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 25th - I nearly squished him (I assume it’s a he), but this common toad was quite happy in the middle of the towpath and wasn’t moving for anyone. I lit him carefully with my bike light, and I think the results aren’t too bad.
I love frogs and toads. So full of character.
July 20th - A day coloured mainly by the sad news of the loss of a good man, but as I rode the canal mid-afternoon, taking it gentle, I reflected on life. I noted a family of 4 cygnets and mum - dad seems to be gone - doing well up in Walsall Wood. I think they’re from up the canal in Pelsall. They are healthy birds, clearly getting by just fine.
Further down the water at Catshill Junction, the swans from Catshill still numbered seven youngsters and two parents. Nature is cruel, but the cycle of life continues.
I’ve grown very attached to these birds, have many of the local residents. It’s odd that we take such beautiful but grumpy and obstreperous characters to our hearts, but we do.
We feel great sadness at the toll of nature, and predators. But that’s the roll of nature’s dice, and it was ever thus.
And life continues, as it always has.
July 20th - Last week, I noted a quantity of sectional piling had been delivered to Ogley Junction maintenance yard ready for a job locally. I wondered where the site was - and now I know.
My attention was drawn by a couple of readers to a work cabin appearing at the Black Cock Bridge, and it seems the work is being done on the embankment at the rear of houses in Bans Close, Walsall Wood, fifty metres or so from the bridge itself..
The interlocking piling is driven into the bank to strengthen it, and minimise the effects of erosion. Here the canal runs above ground level, and the embankment is built up to it, and the top level of the bank is only a couple of inches above the waterline.
Surveyors were here in the spring, and left their telltale spray paint and post datums, and this must be the result - fixing up the canal and securing it in a weak spot for another few decades.
Let’s hope they attend to the erosion on the towpath side, too.
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 18th - Again, I made my escape, and I slipped into Birmingham mid-afternoon and got the train to Kings Norton, intending to ride into Birmingham University where I had a call to make, and then on to the city centre along the canal, which is great from King’s Norton all the way into the city.
It is when it’s open, that is…
It turns out the towpath is shut until September between Bourneville and University, for resurfacing. I slipped through the barriers easily at Bourneville, and rode a peaceful and generally rideable route all the way to the barriers at the other end, which were impossible to transgress, so I doubled back and found a way over wasteland down to the Aston Webb Road.
Hot and bothered, I made the visit I intended to, and rode into Brum on the canal, which was lovely.
It was again a great afternoon - but very, very hot indeed.
Just one thing spoiled it - I have a foot injury, or so it would seem. I don’t know what I’ve done, but my foot is agony to walk on; not bad to cycle on, but it makes it more difficult. This is unusual for me, and I hope it heals soon.
Rather than ride home from Birmingham, I caught the train.
July 17th - I slipped out of work early to get some time back, and with a wonderfully hot, languid afternoon in progress I rode straight up onto the Chase, and barely stopped except for a well-deserved ice cream at Birches Valley. Dropping down into Rugeley, I enjoyed the long, cool downhill, then hopped onto the canal - a peace green sanctuary where the weeping willows looked stunning.
A perfect afternoon.
July 14th - On my return, I needed to call on a pal in Newtown, so I headed up the canal past Ogley Junction. Whilst passing, I noticed a delivery of sectional piling and plant, and wondered if the Canal & River Trust had got it together to stabilise the slipping local embankments.
I guess time will tell…
July 13th - TheMadOldBaggage is right: I’m being unduly pessimistic about autumn and the passage of summer. It’s still gorgeous, and there’s loads of stuff still to come into flower.
Today, I was delighted to spot these gorgeous wild sweat peas. Just how lovely are they? You can’t fail to see these and not be lifted.
Autumn? Not yet you don’t, matey.
July 11th - If you fancy a free, breathtaking aerial entertainment display, get your backside down to the Tame Valley Canal, and just look up.
High tension lines run along the canal from a control compound at Ocker Hill to another at Ray Hall, and this interlink is currently undergoing service. Huge scaffold towers and nets span roads, canals and railways, to support lowered lines; engineers scramble and dangle high above from the steel lattice-work, oblivious to the toe-curling peril they appear to be in.
They work quickly and with precision amongst a baffling array of hawsers, catenaries, safety lines and fall arresters, materials and tools being hoisted ip in a sack via a block and tackle hoist.
And below? I watch, open mouthed at these confident, sure-footed and highly skilled engineers. Whatever they’re paid, it can’t possibly be enough.
July 11th - I returned via the Trent Valley Canal, which was alive with activity. Linesmen performed feats of acrobatics on the electricity lines above me as I drank tea beneath them, watching in awe. Herons were prolific, and I saw at least 7 - yes, there are three there in just one photo. The local cat population was also languidly active, hunting bugs, birds and furry things in the newly mown opposite embankment.
And beyond? The dull rumble of traffic on the motorway, trains, and of industry, breathing. This is a peaceful artery and a wonderful place.
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.
July 5th - despite the advancing season, the flowers by the canal at Aldridge are still wonderfully prolific and diverse. No idea what any of these are apart from the groundsel, but all beautiful and all within 10 metres of each other.
July 4th - Sweet rain.
It’s been a long, dry and warm spell. Today was fraught, stressed, tired, sweaty. I was struggling against the urge to just go home, the heat, tiredness, irritation. But I could smell the rain on the wind. Sweet, distant, but present. I stood on the threshold of an open fire escape at work and filled my lungs with the smell of moisture on the wind.
As I left work, it began. I enjoyed it. Not torrential, but steady. Gently saturating the plants, refreshing the greenery, and making me feel if not less tired, more alert.
A sensory delight.
I was glad the week was over. And welcomed the rain.
July 3rd - Cleavers, or sweethearts as they’re colloquially known hereabouts are fascinating little things. A creeping, grippy weed, it elevates itself from the ground by hooking on to other plants with it’s spiny, sticky hairs. The seeds themselves employ the same mechanism of almost velcro-like attachment, adhering well to clothing, feathers and animal fir.
The owners of dogs and cats with longer coats will know well the hours spent picking these devilish little balls out of their animal’s hair… but as a seed dispersal tactic, it’s brilliant, as animals preen the seeds out, and they germinate where they land.
Natural engineering is damned clever.
I’ve no idea what the bug is, but he’s an interesting wee thing.