December 5th - Without a functioning rail service, there was no alternative and I cycled home from Tyseley. The wind was strong, but it had died back considerably, and the rain - apart from a brief shower as I hit Park Hall - had cleared. I didn’t fancy the traffic up the main drag over Kingstanding with a side wind, so hit the canal all the way home. It got dark in Aston, and the front light - my trusty Hope R4 - was plenty good enough all the way. The going wasn’t fast, but it was steady, and much of the time I was sheltered from the wind.
Reality checks came at Tower Hill, where rocks had tumbled from the steep cutting embankment onto the towpath, and Park Hall, where a tree had similarly come to a sad end.
There was a cracking sunset, too, but I missed most of it, hidden behind the cityscape. The views over Hamstead were great though, and it made a change to see them at this time of day. I must head here for a sunset when I get chance.
I arrived home tired, but just pleased to be back, and safe. Many, many people had a far worse time with floods, the tidal surge and severe gales. My tribulations were nothing, and I did get in a decent ride, after all.
December 3rd - A better day today. The bug had receded, and I took a day out for rest and paperwork. I took a spin up into Brownhills at lunchtime on an errand, and took the opportunity to check out the canalside at Silver Street. I note work clearing the scrub on the land formerly occupied by Silver Court Gardens has been taking place, which may indicate someone’s got plans. At Silver Street itself, the area of canal bank laughably termed a ‘marina’ in development documents of the day is looking considerably down-at-heel. The paving is breaking up, the barriers rotten and falling down. The greenery is nice, of course, but the open space really could do with a bit of a refurbishment. This seemed likely in 2007 when the new bridge was unveiled, but any plans for environmental improvements seem to have faded.
It would be easy to blame Walsall Council for this, but it belongs to the Canal and River Trust, who don’t really seem bothered over it. I know local Councillors and others have fought hard to no avail to get the barriers replaced, and local volunteers work hard here litter picking.
It’s ironic that as these moorings decline, they’ve recently been so well used by boats.
It’s all a bit sad, really.
November 27th - I came back to Brownhills late, and on an oddly warm evening. I was knackered, frankly; I hadn’t had lunch and my energy reserves were very low. I’d fought what seemed like a devilish headwind from Lichfield but it was, in reality, nothing extreme. I pulled over on Anchor Bridge to get a shot down the High Street, which turned out lousy due to headlights. However, this quick image of the canal didn’t turn out too bad.
When I last looked, those trees had leaves… my, how the year has mached on.
November 22nd - The great sunsets continue. Sadly, I was in the wrong place to catch today’s properly. On my way home from work, I had to pop to Aldridge, and dived onto the canal to avoid the traffic. As I came back through the wood, the dying sun set the sky ablaze. Just wish I’d had a better view. Bet it was spectacular at Chasewater.
November 22nd - Passing through Aldridge on the canal on my way home, the scent of woodsmoke was never far away. There are few things better than seeing an occupied narrowboat with a nicely smoking chimney. The sight and smell are a joy to behold - and the whole scene was set off beautifully by the autumn colours.
November 17th - Today was a carbon copy of yesterday, but warmer, and so the mist had risen a little. By the time I got out - again, as dusk fell - the air was clearing and a very quiet darkness settled upon Brownhills. I spun around, enjoying the unusual quiet; up the canal to the old cement works, then up the old railway line to Engine Lane, and back into Brownhills via the Hussey Estate and Holland Park. It’s taken a long time this year, but tonight, I was aware of being in love with the darkness again, or at the least, in love with the things it brings. Solitude, quiet, a new aspect to familiar places.
There’s the dark town, the darkness itself, and the fear of the darkness. At some point in the last 24hours, seasonal lines recrossed and I stopped fighting it. The fear is real: it’s not the menace, or the ghostliness as found here at Coppice Lane, but the fear of never seeing the summer again. I can’t hold on to the year passed,the warm days, long grass and flowers have withered and now, it’s winter. Come Christmas, everything will open out again.
And in the meantime, evenings like this: quiet, dark and beautiful.
