BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

September 17th - Recently on Facebook there was some concern over a swan that was found dead in Pelsall. The bird had been decapitated, and many were accusing vandals. The truth is less controversial, but sadly a little more gory.

The swan was, in all probability, killed by a fox. Anyone who’s seen the aftermath of a fox in a henhouse will know that Reynard goes for the neck.

At this time of year, this year’s cubs are driven out of the den by their parents to seek their own territories - that’s why we often see foxes sleeping on roofs and in quiet but open spots in late summer. Quite frankly, these canines are homeless.

The young, inexperienced adolescents are forced to fend for themselves - that includes finding food - and many will attempt kills that are well above them. So it probably was with the Pelsall swan.

Swans are not bright birds. As I came home along the canal, I spotted this usually aggressive lone bird fast asleep, drifting on the water. It had floated into the bank around the overflow, at Clayhanger Bridge, and the thicket nearby is usually host to a den of Brer Fox.

It would be fairly trivial for the fox to sneak up to the bird unseen, and go straight for the neck, which is about the only bit the fox can attack without the risk of being ferociously pecked. The kill, to an experienced fox, would be fast and efficient and lead to food for a week or more.

The fox that attacked the Pelsall bird was probably scared off, or attacked by other swans roused by the commotion, leaving their kill behind.

I couldn’t knowingly leave this swan to a similar fate, so after taking a few pictures, I gently woke it by speaking. I was greeted by wing-flapping, honking and hissing, and the white bird swam away from me.

Job done.

July 28th - Big dreams, he had them. 

Better luck next time, puss. Maybe it was for the best…

July 20th - A day coloured mainly by the sad news of the loss of a good man, but as I rode the canal mid-afternoon, taking it gentle, I reflected on life. I noted a family of 4 cygnets and mum - dad seems to be gone - doing well up in Walsall Wood. I think they’re from up the canal in Pelsall. They are healthy birds, clearly getting by just fine.

Further down the water at Catshill Junction, the swans from Catshill still numbered seven youngsters and two parents. Nature is cruel, but the cycle of life continues.

I’ve grown very attached to these birds, have many of the local residents. It’s odd that we take such beautiful but grumpy and obstreperous characters to our hearts, but we do.

We feel great sadness at the toll of nature, and predators. But that’s the roll of nature’s dice, and it was ever thus.

And life continues, as it always has.

December 30th - Up the road in Pelsall, I slipped into the village unnoticed by the border guards, who were clearly either slumbering, or skiving the night off. I like Pelsall. It’s villagey, and semi rural, but a bit up itself sometimes. I noticed a new cafe here I must try out.

I’m wondering if the letter ‘I’ went missing from the Kandu Hair salon sign as an act of sublime urban mischief or just happenstance; maybe the owners are planning to convert to an Afghan restaurant and wanted to save on a new sign.

Yes, I know it’s not quite the right spelling, but it’s close enough for Pelsall…

November 4th - Only one set of photos today, as my others went badly wrong, such was the theme of the day. A day of missed connections, late arrivals, things not working and bad chances. I got a puncture on the way to work, and cursed. I had a mechanical issue on the way home.

Still, it was a pleasant enough day weather-wise, and on my way I took the cycle path from Pelsall to Goscote. Pelsall looked great from the Mill Lane Bridge, as it always does this time of year, and the Goscote Valley was equally pastoral. I can think of far worse journeys to cycle.

Here’s a thing, though, if a shard of glass embeds itself in your tyre and pierces your innertube, why is it always coloured glass and not plain clear? Is coloured glass harder or something?

August 13th - Honeysuckle berries are unpleasant, and in most varieties of the plant, slightly toxic to humans. The berries of the most common hedgerow species I see are crimson and sticky, and beloved of birds and bugs. If you can catch them before they’re devoured, they’re beautiful, like jewels, almost. These are growing near the cycleway in Pelsall, where it crosses Mill Road. Note the airborne grime stuck to the surface of the fruit - this is why foraged stuff should always, always be washed.

But don’t forage these, they’ll make you ill…

August 6th - At the other end of the route, Pelsall. Dormitory, shady, leafy. Beautiful in places, but ever so slightly smug about it. This is Walsall’s Metroland.

