BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

April 9th - This… this, it’s remarkable.

   

I was shooting along the towpath, in the part of Spaghetti Junction where there’s a covered, cavernous tunnel over the canal. It’s dark under there; and eerie. It can be a little scary - there is no electric light there, and the only daylight is from the portals and small, irregular metre-square apertures in the roof, that let in shafts of sunlight. It’s a very odd, otherworldly spot.

I cycle through here generally without stopping. But today, a patch of yellow caught my eye in the admitted beam of light. 

I stopped. I backed up. I stood, open mouthed.

   

Hundreds, possibly more than a thousand daffodils in small jars. Each with water in, in the circle of light. Decaying, gone over. Placed with what must have been care, it would have taken a large effort to get them and the jars to that spot. It’s not accessible. It would have perhaps taken a boat… or some climbing. But why? Was it art? Obsessiveness? 

I was captivated. The pictures don’t do it justice. It’s stunning. 

   

When I got home, I looked at the pictures. I puzzled over them. I asked twitter: twitter knew. Thanks to @nebolland, @kenofski, @brumcyclist and @cybrum who enlightened me.

It turns out it’s art. It was carried out by artist, art world enfant terrible and extraordinary publicist Bill Drummond, once of the KLF. 

Read about Bill and his Birmingham project here.

You can say what you like, that had a massive impact on me. That was bloody genius. I have total respect for it.

April 9th - I found myself in Aston, exploring the underbelly of Spaghetti Junction, and the bizarre number of other arteries it conceals - a rail junction, a river, and four canals. I spun around Aston, and spotted the Britannia, a classic, over-the-top Brum boozer, like the Bartons Arms, now marooned in a sea of modernity. It had been a couple of decades since I’d been this way, but little has changed. Some of the street art on the flood channel walls along the Tame is nearly 30 years old.

April 9th - I had a meeting in Sutton in the morning, then had to pop down to Tyseley. Leaving too late to head anywhere else, but too early to go straight home, I cycled back along the canal home. I love the bit of canal through Bordesley. The stretch past The Bond - so many architectural and technological periods in one shot. I have no idea what’s going on with the statue and the large yellow tank at Typhoo junction, but the cowslips on the embankment were a real treat. 

A really nice afternoon.

April 8th - Another heron. I think the spring has brought them out - this one was near Bentley Bridge, stood watching the word go by from, ironically enough, a fishing peg. Older than the one I saw last Friday, and larger, he was a an impressive bird.

Can’t get enough herons - never saw them as a kid; they’re a sign of a healthy fish population, I’d tenure.

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.

April 4th - Riding a bike is a cyclic antidepressant, and riding one once a day keeps the black dog at bay. I was sad, really sad, but something on the way home cheered me right up. A young heron, fishing by Clayhanger Bridge on the canal. I can’t ever recall seeing one here before, but I love these comical, dishevelled fishers. He was hungry, and young enough not to be skittish. He tolerated me taking photos for ages. He made me remember what I was doing, and what I was about. 

I adore herons. Such complex, fascinating birds.

It’s taken me all weekend to pluck up the balls to write this sequence.

April 3rd - the mist, poor air and lack of sun means something remarkable is happening unnoticed. In the last week, the trees, hedgerows and shrubs have mostly been bursting into leaf. The deciduous copse at the rear of the new pond in Clayhanger is alive with willow, oak, birch and elder, all sprouting a variety of foliage. At Catshill, the blackthorn blossom is gorgeous, and everywhere there are the vivd greens of fresh growth. 

If the sun would only shine, they’d positively glow.

March 21st - Off to Chasewater for the first time in a while, I took the canal up from Brownhills. Spring is everywhere; in the hedgerows, in the fields, on the water. Despite a grim wind, birds were bountiful, and the sun, when you caught it, was warm. 

My favourite tree at Home Farm is still in winter mode, but the field surrounding it is a warm green. At Catshill, the swan-pair with three unsuccessful breeding years behind them are having another go, and the landmarks of Hammerwich tested the zoom on the camera.

At Chasewater, the canal valve is now open again, and we’re about 40mm off maximum level now, but the wind drove waves onto the spillway weir quite ferociously. Due to the same wind, the Wakeboard lines were closed, but workmen were busy around the boating lake laying lovely new tarmac paths instead of the uneven old slabs.

A great afternoon to be at Chasewater, for sure.

March 20th - I cycled home in persistent rain, but with the wind behind me. As is usual in these conditions, I slid onto the canal towpath as soon as I could to avoid the madness of the traffic. Passing near Clayhanger Bridge, I was assailed by a pair of regular bandits. 

This pair of Canada Geese - apparently inseparable - have been hanging around for about three weeks now. As time passes (and presumably, the chap’s fancy turns in springtime) the male is getting more and more bombastic. He jumps up off the water when he spots me, up onto the towpath, all open bill and hissing. I’ve started giving him titbits to placate him. He now expects the ‘toll’ before he lets me pass.

I am, effectively, being mugged by a goose. Has life really come to this?

March 18th - I stopped to look at the Pussy Willows on the canal bank near Walsall Wood, which are currently just going over. The towpath was littered with their debris, and I found them fascinating. Sadly, my attempts to photograph them were thwarted by a blackening sky which, although dramatic, made macro photography impossible. 

As I arrived home it began to rain. Looking at the weather forecast, it doesn’t seem great for the weekend, either.

Come back spring, we barely got to know you…

March 17th - On the canal near Clayhanger, the Blackthorn (I think it’s the Blackthorn - can you confirm, Susan?) is now in Bloom. What with this, the amorous frogs and newly aggressive Canada Geese, spring is surely in for the haul now.

I still won’t be comfortable with this until the clocks go forward…

March 15th - Coming down from Shire Oak back into Brownhills I rode into a fantastic sunset. Don’t ever let anyone tell you Brownhills can’t be beautiful. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

March 14th - This is for Richard Burnell. Last autumn, he was exploring the canals of Birmingham, and he happened upon these boxes, mounted either side of the canal in Ladywood. He asked what they were, and I told him - to some incredulity - that they were a traffic counter. I vowed that next time I passed, I’d take a picture or two.

In the tall metal box is a mains power supply and a counter. In the long, flat one next to it, two photo electric beam switches (made by specialists Sick), which detect a light beam reflected from a target in the box on the opposite side of the canal. When both beams are broken together, it’s most likely by a boat, so the count increases. By using the two beams, this filters out false signals from curious hands, waterfowl etc.

Measuring boat traffic is important. Similar systems on cycle routes count bikes, and we’ve all seen the temporary ones that count traffic.

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 8th - Out late at sunset, and only time for a short loop around Brownhills. The town always looks good at sunset, and everything from Humphries House to the Pelsall Road looked great in the sundown light.

I’m really, really enjoying the early spring this year.