May 14th - Grove Hill, near Stonnall, remains a muse to local photographers and historians alike. The hill topped with a lone tree is well known as a landmark to people passing on the Chester Road.
Myth and legend has it that a noble man is buried here, hence the tree, although the reason for its placement is probably more esoteric. Like the groinal hedge to its side, the tree is probably preventing soil erosion.
This year, the hill appears to have a crop of fine-looking wheat growing lush and green all around.
It’s a lovely spot.
November 26th - Heading off to work on a less than inspiring morning. I’m glad to say I’m used to the chill again now, but the greyness is still a bind. As I sped down through Stonnall, I passed Grove Hill. Last time I looked up there, it was a field of oilseed rape, and the tree, now barren, was in full leaf.
There’s a winter crop grown in the surrounding field now, which was young and vivid green, perhaps the only splash of natural colour on an otherwise dismal grey morning.
That hedge still demonstrates soil erosion beautifully, mind. The folks that planted that knew exactly what they were doing.
August 1st - Passing Grove Hill near Stonnall in the late afternoon sun, I noted that it was surrounded by a fine crop of oilseed rape. Where this had been a sea of vivid yellow in spring, it was now going a soft, golden colour.
The plant is harvested by special equipment, which flays the pod from the tiny, tiny seeds which are black when ripe. These then go for crushing to extract the oil, both for biofuel and cooking.
There’s gold in those tiny, spherical seeds.
May 31st - Summer finally here at last. After a week of dreadful, rain-sodden commutes, fraught with stress and delay, this was a real tonic. The rapeseed is still spreading the fluorescent yellow love, and nature rose to the occasion perfectly, with field margins and hedgerows ablaze with colour and resonating to birdsong and beebuzz.
January 21st - I was expecting traffic chaos, so I left it until late to leave for work. As it was, I needn’t have bothered, as the schools were closed, and the traffic was light. The trains weren’t too bad, either, and the only bad aspect of the commute was the atrocious state of Mill Lane at Mill Green. It’s only a backlane, but I thought it would be OK; however, the snow had compacted, then started to break up and it was like riding on slippery shingle, even with the studded tyres.
Stonnall, Grove Hill and Castlehill looked beautiful in the snow. It’ll be interesting to see how we cope as the cold snap, predicted to last at least a week, begins to bite. After all, it’s not got too cold yet…
January 15th - It felt like the coldest morning of the winter so far, although I doubt that was the actually the case. Overnight, the drizzle had gone and the skies cleared, and I awoke to a bright, ice-hard morning. The main roads were fine, and the countryside looked beautiful in the traitor cold sunshine. The backlands, however, were untreated and impressively icy. Even with the spiked tyres, these were a challenge for first ice-ride of the year. I loved the commute this morning, it was fantastic. After all that rain, such a joy for the brightness of the january sun, the burning cold in my throat, the steam of my breath and the concentration of riding carefully.
It’s nice to feel alive again.
December 11th - These are the days. I’ve waited for fair weather for ages. Such a change from the grey and drizzle, it lasted long enough for me to enjoy a lovely cold, crisp commute to work. Had it not been for the fact that I was already running late, I’d have cycled all the way into Brum. Grove Hill, at Stonnall looked wonderful, and the only cloud in an azure sky was the plume of steam from Rugeley Power Station. At Mill Green, the hoar frost was beautiful, and made magic everything it graced. I love rides like this.
We’ve maybe got another couple of days of this. Wrap up warm and go out - cycle, walk, whatever. I never love my world more than when it’s embraced by a fine winter frost.
August 14th - Dawn was stunning. At 6:10am as the sun rose over Stonnall and Mill Green, it caught the light mist settled in the hollows and fields beautifully. Grove Hill looked amazing. People ask me why I ride a bike everywhere: this is why. To be out, experiencing this in the fresh air makes you glad to be alive.
July 24th - Grove Hill is a local landmark that’s very visible from the Chester Road. The subject of huge mythology, there’s really very little known about it. Presumably, but not necessarily a burial mound, the lone tree on top makes a lovely viewpoint and a distinctly notable feature. I noticed a recent conversation on Facebook where it was asserted that the hill was called Gallows Hill, and was once the site of a military encampment. Sadly, I think the physical geography has a simpler explanation.
I believe the tree still exists - and I doubt it’s original - to keep the soil on top of the hill. It’s windy up there, and soil erosion is a problem. The root system will work to contain the earth, giving the reason why the farmer never removed it and put up with ploughing round it year after year. Note the short ridge hedgerow to the left - it’s on the generally windward side of the hill. The difference in soil height is caused by the hedge doing it’s job, which is also to prevent erosion by the wind.
It’s a lovely spot, with some fascinating folklore. However, like most fantastical tales, I suspect the actuality is somewhat mundane.
April 11 - For a few days, I’ll be up before sunlight. Today, I had to go to Redditch, which meant cycling to Four Oaks to get a through train. It was jolly cold this morning at 6AM, and there was a ground frost in the hollows - but what more than made up for it was an absolutely stunning sunrise, viewed from the best place around here to see it - Shire Oak. As I piled it in down the Chester Road, I caught sight of Grove Hill with a fiery red backdrop, and slammed the anchors on, and pulled out the camera. What a start to the day. These images are untouched and exactly as I took them.
The smudge of rising stem on the horizon to the north east is Radcliffe On Soar power station, between Derby and Nottingham.
November 5th - it seemed quite cold today, although for the time of year, I think it was probably quite mild. The clarity of the day and it’s air made for a gorgeous sunset. It started developing when I was near Stonnall, and just got better and better until darkness fell. I headed at top speed for Wall, where I knew I could get a good aspect. It really was this vivid; I never retouch photos other than the odd bit of cropping or straightening. Theses are straight off the camera.
July 23rd - Stonnall’s Grove Hill is accessed down a rough track, either from between houses on Main Street, Stonnall, or from a field gateway at the other end, in Church Road. Thought to be a tumulus, this sharply defined mound is visible and distinctive for miles around due to it’s single, windswept tree at the summit. It offers fine views all around from the summit, and I often come here for peace and quiet. It’s a fine place to sit and survey the area on a late, quiet, sunny Saturday afternoon.