August 22nd - The sun came out, and whilst riding over Anchor Bridge I’d noticed the swan family were headed off up the canal at a determined pace. I snatched a frankly awful picture, then went on my way. My mission in Brownhills aborted, I doubled back to get some better pictures, and quickly found the swans in a morass of at least 200 Canada Geese on the canal between Catshill Junction and Silver Street.
The swans are in fine fettle - I had been concerned last week after not seeing them awhile, and there had been a surplus of white feathers on the water near the bridge, but it turned out volunteers had been ringing them. According to reports, they spent a couple of days sulking in Aldridge, then came back.
Quite what’s attracting the numbers of geese here, I have no idea. I note there’s some outrage about Sandwell having undertaken a cull recently, but with few predators, goose numbers are skyrocketing, which increases pressure on food supplies. It’s a tricky question I guess.
After all, one does get so attached to these birds…
May 16th - I’m out in the elements all year round, and from the darkening in Autumn, the loss of leaves and closing in, I long for the days when everything is lush and green again. The jacket summer lends improves just about any spot - for me, it’s not just the warm air, the sun on my face or the birdsong - it’s the emerald greens of a summer in full flush, of the flowering and blossom, and of the maturing and fruiting.
For the last 5 months, this view hasn’t been worth a light, really. But today, on the cusp of another season, the sounds, sights and scents make this a lovely spot.
This has to be my favourite time of year.
March 31st - I hopped on the canal to check out if the swans were nesting yet at the new pool at Clayhanger, but I couldn’t get a close enough look properly. As I pressed on homewards to Brownhills, I noticed that the land where the Bayley House towerblock used to stand near Catshill Junction is being prepared for the newbuild development planned there, with plant clearly operating and equipment arriving.
This land has been idle for a decade this May. It’s good to see it come back into use.
March 5th - It wasn’t until I hopped on the canal at the Black Cock Bridge and headed for Brownhills that I realised how still it was. The canal was like a millpond, and conditions were really quite silent. It hasn’t been like this since well before Christmas.
There’s definitely a change in the air. It really has been a detestable couple of months weather-wise; I really felt at one point that it was never going to stop raining.
Let’s hope the weather continues on it’s improving path for a while…
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.
I got back on my bike, and rode home.
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.
May 25th - First cygnets I’ve seen this year, I think from the swans from the new pool at Clayhanger. Four bundles of grey fluff, and a proud ma and pa at Catshill Junction. A fine, Jellicle cat with ideas above his ability. Curiosity from the swans, who’d eat puss alive if he tried anything silly. A brief, Mexican standoff, then Jellicle realises he’s been spotted, feigns disinterest, and wanders off.
A very hasty series of poor pictures, but I loved the little fellow and his lofty ambitions. I passed him later, snoozing in the hedge and dreaming the dreams of the great hunter.
March 19th - I was cycling back along the canal for a change. Spring must be in the air, as cats have started to be more noticeable of late. Indolent indoor wallahs in the winter, you see lots more about as the season changes.
I spotted this fine marmalade chap drinking water from the canal at Catshill Junction, appropriately enough. Cats seem to prefer natural water to the stuff from the tap, and this must be a sign the canal is clean.
The elegant, nonchalant balance and casually draped tail are wonderful.
November 17th - A trying day, for various reasons, but a rather good sunset. I’d been busy all day and hit home as darkness fell, before shooting out again. A day when I really couldn’t catch my breath, when it was suddenly taken by the sunset over the canal at Catshill Junction. A harbinger of a cold night, it was beautiful, and I wished I’d see more of it. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow…
October 20th - I knew it was going to be a good ride - and I had no idea why. The bike felt good beneath me after some long-awaited fettling. The wind was low, the air keen, but pleasant. I had energy in my bones. I felt good, the light was starting to get good. I came up from central Brownhills, over Catshill Junction and off towards Chasewater. The golden hour was lighting up the autumn colours. It was peaceful and beautiful. It may only have been a short spin, but this is what cycling is about, and no mistake. I felt that something good was just about to happen…
June 26th - Catshill junction has a complex history. A three-arm junction with roving bridge where the Daw End Canal meets the Wyrley and Essington, it was a major toll point for the canal system. The ‘narrows’ here (there are a pair, a third isn’t needed) were where toll masters in the long gone Tonnage House would record the weights of the boats and their cargoes, and charge accordingly. Now, there are nice footpaths, limpid, soft waters and greenery. It’s a lovely, peaceful spot. As teenagers, we challenged each other to jump the narrows here - not seen anyone do that for a while.
Overlooking it all is a sculpture, placed here when the towpaths were upgraded in 2007. Sadly, it’s completely inaccessible to all but the most fearless bushmen, and the fine detail in it is lost from afar. Another bit of ill-judged, pointless public art.
June 22nd - Moon daises are doing well this year. A relative of the more common lawn variety, and also of the ragwort from earlier in the week. The buds, if picked when young, are peppery and hot. This patch are on the canal towpath at Catshill Junction, Brownhills. I tried to get a picture from the banks of the M54 in Telfoed this week, but couldn’t get a good angle; they are carpeted with these delightful flowers.
May 16th - I notice the exterior works on the two remaining tower blocks in Brownhills are nearing completion. On Humphries house, seen here from Catshill Junction, the worker’s platform lifts are being dismantled. I’m still not fond of the colour scheme: Most of the building has been painted brilliant white, with the north-eastern faces a slate blue. I think it’s hideous, and looks unfinished. I note the two new flues running up the southern wall, which are from the new biomass communal heating plant… an interesting idea. Let’s hope it’s more reliable than the similarly ‘revolutionary’ underfloor heating installed when the flats were built.
Last time I posted on this subject, I was jumped on by someone whose relatives were apparently overjoyed to be living in these flats. Funny how the fiercest advocates of these design disasters never actually live in them themselves…
May 4th - Now, here’s a thing. I’ve cycled past this remaining fragment of wall lots lately, mainly to go and see if the swans had had hatched their eggs yet. It stands at the canal side between Catshill Junction and Anchor Bridge, and I think it’s the last evidence of the Iron Foundry that was here at the turn of the century. The foundry didn’t exist in my lifetime - there were industrial units here in the old buildings. I think one may have been a non-ferrous casting shop. There was also a plant hire company and an accident repairs firm. These were all razed in the 1990’s and Chandlers Keep built - a close of new build housing, named after one of the last businesses here, a boat company. Oddly, this 3 meter section of engineering brick wall, with ancient graffiti declaring approval for Aston Villa, remains.
July 4th - Anyone reading my work would think that I am completely against public artworks. This isn’t the case, there are plenty which I like, but this sculpture at Catshill Junction is not amongst them. A clearly very detailed piece, it has been placed on a canal bank on the far side of the junction where it cannot be seen clearly enough to discern the detail. Further, it’s overgrown and looks unloved. How much did we spend on this, and what was the point?