May 22nd - I was heading home today from work, and for some reason I hopped on the canal near Anchor Bridge, and headed up and took a look at Clayhanger Common. The sun was bright after a somewhat dull day, and I guess it was my quest for green. Everything is so vivid at the moment you could almost inhale it. Everywhere you look, there is bright, fresh foliage, in shades of emerald more precious and life-affirming than any jewel.
One thing I did notice on my way over Catshill Bridge, is the clock tower added to the roof of a garage in Chandler’s Keep. Has that always been there, or is it new? I’ve never noticed it before.
May 20th - On my way home tonight, I hopped onto the canal towpath to enjoy the pleasant evening and see if we had any cygnets yet. Sadly, the swans still seem to be sitting, but I did notice how green and lovely the new pond was looking at Clayhanger. It was wearing it’s summer jacket gloriously well.
This site used to be a spoil heap from Walsall Wood Colliery, consisting mainly of grey clay, coal washings, slack and assorted rock detritus. In the early 1980s, it was excavated and used to cap the former refuse tip on the other side of Clayhanger Lane. The void left behind was landscaped, and lined with red marl and sand. It’s very hard to see any hint of the industrial history at all.
Today, that grubby history was evidenced near the canal bank. At the top of the slope, a digging animal - most likely a fox - has started to burrow, and abandoned the hole after a short dig. Just a few inches below the red clay surface, a whole spread of coal tailings has been brought out.
Must have been a hard dig, that. History makes itself evident in the oddest of ways, sometimes.
May 13th - But my, the skies did look black. For most of the day, and it seems it’s in for the week. I really, really want the fine weather to return.
We need to all wish together…
May 13th - Not a great day. Over to Telford early, then back to Tyseley. Transport worked well, but I didn’t get much done. The journeys were perpetually under the threat of rain - which largely went unfulfilled, thankfully. But there was sun. And spring. In Telford, a row of ornamental cherry tress provided a cascade of blossom. The canal cutting from Galton Bridge station where I changed trains was an emerald delight. Cowslips were quietly rioting in yellow on the embankment of Clayhanger Bridge.
Industrial environments aren’t what they used to be. Thank goodness.
April 26th - Have you recently employed a cheap plumber to refit a bathroom? Perhaps you’ve done the job yourself, and paid someone a few quid to remove the rubbish?
If you’re wondering what became of your bog and fittings, they are currently adorning a lay-by on Northfields Way in Clayhanger. They aren’t doing much for the area, to be honest.
Flytippers are scumbags. People who turn a blind eye for a cheap jack job are as bad.
April 25th - Scooting home along the canal, I stopped to look at a well-worn, narrow path running down from Clayhanger Bridge, down on to the driveway of the big house. I think it’s a deer run.
A few times I’ve seen deer on Clayhanger Common around the overflow, whereupon they’ve escaped either under the bridge, or over the road and run down the embankment here. Looking at the marshy land behind the house and new pool, the vegetation there looks closely cropped. I think some of the deer are loafing there, safe from humans.
April 24th - Ten years ago I bought a shedload of wild cowslip seeds from a National Trust shop - Sudbury Hall, I think. I bought about 10 packs. I set out on a guerrilla seeding mission. They took surprisingly well.
Many (but not all) of the patches of cowslips on Brownhills and Clayhanger Common were started by me. I love cowslips, my favourite flowers. This patch are growing - and thriving - on the banks of Clayhanger Bridge. The clump seems to double in size every year.
Hello, old friends.
Do something beautiful today. It’s an investment.
April 14th - I was in the house all morning, listening to the rain and wind, dreading the afternoon ride I was planning on taking. Slipping out mid afternoon, what I actually found was way different to that which I expected. Yes, it was raining with a gusty wind. But the warmth was welcome and lovely. The landscape was grey and the sky dull, but as I zipped up to the new pool at Clayhanger, there were signs all around of spring kicking off; birds buzzed about with nest building materials in their beaks, swans sat on nests at Clayhanger and Catshill. I saw the first Heron on the new pool I’d ever seen there. Green shoots of lupin glistened along the canal banks. At Chasewater, the reservoir was still in overflow and the marsh formed by the overspill seems to be growing marsh grasses. Tits, wagtails and pipits flitted about. There were distinct splashes of emerald green on the commons and heaths.
