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 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 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.
17th August - At Home Farm, Sandhills, the harvest seems complete, and the wheat in the top field has been harvested. The day before, the straw lay in neat rows; today, it had been baled into neat, cylindrical rolls.
I love to see this, it appeals to my urge to grab order from chaos, and always looks dramatic.
And with this, the season’s mechanism advances another notch - it can’t be a coincidence that the weather is now colder and more changeable.
August 16th - This young grey heron was fishing in the canal, just by the old marketplace on Silver Street in Brownhills. You know, right by Tesco. On a Saturday afternoon.
I’ll let that sink in a bit.
I’d never have believed we’d see this kind of thing in Brownhills when I was a lad.
Hello, heron - I wish you an excellent day’s fishing.
August 16th - Heading back towards Chasewater, I noticed the erosion that happens here every time there is heavy rain has been corrected again, in the same way it always has been: sweep the debris back into the hole, and stamp it down.
Expect a similar report next time it rains heavily. Getting an awful sense of deja-vu here.
This really needs a permanent fix.
August 13th - The wind had changed direction slightly, and the rains were scarcer, but conversely, the skies were far more threatening. As I headed home to Brownhills, I was struck by the drama of it. I’m not greatly struck by Humphries House in snow white, but it doesn’t half show off an angry sky well.
Hope it settles down a bit for the weekend.
August 10th - I realised I hadn’t really done a circuit of Brownhills like this for a while, and despite the grim weather warnings, it’s wasn’t a bad day at all. The light was bright, and the scenery good. It was a good day to photograph landscape, I guess.
A the Pelsall Road bridge on the canal, I discovered how the otherwise inaccessible flowerbed was being maintained - formerly I’d wondered if it was from the boat so often moored nearby.
At Chasewater, the lake was very, very choppy. The wakeline had been abandoned for the day, and only a few very brave windsurfers were out.
I note that the valves are currently open, and the water level at the reservoir is steadily lowering, probably to the lowest level since last summer, the high watermark evident on the spillway bridge in a line of white surface scum.
An unexpectedly great day to be out.
August 10th - A remarkable season, and now the fruiting begins in earnest. The wind was gusting hard, and the threat of rain not far away, but I slid out mid afternoon in defiance of Hurricane Bertha (spit). I let the wind blow me along the wet canal to the cyclway over the common - on the way, I noticed what I think are cherries growing ripe on a tree by the Pier Street Bridge. They look rather fat and large to be such gems in Brownhills. Can anyone help there?
There’s also been a remarkably prodigious crop of hazelnuts from the hedge thicket opposite the Watermead estate - but what wasn’t already squirrelled was blown down in the wind; the towpath is thick with nobbled and wind-fallen nuts.
On the cycleway, a similarly bountiful crop of blackberries, and the elderberries too are ripening to a beautiful black-crimson gloss.
Summer coming to an end is always sad, but how can one remain so in the face of such wonderful fruits?
August 8th - I came to the top of Shire Oak Hill in light rain, and stopped at the quarry entrance to look at my beloved view to Lichfield. Rain was sweeping in along the Trent Valley, and the hills to the west were obscured by low rain clouds.
It had been another tough week,and I was glad to crest the hill and be nearly home. I love my job, but sometimes it’s tough to keep everything going.
But knowing home was downhill from here, the promise of good company, the family and a decent mug of tea was strong, and cheering.
Home is where the teapot is.
As it happened, the rain never really reached here.
August 3rd - Terrible angle, sorry, but the heavy rains of Saturday morning again washed the footpath away on the canal bank at Anchor Bridge, for the fourth time in a year.
Watch out if on bike or foot; it’s a trip and fall hazard.
Just what will it take for the Canal & River Trust to repair this properly for once, instead of just sweeping the washdown back into the cavity?