May 10th - Spring is still going strong. Delightful flowers speckle the hedgerows, and the oilseed rape isn’t quite out yet on Home Farm near Catshill. Mrs. Swan still dozes the day away, hopefully on a decent clutch of eggs, and apart from the wind and rain (which are admittedly pleasantly warm), one might be convinced winter was finally over…
May 4th - A gorgeous, but windy, summer evening. Still taking it gently due to the sore ribs, I took a gentle run out through Brownhills to Chasewater, then back along the canal. The blackcurrant blossom at Home Farm was gorgeous, and my favourite tree is coming into leaf, at last, a sure sign of impending summer.
The Water level at Chasewater has been lowered to around 200mm - 8 inches off maximum, and the valve closed. I find this interesting; the overflow over the poor weather period was clearly to stress-test the dam, and presumably, it’s passed. It will be intrigued to see if they allow it to overflow on a regular basis - to irrigate to spillway wetland - or if this was a rare event.
A fine evening’s ride.
April 22nd - i’d been working from home on an important project, and not been able to get out all day. I finally escaped as the sun was setting for a short ride. I noticed when not far from home that my front wheel had a very loose spoke, so had to cut my ride short, but I got a decent ride in around Brownhills and along the canal back towards Newtown. The evening was characterised by a magenta/orange light that suffused everything. Soon my favourite tree at Home Farm will be back in leaf, and the view to Hammerwich will look a good bit greener, too.
Still, it was past eight and still warm, and just still light. Hard to imagine that three weeks before this was all under a covering of snow.
April 8th - Sping, come she will. After yesterday’s shock at finding myself snowbound not once, but twice, I noted the warm afternoon and spring flowers. I’m interested in the daffodils at the moment - they seem small to almost narcissus proportions this year; is this a symptom of the poor spring? Blooms that are normally large and plentiful at Sandhills are small and diminutive this year.
The faux village green at Walsall Wood - a grass verge councillors tried to convert to avert the expansion of the adjacent pub - does look lovely with a riot of crocuses.
It’s not all growth, though; the polythene lined field at Home Farm still isn’t giving up it’s secret, and the bowling green at Oak Park is being named as a possible Olympic training facility.
A mad season, indeed.
February 23rd - There’s been a lot of work going on in the fields of Home Farm, at Sandhills, as seen from the canal at Catshill. Trenches have been dug along the fields a few metres apart, and pipes buried there. It’s either an irrigation or drainage system going in - it’ll be interesting to see what’s planted here. The machinery doing the job is fascinating.
February 2nd - By chance, I caught a good sunset. Out late afternoon to go shopping, I cycled up through central Brownhills and hopped on the canal near Anchor Bridge. Near Home Farm, I caught sight of what I thought was sand spread on the fields; it was actually soft, red sunshine, although it was cloudy directly overhead. As I sped to Chasewater to catch it, the light tantalised me with glimpses between houses and over the hilltop village of Hammerwich. Beautiful.
I’d almost forgotten it was soon to be the season of sunsets again. Late autumn, early spring. Every year. Love it. As I noticed earlier in the week, the seasons wheel is turning… it wasn’t dark tonight until gone 5pm.
This makes me very happy indeed.
November 16th - A day working from home - for working, read pottering about. I had to go to the dentist mid day, and wasn’t looking forward to it. I spun out for a short ride before the dreaded appointment. It was still murky, and a gentle mist sat over the fields towards Home Farm at Sandhills. My favourite tree - my seasonal chronometer - is now leafless, heralding the end of Autumn and the barren darkness of winter. Still, it’s a beautiful thing, whatever the season. I pulled up my collar, and pressed on.
June 15th - It had been a grim, wet, blustery day. I was travelling far away, and couldn’t use the bike, which made me feel like a cheat. When I finally got home that evening, the weather cleared around 7pm. The wind dropped, and the showers became more sporadic. As a penance, I decided to get the shopping in from Morrisons in Burntwood, which meant a spin up a very wet canal and over Chasewater. The air was clear as I checked out the view to Sandhills and over Home Farm… I love that tree. It’s like my seasonal barometer.
June 6th - My luck held. Arriving back at Shenstone far later than I expected, the ride was joyous in a post-rainstorm countryside that thrummed with life. It was a gorgeous, blue-skied evening, somewhat belying the poor weather due tomorrow. As I crawled up Shire Oak Hill, I noticed that the sun setting had cast an odd light behind the flats in Brownhills. Viewed across Home Farm fields, I still hate that new colour scheme. It looks unfinished.
May25th - Also wearing a fine summer coat is the avenue to Home Farm and Lime Barns at Sandhills. Last time I pictured this, the trees were bare and stark; today, on a fine, arm summer evening, it was a green tunnel, the leaves rustling beautifully in the breeze. How I’d love to cycle down here… but sadly, it’s a private road.
March 27th - Lane’s Farm at Sandhills is known by most folk in Brownhills. Actually an arrangement of several houses, Home Farm, Sandhills House and Lime Barn stand on the bend of an old private track that connects the Anchor Bridge and pub with the foot of Shire Oak Hill opposite the old Leopard pub. It’s very sad that this track is a private road, and indeed, no public rights of way that I’m aware of cross this land, an unusual thing. The track neatly skirts Shire Oak Hill, and the ability to traverse it would be a boon on the way home sometimes. From the Sandhills side, the track is a majestic avenue of mature trees, leading to a house with a Victorian, walled kitchen garden. There is a lot of history here.
January 14th - A cold, clear, crisp, beautifully frosty winter day. At last. Normally, on days like this I’d wrap up warm and head for Cannock Chase. Sadly, I wasn’t up to that, so settled for a sunset pootle around Brownhills and Warrenhouse. The views from Barracks Lane over Home Farm were gorgeous, as was the dusk over the canal near Ogley Junction. I really regretted not being in better condition. I bet the Trent Valley was gorgeous tonight…
January 5th - The antibiotics seem to be working, but it’s a slow recovery. After spending the morning pottering about feeling great, I spent an hour or so of the afternoon with stomach cramp. There seems to be some kind of battle raging in there between normal function and the infection. It’s kind of interesting in a geeky way. Modern drugs really are a wonderful thing.
I snuck out again just before sunset feeling a bit grim, but the fresh air and exercise soon picked me up. I headed up Brownhills and onto the canal, heading towards Wharf Lane. I was wondering if there would be much damage evident from the high winds, but thankfully, there was none. Stopping to survey the favoured view of Home Farm at Sandhills, I noted that the lone tree that stands where Brawn’s wind pump used to be is still standing. That’s a relief; I tell the seasons by that tree. It’s a fine specimen.
August 27th - A slightly windblown day of showers and patchy sun. The harvest now mostly complete, the fields have got their autumnal cloak on; bare earth, stubble and huge straw bales are the order of the day. Even the potatoes, formerly lush and verdant, are dying off and yellowing. Here at Home Farm, Sandhills, summer’s cauldron seems to be distinctly off the boil now.
July 31st - Harvesting of the oilseed rape crop was nearly complete at Home Farm, Sandhills, when I passed by on the canal. I watched for a while as the hugely sophisticated John Deere combine harvester neatly cut and threshed out the seed from the husks and chaff of the plant, spitting out the chopped remnants to be ploughed back into the soil. This is a very efficient machine and they are very expensive to buy. Note that the familiar comb wheel at the front isn’t used during the cutting of this crop, it’s neatly severed by a cutter at the front and falls onto a screw mechanism behind. A work of engineering genius.