everywhere else, the oaks have had a bad year, with leaf miners and a lack of acorns startlingly evident. Also, I was puzzled by the white appearance of the unrecognised shrub I spotted by the main steps. Can anyone help? Is this disease, pest or normal?

August 28th - Although summer is drawing to a close, some peculiar reminders remain. I don’t think I’ve ever known the canal waterlilies last as long as they have this year - white and yellow are still widely in bloom. They’re usually over by now.
Like the herons I’m so fond of, they’re an indicator of a clean waterway, and something I find beautiful and special, as you’d never see anything like this when I was a kid.
Stay as long as you like…

August 28th - Although summer is drawing to a close, some peculiar reminders remain. I don’t think I’ve ever known the canal waterlilies last as long as they have this year - white and yellow are still widely in bloom. They’re usually over by now.

Like the herons I’m so fond of, they’re an indicator of a clean waterway, and something I find beautiful and special, as you’d never see anything like this when I was a kid.

Stay as long as you like…

August 27th - A run out mid afternoon on an errand. I headed up the canal from Pelsall Road to Silver Street bridge, then over Clayhanger Common and the new pond to Walsall Wood. 

The herons are getting really, really confident; this one was on the canal by the Watermead estate. He wasn’t a bit bothered by what was going on around him.

The Swan family were grazing by the embankment restoration near the Black Cock Bridge. The seven young I’ve followed since hatching are adult-sized now, and the first hints of adult, white plumage are beginning to show. I don’t know what the bank works have disturbed, but these graceful birds were very engaged with eating it!

August 22nd - The sun came out, and whilst riding over Anchor Bridge I’d noticed the swan family were headed off up the canal at a determined pace. I snatched a frankly awful picture, then went on my way. My mission in Brownhills aborted, I doubled back to get some better pictures, and quickly found the swans in a morass of at least 200 Canada Geese on the canal between Catshill Junction and Silver Street. 

The swans are in fine fettle - I had been concerned last week after not seeing them awhile, and there had been a surplus of white feathers on the water near the bridge, but it turned out volunteers had been ringing them. According to reports, they spent a couple of days sulking in Aldridge, then came back.

Quite what’s attracting the numbers of geese here, I have no idea. I note there’s some outrage about Sandwell having undertaken a cull recently, but with few predators, goose numbers are skyrocketing, which increases pressure on food supplies. It’s a tricky question I guess.

After all, one does get so attached to these birds…

August 22nd - It was an odd day at work, after a very early start, I had little to do except for one late task at 4pm. Coming home, it spotted with rain most of the way, and the sky was threatening. I shot up Brownhills High Street to get to the cashpoint, then couldn’t get any money as my card had expired - I dimly remembered opening the new one the month before, and promptly forgetting about it.
An odd, frustrating day. But hey, it was Friday…

August 22nd - It was an odd day at work, after a very early start, I had little to do except for one late task at 4pm. Coming home, it spotted with rain most of the way, and the sky was threatening. I shot up Brownhills High Street to get to the cashpoint, then couldn’t get any money as my card had expired - I dimly remembered opening the new one the month before, and promptly forgetting about it.

An odd, frustrating day. But hey, it was Friday…

August 21st - For some reason, of late the Canada geese really have taken a shine to the marina in Silver Street, Brownhills.

Time was not so long ago you’d hardly ever see a goose on the cut, but this summer, they love it here - honking, preening and generally making a mess.

I’m fond of these large, truculent, much misunderstood birds - did you know there are twelve separate types of Canada Goose? - bu by heck, they make a mess.

It’ll be interesting to see if this is a passing attraction, or a longer habitation.

August 21st - A grey and depressing day with a heavy, punishing wind. On my way home, for a change, I rode over Springhill and Barracks Lane down to the Lichfield Road, and came into Brownhills that way. 

On the crossroads of Barracks Lane and Lichfield Road, what I think must be one of the oldest buildings in Ogley Hay and wider Brownhills; Warrenhouse Farm’s barn.

Now converted into a dwelling, I’m sure parts of this stone and brick structure are very old indeed; the farm here was where the Warren Keeper lived, who kept the rabbits on Ogley Hay for hunting - hence the Warrener’s Arms pub. Another noted resident was William Roberts, who tried to retire here, but found it too quiet and he soon returned to the bright lights and bustle of Brownhills.

These days, Warrenhouse is no longer a farm; it is private houses and a noted veterinary surgery, but this was the closest building to the location of the Staffordshire Hoard, found only a couple of hundred metres away, and is therefore evidence of a much earlier time, before Brownhills itself.

The converted barn has some lovely flowerbeds running around it too; such a delight on a grey day.