August 23rd - I had to pop into Aldridge on an errand, and so I took the canal. There’s an autumnal nip in the air, and everything is ripening. A fine crop of elderberries, blackberries and haws will make some fantastic pddings and wine, and the rosebay willowherb is demonstrating beautifully why it’s know as ‘old man’s beard’.
The only disappointment is the acorn crop, which is very, very bad. Only the second tree I’ve seen with any fruit this year - oddly, the acorns that grew are fat and in excellent shape, but the tree is mostly carrying the dead buds of undeveloped fruit. Most odd.
And then, that heron. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that. A fine bird.
May 17th - Out for a leisurely ride in the sun, I took the canal to Newtown. On the embankment near the Chase Road, I spotted these colours of late spring and early summer. Hawthorn, laburnum and lilac, all growing wild on the side of the canal in an otherwise unremarkable bit of Brownhills.
People will tell you this place is ugly, boring and worthless. It’s not. It has immense beauty. But your eyes have to be open to see it - and so does your mind.
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.
May 10th - Not a great day, blustery with rain showers, but the flowers and blossom still look good. On the local canal bands hawthorn, gorse, laburnum and cowparsley combine to leave the hedgerows a riot of yellow and white, the colours of spring and early summer.
All these are quite ordinary, overlooked blooms, but do look at the gorse and cowparsley - fantastically complex and beautiful.
30th April - Green Lane, Walsall Wood. The Hawthorn blossom is just coming on, and going by it’s colloquial name of May, I think it’s just about bang on cue.
A vastly under-appreciated, strongly scented blossom, and with the emergence, the seasons wheels grind on another notch.
October 1st - One of the relatively unsung heroes of the hedgerow is Hawthorn, or May. It’s dark red fruit - haws - are maturing well now. Full of goodness, they stay in good condition on the branches and provide sustenance for the birds in the darkest depths of winter, when softer, more palatable fruits like blackberries have long gone Just like they will with garden Cotoneasters, blackbirds will defend a laden bush at all costs against other birds, and haws are bitter enough to only be eaten out of desperation.
Hawthorn is the mainstay of most rural hedging, and populates a lot of woodland. It really is the stalwart of the great British hedgerow.
August 20th - another fruit that’s set to be in abundance this autumn are haws, the berries of the hawthorn. Bright red, bitter and woody, they’re not toxic and can make decent jams and wines; but to me, their primary purpose is to provide sustenance for the birds, who flock for their goodness in winter. At the moment, these copious tiny berries are orange-green, and these fine examples were spotted in the hedgerow at Green Lane.
Enough sun and they’ll be pillar-box red, another fine sight and indicator of the passing year.
April 15th - Green shoots. Nature got fed up of waiting, and kicked the season’s arse. And… we’re off. Magical.
March 3rd - This is what happens when you ignore your gut feelings. This clumsy photo is my gloved had, turning a bike tyre inside out to show a hawthorn spine pushed right through it. Miraculously, it hadn’t yet caused a flat. I was very lucky.
I’ve been fettling the bike a lot lately, and fitted new tyres I bought last year. I thought them to be my favourite tyre - Schwalbe Marathon Plus. They are tough as old boots, and very resistant to thorns and other nasties. When I unwrapped the tyres, they were just normal Marathons - a lighter weight tyre without the tough protection. Not wanting to waste the purchase, I fitted the skinnier tyres. I rode them for a week, thinking they were OK.
Yesterday, I had two rear-wheel punctures on the canal towpath near Hopwas, both caused by Hawthorn, the curse of towpath cycling. As I came home, I developed a third slow puncture, and resolved to change back to a pair of Marathon Plus tyres when I could next day.
As I came to do the swap tonight, I found the front tyre - which had been OK - had a 7mm thorn through, waiting to pop the inner tube.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus are excellent. Marathons are a good tyre, but they’re just not up to towpath use, as I knew when I fitted them. Sometimes it’s best to listen to your instincts.
December 5th - It was cold today, and I felt it. Winter has me in it’s grip now, and the mornings are bright, icy and clear; the evenings dark, damp and very, very chilly. Today, as I came home through Walsall Wood, I passed the Drunken Duck pub, one of the oldest in the village. Various renamed The Hawthorn and Tipplers, this house has been a stable fixture of Walsall Wood Life for over a century, and still seems popular. With the warm-looking lights on this cold winter night, it’s hard to resist parking up the bike and popping in…
September 20th - A busy, draining day. I had urgent and unexpected stuff to attend to in Redditch, so headed out early. Expecting a quiet journey, it was horrid, and the task I had to undertake didn’t go smoothly either. At 11:30am, I left Redditch and had to go to Tyseley, so to get a bit of perspective I cycled up the Arrow Valley cycle route back to Redditch Station. It’s interesting how, even in this most unusual of years, some things have prospered. One of those things is hawthorn. Everywhere I go, hedgerows and trees are laden with deep red berries. Some say this is the sign of nature preparing for a hard winter.
The fruits themselves are edible but quite bland, and not actually berries at all; they are pomes, the same structure and type of fruit as apples. Haws are said to have health and fertility promoting properties, and can be used to make wine or jams. Birds love them, and will survive on this plentiful, sugar-laden bounty during the long months of winter.
July 10th - This is a terrible photo, but illustrates something that always comes as a shock. The first vanguard of the fruiting season are the formation of haws on the hawthorn hedges and thickets. These hard, bitter berries will take the rest of the summer to ripen, before being eaten by the birds over winter. The sight of these fruits swelling and turning crimson is a harbinger of autumn to me, and a sign of the seasons’s passage. Together with the rain, this did not make for a terribly uplifting ride home…