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.
October 19th - Photography fail. I spun around Brownhills at sunset to get some night images in; fully equipped with tripod, I caught some good shots, or so I thought. It had just rained, and the air and landscape were clear, wet and hard. It was lovely.
Sadly, after taking this picture at Clayhanger, I knocked the camera into program mode and all my other shots were fuzzy rubbish. Must take more care next time.
Still, the sunset was lovely, and the canal as still as a millpond…
October 14th - I hopped on to the canal on my way back, and as the sky cleared, dusk fell. It was beautiful, in a quite understated way. I love the canal overflow at Clayhanger Bridge. I adore watching the flow of the water; powerful, noisy, yet soothing. Flowing strongly after a weekend of rain, I listened to it for ages. When you’ve been feeling under it for a while, simple things like listening to the rush whilst watching a decent sunset form can really pick you up.
I cycled homewards lifted.
October 13th - After the rain had passed. It’s been a grim weekend, really; the weather has been atrocious, and I’ve not got any miles in to speak of, but I also felt flat. I’ve been pretty low now for a few days, and I guess it’s the comedown after a good summer. I’m not feeling the cold, but I’m feeling the loss of light desperately. I’d made plans for a ride or two this weekend, and not even entertained the possibility that the weather might prevent it. I suppose I got out of the habit. That’s what a good summer does.
Today, I spent the day getting things done I’ve been meaning to for a while, writing and reading. The rain more or less cleared by 6pm, so I went for a silent spin around Clayhanger, the old railway line and the canal, before doubling back through Brownhills. Other than the odd passing vehicle I didn’t see a soul, and it was warm and peaceful. Everywhere was drenched, and the world felt oddly silenced, like it was tired, or just fed up of the rain and now glad it stopped.
I know how it feels. Autumn is always really, really tough for me, but this one is really getting me down. It’s like sand in my gears, I feel it eroding me.
October 1st - Talking of hedgerows, there’s a feature of them - and similar thickets - that not many notice. This hole is a sign of regular use as a thoroughfare, yet it’s too small for anything human or most things canine. It’s a fox path.
Foxes have a territory which they walk most nights - it encompasses their food sources, possible mates, sources of territorial conflict and so on. They are surprisingly regular in the routes they walk, and paths through undergrowth and scrub are well worn and used. Like desire paths created by humans, they often join two places by the shortest means, but also provide a quick route of escape, or shelter for hunting forays. Fox paths appear to be passed down from parent to cub, so that many are decades - if not centuries - old. As they’re established, other animals use them, like badgers.
This one leads off the canal towpath at Clayhanger above the Big House, down an almost vertical bank for 20 feet or so, and to into their garden. It’s been here for 20 years, to my knowledge.
Wonder if Reynard will be on the beat tonight?
September 22nd - I cycled down the spot path in near darkness, and total solitude. As the path opened out near the bend, I realised how eerie this was, and decided to take a picture. I then found I wasn’t alone at all. Just as this long exposure ended, a large male fox wandered out of the scrub on the left, turned to look at me for the briefest of moments, then walked off over the meadow to the canal.
Clearly, even in the quiet dusk of a Clayhanger Common Sunday night, there is important fox business to be done, if only the humans would mind their own bloody business…
September 22nd - It’s not been a great weekend, really. I seem to have contracted a cold, which left me feeling hungover on Saturday and just plain horrid today. It was with a sinus-generated migraine that I finally got it together and headed out at dusk. I found the dark soothing, and it made the visual disturbance less apparent. It was very still, and the sunset was gorgeous. Any other weekend I’d have been over the hills and far away, but today, my energy was sapped just doing a small loop on the canal around Clayhanger.
Hopefully, tomorrow will be better.
September 16th - I headed back to Brownhills down the canal, and crossed Clayhanger Common for a change. I noticed at the old access driveway, near where the ranger’s hut used to stand a row of sweet chestnuts, with a glorious crop of nuts. I’ve never clocked these before, but they’re in rude health and look beautiful. Considering the history of the land upon which they’re growing, I’d not eat the fruit, but it’s a great thing to see, for sure.
September 15th - I headed out late morning hoping to get back before the weather closed in. I misjudged, and as I was pottering over The Swag the rain started. The marsh was great, and deserted, but almost everything was horrid shades of headache grey, the only colour being a curious orange flower growing in the brook. I headed back to Clayhanger and round the new pool, which still looks remarkably verdant for the time of year.
It felt wintry, and I felt down. There’s months of this to come and I don’t feel ready for it at all.
September 12th - The weather has taken an autumnal turn of late, although this morning it felt unseasonably warm. I took loads of pictures this morning of fungi, then discovered afterwards I’d had the camera set badly and they were all fuzzy and out of focus. On the way home, though, I noted the last flowers of the season still holding up well, and the surprise lupins at Clayhanger were a shock. The dog roses near Pier Street bridge have both wonderfully scented pink flowers and beautifully orange hips. There are still traces of summer in the wet hedgerows and scrubs.
This is an odd season, to be sure.
August 19th - The oaks are faring better this year for acorns. Last year, the crop here by the canal at Clayhanger, and over on Brownhills Common, was ravaged by knopper galls, which turn the oak fruit into odd-shaped aberrations that are home to the larvae of a tiny wasp. Thankfully, I could only see a handful of such curiously distorted acorns on this tree, which had a healthy looking crop of normal fruit maturing nicely.
What the tree was suffering, though, is unknown but fascinating. Leaves had inverted, and the undersides were covered with an annular ring, clearly left by fungi or some insect or other. They look like tiny breakfast cereal pieces, but are obviously killing the foliage.
Do any passing arborialists know what they are, please?
July 14th - I followed the track back to Ryders Mere. I hadn’t been this way for a while, and this relatively new lake - created as part of an opencast remediation 10 years ago - is maturing well. It was very quiet, with few around, and I was impressed at the number of damselflies, dragonflies and other insects there were around. The meadow was alive with grasshoppers. In the background, the gentle lap of water and calls of waterfowl.
June 18th - A bit of a disaster, photographically. I forgot my trusty camera, and was reduced to my phone. I’ve never used the phone for close up stuff before, and took 20-0dd pictures of wildflowers that looked OK on the screen in sunlight, but turned out to be out of focus smudges of colour.
The only images any good were of the new pond in Clayhanger, and the remarkable meadow that surrounds it. Alive with buttercups, dandelions, vetches, trefoils, clover, and multiple species of grass. It’s buzzing with insects and small mammals, and really is a place to explore and take in with all the senses.
A beautiful thing, rendered rather flat by a poor camera. My apologies.
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.