I think that’s it, finally. The end of the 7 month winter is at hand.
March 17th - I was pottering around the canal, and hopped up the bank onto Clayhanger Common to check out the sunset, and I came across these two patches of feathers. Something - probably a sparrow hawk - has had lunch here. Maybe twice. Those look like pigeon feathers to me.
If there’s a birder living on the south side of Humphries House, they’ve a cracking view of this spot. Might be worth keeping your eye out for hunting raptors…
March 12th - It’s still bitterly cold, with an evil, lazy wind chill. The wind itself has slowed a little, and coming home tonight, the sunset and skies over Clayhanger and Brownhills were beautiful.
Had this been a day in spring or summer, it would have been gorgeously warm. Oh well…
February 15th - I hopped off the canal and along the old railway line towards Clayhanger. It’s an interesting spot at dusk, and the views over the rooftops on a clear night are wonderful, as is the view down towards the village. As I arrived, there was a familiar rustle in the undergrowth, and out strolled the old dog fox. He looked at me, as if in recognition, then trotted off down the path.
It was good to see him, I was worried he wouldn’t survive the winter. He must be getting on a bit now.
February 3rd - Out at sunset again, and another good one. I had something to deliver up the Wood so headed up the canal. As I rounded the bend at Catshill Junction, the quality of the sky really stunned me. I followed it up along the canal looking for a good vantage point, and never really found one; there would have been some great views over Bullings Heath were they not impossible to get to due to the canal bank copse and barbed wire. As it was, I contented myself with the three bridges - Clayhanger, the Black Cock and Lathams Bridge, behind Barons Court.
You can’t beet a good winter sunset.
January 20th - Between 4 and 5pm, the roads around Brownhills were understandably, quite chewy. I span around Brownhills carefully, for fear of what lurked beneath the slush and tyre tracks. It had been snowing by then for nearly 10 hours, and the result was a wet, cloying mass that wedged in the bike’s gaps and made it heavier and heavier. The old railway line, Clayhanger Common trails and canal towpaths were very hard to cycle.
It looks to be cold all week, and this will be the first time for some years that we have have to deal with such conditions.
I’ll be interested to watch what happens.
December 24th - I reckon, if this weather continues, there won’t be any smokers left in the UK by the end of January. Everything in the country will just be too soggy to light….
I don’t think I’ve ever known such a wet Christmas break. Disappointing, as I wanted to get up to Derbyshire, or maybe just around Staffordshire, but largely I’m confined to utility rides around home at the moment. It was on such a ride today that I noted the canal overflow at Brownhills had swamped it’s culvert again. That’s the second time in two months, and as a consequence, the low area of Clayhanger Common is starting to flood. This area, if the wet weather continues, will be several feet deep in a day or so, but it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do, and protecting Clayhanger Village and the Ford Brook channel from flooding.
In years gone by, this would have flooded the village, but since the reclamation of the common and the creation of this flood bund, the village is protected giving residents there peace of mind and a good Christmas.
Next time you see someone from the Environment Agency, tip your hat.
December 2nd - I was still knackered from the past few days, and couldn’t raise the wherewithal to get out until after dark. When I did, by jove, was it parky. There was a thickening ground frost, but it was still and the bike went quickly. I spun out to the common and headed down the old railway line in the darkness. On the way, I startled a group of red deer does who were stomping and snorting together for warmth on the shelter of the cycle track; my light picked our the vapour of their breath as they fled down the embankment. On the old cement works bridge, it was silent, and over the factory yards and forgotten corners of Apex Road and the industrial estates nearby it was also eerily quiet. Looping back through Clayhanger, the night was dark, but the lights where on at the chapel and it looked great over the fields. After what seems like the longest autumn ever, it’s now cold, clear, crystal winter. This is more like it…