May 10th - Spring is still going strong. Delightful flowers speckle the hedgerows, and the oilseed rape isn’t quite out yet on Home Farm near Catshill. Mrs. Swan still dozes the day away, hopefully on a decent clutch of eggs, and apart from the wind and rain (which are admittedly pleasantly warm), one might be convinced winter was finally over…
May 4th - A gorgeous, but windy, summer evening. Still taking it gently due to the sore ribs, I took a gentle run out through Brownhills to Chasewater, then back along the canal. The blackcurrant blossom at Home Farm was gorgeous, and my favourite tree is coming into leaf, at last, a sure sign of impending summer.
The Water level at Chasewater has been lowered to around 200mm - 8 inches off maximum, and the valve closed. I find this interesting; the overflow over the poor weather period was clearly to stress-test the dam, and presumably, it’s passed. It will be intrigued to see if they allow it to overflow on a regular basis - to irrigate to spillway wetland - or if this was a rare event.
A fine evening’s ride.
March 10th - Catapulted back into winter, I set off to work off the excesses of the previous evening. It was a cold morning, with a biting east wind, and it was snowing well. I had somewhere to call in Burntwood, then I wanted to go for a decent spin. I noted on my way that although it was wintry, it looks like the swans who abandoned their clutch last year at Catshill are nesting again, in exactly the same spot. That nest is clearly being built up again - let’s hope there are cygnets this year.
Another returnee is Bob the narrowboat. Occupied by an artist painting watercolours, he was in the same spot for a short while last year, and was previously up at Longwood Junction, near Walsall. Sightings of Bob the Boat have been an in-joke on social media for a while, now. It’s good to see it back.
Chasewater itself was more like Prestatyn on a bad day. The water was choppy and there were few folk about. At the water margins, the breakdown of vegetation newly submerged was being accelerated by the waves, and making the periphery of the the reservoir frothy and soapy.
The level is now 4cm off full, and the water in the Nine-Foot Pool is now really close to overtopping the weir. Absolutely unbelievable, really, considering the lake was virtually empty this time last year.
Spring is getting ready to go; only the weather is holding it back. Let’s hope this is winter’s las breath…
March 1st - Although still very cold, it feels like spring is stirring. Crocus tips are turning colour in preparation to bloom, and the birdlife seems busy. I noted the swans on the canal near the old mill by Home Farm were looking cosy again. I’m convinced it’s the same couple from last year who nested, laid and failed to hatch their eggs - hopefully, they’ll have more success this year.
The crested grebe was pottering about on Chasewater, away from the gull roost by the valve house on the damn. He was hard to photograph in poor light, but he was a beautiful chap, and did the customary grebe dive fro fish, which must mean there’s still a few in there.
If only the weather felt a bit more spring-like.
February 23rd - There’s been a lot of work going on in the fields of Home Farm, at Sandhills, as seen from the canal at Catshill. Trenches have been dug along the fields a few metres apart, and pipes buried there. It’s either an irrigation or drainage system going in - it’ll be interesting to see what’s planted here. The machinery doing the job is fascinating.
December 23rd - The Christmas spirit has taken a while to arrive with me this year. Nothing unpleasant, but with the dismal weather and concentration of work it’s been difficult to focus. Spinning back home tonight to Brownhills from Cannock Chase, I spotted this boat at Catshill in Brownhills. I love it and it made for a very unexpected breath of festive cheer…
November 16th - A little further on stands the ghost of the Catshill Flour Mill. Now converted into pleasant flats, this imposing, foursquare building once milled the flour for the bread of the town, before being converted into a factory making metal components. Repurposed 20 years ago, the mill still stands imposingly over a largely limpid and quiet canal. Oh, the tales it could tell…
August 11th - Oh my, the Autumnal signals are coming thick and fast now. Just as Home Farm are harvesting their wheat crop at Sandhills, I notice the hedgerow laden with brambles, both blackberry and dewberry. The dewberries, like those above, tend to come first - their fruit is slightly larger, less firm and has less globes than the smaller, sweeter blackberry. Soon this hedgerow will be laden with black fruit, a feast for birds, foxes and me, too. I do like a blackberry and apple pie…
August 11th - An afternoon recovery ride around Chasewater and Lichfield to keep my legs moving. At the canal by Catshill, there appears to be a film on the water. It always concerns me when I see this, as folk tend to think it’s pollution: it is, and it isn’t. It’s perfectly natural, and not man-made. The film is fibrous seed matter from thistles, willowherbs and other wind-seeding plants.
An odd phenomena that soon passes.
July 4th - People will tell you Brownhills is ugly, dirty, post industrial, a hellhole. It is variously none, all, and some of these things. But like the rest of north and central Walsall, it has one surprising trait that is often unseen until pointed out: it’s very, very green. Looking over a field of young wheat at Sandhills, over the canal and Millfield Estate at Catshill, there’s the spire of St. James’s Church, right there, nestling in the trees. Between the rooftops are more shades of green than you’d find in a pantone swatch book. It’s the same if you get up on Church Hill in Walsall. The most urban bits are host to the most remarkable trees, yet the seem to go largely unnoticed.
In case you’re wondering, last year this field held spuds. Crop rotation in action, there…
March 25th - It must be spring, the swans are back. This young pair built a nest last year, but didn’t raise a brood. Common behaviour in young swans, they often ‘practice’ for a couple of years before raising young. Mrs. Swan was still building her huge nest in the reeds at the back of the houses on Sadler pad, near Catshill in Brownhills. Carfully pulling stalks and fronds of reed and placing them around her, her mate drifted idly on the water, one leg up on his wing, unpeturbed. Swans are remarkable birds.
October 14th - A day working from home, followed by a couple of hours of frantic errand-running. On the canal near Catshill, just by Lanes Farm at 5pm, the light was mellow, soft and golden. This is mad, it’s like August; in two weeks the clocks go back. What gives? Still, I’m not complaining one little bit… after a grey start to the week, the is just the ticket.
September 3rd - The old flour mill on the canal at Catshill, Brownhills, was converted into flats a long time ago. I keep meaning to research the history, but never quite get round to it; I know it milled flour for years, and then was a factory for a while. I think it made some kind of pressings which were sprayed, as I remember the extraction vents having different coloured paint around them when I was a kid - sometimes red, sometimes navy blue. The house nearby, just visible beyond the fence - looks really quite old.
May 26th - On a windblown canal near Catshill Junction, I noticed the swans had two very young cygnets. These cute balls of grey fluff were relaxed and happy to be fed by their parents, who didn’t show any of the usual signs of swan aggression towards me. Not sure if this is the pair from by the Watermead Estate or the former mill at Catshill, but it’s nice to see. I do find myself wondering why we’re no longer seeing the broods of 8 and above as we did a few years ago, though.