BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

March 21st - Off to Chasewater for the first time in a while, I took the canal up from Brownhills. Spring is everywhere; in the hedgerows, in the fields, on the water. Despite a grim wind, birds were bountiful, and the sun, when you caught it, was warm. 

My favourite tree at Home Farm is still in winter mode, but the field surrounding it is a warm green. At Catshill, the swan-pair with three unsuccessful breeding years behind them are having another go, and the landmarks of Hammerwich tested the zoom on the camera.

At Chasewater, the canal valve is now open again, and we’re about 40mm off maximum level now, but the wind drove waves onto the spillway weir quite ferociously. Due to the same wind, the Wakeboard lines were closed, but workmen were busy around the boating lake laying lovely new tarmac paths instead of the uneven old slabs.

A great afternoon to be at Chasewater, for sure.

December 17th - I went out in darkness, and found myself in a refreshingly cold night, with a huge, beautiful, partially cloud obscured moon. I rode up the canal intending to visit Chasewater, but spent ages instead experimenting more with long exposure photography.

I’m not a photographer, I never learned any technical stuff. What I know I learned by trial and error, and finding this camera offered me a couple of really long exposures, I’ve been trying them out. 

The landscape over Home Farm at Sandhills, Ogley Junction and Warrenhouse yielded some fairly interesting results, but I think I need more practice…

November 3rd - Today, the season’s wheel clicked round another notch. The wind that so harangued me the day before had died right down, but the temperature had dropped, too. Today, I realised once and for all that winter, if not quite on her throne, was certainly waiting in the wings. 

I left mid afternoon, with grand ideas of tearing up the Chase, but I was dressed too lightly and I felt cold and despite the sun, quite down in the dumps, if I’m honest. No reason to be, other than the passage of warmth and the advancing of the seasons; this time of year I always wonder if I have the strength inside to face another winter of dark nights, cold commutes and lifeless countryside.

I headed up over Chasewater and Cuckoo Bank, down Rainbow Hill and over Slitting Mill. A quick coffee at sunset, and back over Penkridge Bank. I saw deer, but it was too dark to get a good picture. Returning cold and in darkness, I felt a world away from warm, sunny afternoons. I was heavy hearted and my very bones ached.

I bloody hate this time of year.

October 9th - There must be a good return on parsnips. I watched this mystery crop grow at Home Farm, Sandhills, from polythene covered strip mounds to lush, verdant foliage, from which readers identified the then mysterious crop. Harvesting has been ongoing for a week or two now - not everyday, but I imagine as often as demand occurs. Workers appear to sit in the shed-like trailer picking the root veg by hand, and tossing them onto a conveyor. Debris in one spot shows the crop was large and in good condition.

Don’t think I’ve ever seen parsnips grown in large quantities before. It’s certainly labour intensive to pick them. 

August 10th - The harvest was underway everywhere I looked - out at Hammerwich, Stonnall, The slopes of Longon and the plains of Staffordshire. Everywhere I looked, there were plumes of grain dust rising in the distant fields like palls of smoke. At Home Farm, Sandhills, baling of the straw was ongoing. The parsnips in the field behind still look lush, and the oilseed rape is still not ripe, but the wheat, plump and healthy, is now stubble. And so the cycle continues.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.