November 16th - I headed up to Chasewater late afternoon in bad light, as I hadn’t been for ages, and as usual I took the canal route. Nearing the paddock at Newtown that had been home to Big Tasties, who’ve since moved to Stonnall, I heard the oddest twanging noise. Not long after, I spotter her.
This huge, healthy sow seems to be on her own and have the entire space to herself. She had attracted my attention by repeatedly biting on the barbed wire fence at the towpath edge, barbs and all, tugging it out and twanging it like a guitar string. At first, I was very concerned she might hurt herself but that mouth seems very, very tough. She was very tame and allowed me to stroke her head.
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.
November 13th - Heading home from work late again, I hit the canal for a bit of a mental challenge. It’s been a hard couple of days, and night riding in a darker than usual environment is really good for clearing the head. I wait until I get to a dark spot, then kill the lights for a bit. It’s great fun.
This image is taken without flash, and this is how it looks from the bike.
The front light I’m using at the moment - a Hope Technology Vision R4 - is great, and bright enough to stun a badger. Here, it’s on the lowest of three ‘trail’ settings, and it’s more than adequate for tiding in woodland at night.
As soon as the weather clears, going to try it out on the Chase one evening…
November 11th - The weather is stuck in repeat. A lousy, wet and heart-in-mouth commute to Darlaston, and I hopped onto the canal as soon as I could. The roads were mad today, really, truly awful.
The rain varied between a light drizzle and very heavy, and was again glad of good waterproofs. Twice I stopped for shelter under bridges. The autumn colour is gorgeous, but I’d love to see a bit more of yesterday’s sun rather than this endless rain we seem to be cursed with tis last couple of weeks.
November 7th - A gorgeous morning commute, nippy but sunlit and in clear air. After the rain and unpleasantness of the day before, a real treat. The canal towpaths were very muddy, but the sunlight and autumn leaves combined to make even this bit of canal - through the industrial hinterlands of Walsall town centre - look beautiful.
November 6th - An absolutely lousy commuting day. It was raining for the entirety of journeys both to and from Darlaston, and the traffic - still stuck in autumn muppet mode - didn’t make it easier. There were lights in the darkness, though; at Green Lane, Shelfield, I stopped to take a phone call and felt someone was watching me - so beware eavesdropping moggies when out and about. The canal at Bentley Bridge still looked green, depute the murk. On the way home, the roads glistened and shone in the spray-sweep of passing traffic.
It’s not shaped up to be a great bike commuting week, if I’m honest… at least the forecast for tomorrow is better.
October 27th - The fungus, on the whole, is great this year, but the fly agaric remain elusive. My usual best spots for finding this most fairytale of toadstools - up on the canal behind the Terrace at Newtown, on the common opposite Birch Coppice and at Chasewater just by the bypass have all shown poor examples this season. These few decent ones were spotted on the canal bank at Anglesey Basin.
The puffballs - a fine crop - were all growing near Fly Pool on the North Heath at Chasewater. In a few weeks that green gunk inside will be dry, powdery spores, and the fungus will pop open on contact and scatter them on the wind.
The mystery large toadstool was on the canal embankment near Lichfield Road. I have no idea what it was, but it was very large and alive with bugs.
October 19th - Photography fail. I spun around Brownhills at sunset to get some night images in; fully equipped with tripod, I caught some good shots, or so I thought. It had just rained, and the air and landscape were clear, wet and hard. It was lovely.
Sadly, after taking this picture at Clayhanger, I knocked the camera into program mode and all my other shots were fuzzy rubbish. Must take more care next time.
Still, the sunset was lovely, and the canal as still as a millpond…
October 18th - Autumn colour abounds along the canal banks, hedgerows and open spaces. The leaves are really falling now, the nights are drawing in and we won’t see a post-6pm sunset for a few months. Amongst the crimsons, golds and yellows of the season, a lone honeysuckle flower, defiantly awaiting the first frost.
It’s been a great summer, and like the Bullings Heath honeysuckle, I can’t quite accept it’s now passed.