April 24th - Commuting in spring is a joy. Sod the traffic, taking 10 minutes extra and hopping on the canal, or taking a backway rather than the main road provides all manner of rewards. From the beautiful deep pink blossom in Shelfield, to my first set of mallard ducklings at Bentley Bridge, to the guerrilla seeded cowslips on the bak of Clayhanger Bridge and ride is full of contrasts: colour, life and sound.
April 17th - Cowslips everywhere this year. From a rarity 15 years ago to being all over everywhere like a cheap suit, these wee, delicate primroses come in a whole variety of subtly different forms, and are just crying out for attention.
My favourite flowers, without a doubt. Go find some and take a look for yourself. Wonderful little things.
April 14th - Clayhanger Common is wonderful. On this sunny, spring afternoon, it was green, clean and beautiful. The meadow looked verdant, and the forget-me-nots, cowslips and dandelions were all well in flower.
The new pond too - usually the last place to green-up in spring, is looking great, although the swans don’t seem to be nesting here this year yet.
There’s little here to indicate the polluted, barren wasteland this all once was. A fantastic thing.
April 7th - I’d spotted a good sky in the offing, and hopped onto the old rail line at Coopers Bridge, then headed towards Ryders Mere. On the way, I spotted something I’d not noticed before; you can actually get a clear view of Walsall and the Black Country to Turners Hill at Rowley Regis from the old bridge at the rear of what used to be Binks Bullows.
The sky was great, and I was fascinated - there are all the landmarks of Walsall, visible over Ryders Mere and Clayhanger Marsh. A great view.
It just goes to show - you can pass the same spot loads of times, and still notice something new.
April 7th - Damn me, but this squirrel seems happy. Mind, he ought to be; he’s living in the hazel copse just opposite the Watermead in Brownhills. The cheeky little fellow didn’t scarper until I came quite close.
I’d swear he’s laughing there…
If Gradboy is reading this, sorry mate, but it was too good to miss…
April 7th - Yay! The cowslips are here. Heading back to Brownhills from work, I took advantage of a gap in the rain, and spinning up a sodden towpath, I spotted the recurring patches of cowslips on Clayhanger Common near the Pier Street Bridge.
I’m sure I guerrilla seeded these a decade ago, and they’ve spread beautifully. Since then, further bands of these dainty little primroses have appeared all around the common. Seeing them in flower brings me enormous pleasure.
Cowslips are my favourite flower. To me, they symbolise spring; yellow, hardy, and they appear when the worst is passed. This year, they’re a good couple of weeks early.
The snail seemed quite pleased with them too…
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 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 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 13th - So, having got the new camera and charged it up, I tried it out on the way home. I need more time with it, as many settings I’m used to have moved - but I was quite pleased, really. The flowers in Walsall Wood are a credit to the people who planted them, and are really worth a trip to see. The sunset over Walsall Wood, Bullings Heath and Clayhanger Common was great tonight, in all its misty glory.
The lone red deer hind was a surprise as I rode around the new pond at Clayhanger - I almost missed her; she was nervous and high-tailed it away almost as soon as I spotted her. I think they get in the osiers and scrub on the marsh on the far side of the pool, safe there from human contact.
I see the canal boat moorings are still busy at Silver Street, and it’s nice to see the woodsmoke drifting from the chimneys as you pass by.
Not a bad first sample, really.
March 6th - The spring evaporated today. On the way home, it rained, and the the wind was horrid. It wasn’t a good day to be out on a bike and I found myself longing for the mild weather to return.
Sadly, the dry towpaths I’d been enjoying for a couple of weeks took a set back into muddy slurry again.
Ah well, there’s always tomorrow…
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 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?
Really curious about it.