August 4th - 3 former rail bridges in Brownhills, from 3 separate railway lines, all three suffering with age and the destructive tenacity of nature. The lone arch at the top corner of Clayhanger Common is slowly being pushed apart by shrubs and weeds, and is in what must be the final stages of natural reclamation. The Slough bridge, over the canal near Coppice Side, now serves as a pedestrian and cycleway over the Wyrley and Essington for National Cycle Route 54, but the familiar blue Freakley bricks are being pried apart here too by gentle, instant hydraulic pressure.

The third bridge is arguably the most interesting. One of only two listed buildings in the town, it is considered of rare enough design to be worth preserving, although it too is suffering the ravages of lack of care. As if to compound the misery, It has recently had a new nameplate installed, which reads ‘Pelsall Old Railway Bridge’.

This isn’t Pelsall, you muppets.

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. 

Beautifully tranquil.

July 14th - Returning from the Our Big Gig event in Walsall Arboretum late afternoon, I’d had enough of the traffic and heat and headed for the Goscote Valley cycleway, for a traffic-free, shady alternative. There seemed to be a fair few cats about, who in the way cats do, studiously ignored me, or hid. Loved the little black kitten near Pelsall, although Mr. Whitepaws, at Harden, seemed every bit the cat-about-town.

June 15th - Returning from the Canal Festival at Pelsall, I stopped in the sunshine to check out the canal side wild flowers. I’m interested in them all - the only one I recognise being Bullrush. I’m particularly interested in the blueish one bottom left. Think it might be an escaped ornamental. There’s certainly plenty in bloom right now, and it’s all wonderful.

March 30th - You see, I told you Pelsall was odd. They’ll give a driving license to anybody, there. 

Mind you, he’s probably a far better driver than most. The lack of opposable thumbs means he won’t text at the wheel, at least.

March 30th - Recklessly, and without any ID, I went to Pelsall for a late breakfast at a cafe I like there. Thankfully, the border guards were asleep, and I slipped into the Principality unnoticed. 

Pelsall is a bit like Midwich. It all seems so right, but somewhere, nearby, you can feel that something is a bit wrong. Perhaps I watched too much junk sci-fi as a kid, but Pelsall is well odd. I never really feel comfortable there, although the village has a Royston-Vaseyish charm of it’s own. I love the terraces with front doors opening onto the street; the old-style hardware store where you can still buy caustic soda, tin buckets and clouts by the pound. The ancient and sadly unloved delivery bike hitched up outside the butchers is also fascinating, if a little frustrating. Only the newly erected, and frankly hideous health centre and library spoils the effect. Clearly Stevie Wonder is still on the planning committee.

They are, of course, out to get me. Why else would they build speed-calming chicanes with a bike bypass lane narrower than my pedal span?

If you visit, watch out. I think they’re on to us…

December 2nd - As I cycled down the bank and onto Apex Road, I noticed the council depot was silent. The roads had clearly already been gritted today, and there didn’t seem to be anyone about. The depot here is where all the gritting operations now take place from, and there’s a huge shelter here full of road salt. Walsall are generally very good at gritting the roads, and getting pebble dashed on the way home from work is now a nightly risk. The amount of machinery stored here to process and spread the deicer is startling, and makes you realise just what a huge operation this seemingly simple task actually is.

December 2nd - As I cycled down the bank and onto Apex Road, I noticed the council depot was silent. The roads had clearly already been gritted today, and there didn’t seem to be anyone about. The depot here is where all the gritting operations now take place from, and there’s a huge shelter here full of road salt. Walsall are generally very good at gritting the roads, and getting pebble dashed on the way home from work is now a nightly risk. The amount of machinery stored here to process and spread the deicer is startling, and makes you realise just what a huge operation this seemingly simple task actually is.

December 1st - A better day. I was off to work in the early morning, and returned from Darlaston in the afternoon. I was tired, and with a headwind, I opted for the shelter of the cycle track down through the Goscote Valley to Pelsall. Even still, it was hard work. Stopping on the old railway bridge over Vicarage Road, I realised the Pelsall was now wearing it’s winter jacket. This view of the village always looks so nice, but at this point in winter it always appears so barren. 

December 1st - A better day. I was off to work in the early morning, and returned from Darlaston in the afternoon. I was tired, and with a headwind, I opted for the shelter of the cycle track down through the Goscote Valley to Pelsall. Even still, it was hard work. Stopping on the old railway bridge over Vicarage Road, I realised the Pelsall was now wearing it’s winter jacket. This view of the village always looks so nice, but at this point in winter it always appears so barren.