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.
March 7th - A great afternoon, although the wind was still very fresh. I returned via Chasewater, which was surprisingly deserted. I noticed the wakeboarding equipment had been set up for the new season, and the lake was still overflowing into the spillway. Waves broke against the southern shore with some anger and splashed any incautious walker.
The canal also looked fine as I returned to Brownhills with the sun warm on my back. This early spring is gorgeous, and it’s just what the doctor ordered - but I still can’t get the frightening thought out of my head that at the end of March last year we had the heaviest snowfalls for years.
One thing about Britain I really love: no two seasons are ever the same.
February 26th - It was beautiful as I returned along the canal. The sky was dramatic, and although not a great sunset, the dying embers of the day were still quite beautiful. And the best thing about it? 5:45pm. We really are pushing the darkness back now. I’ve really enjoyed the last few commutes in the relative dry, and it’s nice seeing the ground and countryside dry out a little, finally.
I want this to be spring. It’s mild. The weather is good. Just 3 weeks until we switch to British Summer Time. But I can’t get away from the fact that on the 22nd March 2013, there was deep snow on the ground.
February 24th - Headed home mid afternoon after an early start, I did what I usually do at such times and came though Aldridge to avoid the mania of the school run traffic. Zipping along the canal, just by the overflow in Aldridge, a tiny clump of four beautiful purple crocuses. They were the only ones I could see, and stood quite alone. I wondered how these harbingers of spring came to be here; but it doesn’t matter how, just that they were. And I saw them, and their existance made me happy indeed.
February 22nd - Spring certainly felt on her throne in and around Walsall Wood. The crocuses were coming into bloom on the High Street, the Canada geese were developing their customary mating territorial aggression on the towpaths and the display outside the florists was gorgeous. Sadly, on what was probably the best cycling day of the year, I had other stuff to do, and my ride was short - but oh my, it was enjoyable. It’s been so long since the weather felt as favourable as it does now.
February 22nd - Out early on an errand. I had to get some stuff from Screwfix, so I headed up to Walsall Wood on a fine, dry sunny spring morning. Taking to the canal, I noted that the embankment is now collapsing away near Clayhanger Bridge in addition to the area between Catshill Junction and the Pier Street Bridge. Clearly, the poor weather is taking a heavy toll, and the Canal and River Trust (which used to be British Waterways) have still yet to visibly attend to the previous problem I drew to their attention.
In the meantime, watch out if you’re cycling or walking here - the holes that open up are narrow and deep. Take care.
February 20th - The week before, the canal overflow at Clayhanger had been a raging rapid of water flowing from the canal into local drainage. I posted at the time that I’d never seen anything quite like it, and I was seriously concerned over the possibility of subsequent flooding on the River Tame, when most of the canal overflows in Walsall drain to.
A far from dry week later, the flow is reduced - still high by normal standards - but gone is the angry torrent, and my fears of flooding proven unfounded. Whilst we’ve been far more fortunate than other parts of the country, it does go to show that despite massive development over the years, the local drains and water system is incredibly capacious and resilient.
February 15th -The bad weather seemed to be breaking as I cycled back to Brownhills although the rains would return later. It felt warmer, and stiller. The canal that separates urban Brownhills from rural, rolling South Staffordshire was affording great views - and it looked very much like spring was insinuating itself in the fields an canal embankments.
Everything was still wet, of course, but out here there wasn’t much wind damage - that is, apart from an errant trampoline, sensibly tethered to a fence, buy sadly lacking buoyancy.
February 14th - And still, gently, slowly, almost imperceptibly, nature is shuffling things into place for spring. When the rain stops and the sun warms the earth, fields, hedgerows and pools, all the preparations will pay off and the cascade of flowers, green and growth will begin.
Just as it does every year.
The canals are dotted right now with floating roots. These are bullrushes looking for a new home. In winter, they readily split from their parent clumps, and drift, looking for a decent spot to anchor and regrow. Scaly and ivory in colour, they vary from a couple of feet long to small nodules.
Also, the Broom is well in flower. I’ve been erroneously calling this gorse for years, and apparently it’s actually broom. But hell, it’s bright yellow and about the only colourful thing in the hedgerows right now.
February 14th - Valentines Day, but not much love from the weather, which was back to wet and windy. I ‘d been to Darlaston early again, and left in the mid-afternoon lull before the winds really got up. Unlike the ride in, the ride out was again wind assisted and fun.
The traffic was a bit frantic in the wet and I chose to hit the canal again in Walsall Wood. An interestingly wind-cleaved tree near the Black Cock, and cutting across the new Pond and Clayhanger Common the landscape was again sodden and dripping. But there was a kind of peace to it too, which I appreciated.
Crossing the bridge back into Brownhills, the moorings at Silver Street are busier than I’ve ever seen them before (except during a canal festival) - I’m curious as to why. The waterside has been unchanged for a good few years, now, and it seemed to take the boaters ages to discover us. Is it just a pure shortage of places to moor, or the fact that there’s no charge?
February 12th - Tumblr doesn’t seem to allow video and photos in the same post, but here’s the flow at the Clayhanger Overflow in the last post. I’ve never, ever seen it running like this. And all this water will end up in the Tame and Trent.
February 12th - Still tacking into the wind into Brownhills, I hopped onto the canal at Clayhanger Bridge. The towpaths, of course, were sodden and hard going. The overflow here was working at full capacity and to a degree I’ve never seen before. This certainly made me think; this water is heading to the Ford Brook, which becomes the River Tame, and meanders through North East Birmingham, then Tamworth to Alrewas, where it meets the River Trent. The water from Chasewater will find its way to the Tame, too, via the Crane and Bourne Brooks. This is serios flow, from just one overflow.
February 7th - It had been a hard, long day. For the third time this week, I hit the canal back into Brownhills, but not before I’d stopped to reflect at Jockey Meadows in Walsall Wood. The heath there is sodden, and the meadow is still in winter clothing, but the daffodils here too are sprouting. No sign of snowdrops, though, which was sad.
The canal overflow is working to high capacity at Clayhanger Common, and I was interested to note the trash screen was clear of debris - either someone is cleaning it out or the canal isn’t that polluted these days. Think it’s probably the latter.
I paused on Catshill Junction bridge to look over to the wasteland where Bayley House once stood. One of the two high rise blocks demolished here just shy of a decade ago, permission has finally been granted for a new canalside development here.
Things change - the seasons, the weather, the skyline. But sometimes, the constancy of just loving where you are is enough after a tough day. Standing there in the weak February sun this afternoon, I really felt that attachment deeply.
I absorbed the space, the sun, the smell of the damp earth, the canal.
BrownhillsBob biked every day for the thirty days of April 2011, part of the #30daysofbiking project, but enjoyed the process so much that he carried on. Over two years down the road, he's still cycling every day and recording a little bit of every journey.