June 14th - The roadside verges and hedgerows are an unusually rich delight at the moment. With the late spring and damp weather, they’re really lush and green right now, with beautiful wildflowers peppered through them. I can’t name the flowers here but both exist in abundance along the A461 Lichfield Road at Sandhills. If you can, take an hour or two out this weekend to go exploring the country lanes around here, which are a delight right now. It’s not until you study them closely, you realise the wild and enchanting beauty they contain.
June 4th - Now, there’s a sign of summer - and a precious crop. At Lanes Farm on Sandhills, near Shire Oak, I see the sprinkler is already out. I can’t tell what’s growing here yet, but this is the crop that was shielded by polythene sheeting up until a couple of weeks ago.
One thing’s for sure: it’s a delicate crop. It’ll be interesting to watch it grow.
May 24th - After a spin around Stonnall and Shenstone in a rather grim wind, the sunset was nice. Sweeping past hedgerows glowing with cow parsley, bluebells and fields full of oilseed rape, the sky set it all off beautifully. A lovely end to a day of awful weather.
At Sandhills, the polythene covered field has had the plastic removed, and each sheet was nurturing four rows of seedlings beneath. I don’t know what they are, they look a bit like peas. It’ll be fun to watch and see what grows.
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 17th - I returned home late enough to catch the sunset - it was great tonight, although the winds were somewhat tempestuous. Thankfully, they were mostly behind me, and the warmth of them is still a pleasant surprise to the system. On cue, roadsides are a riot of daffodils, and everything seems busy with springtime.
It’s been worth the wait.
April 9th - When I left for work this morning, there was no frost, although the now familiar hatchet-edged wind chilled my bones as it has for a couple of weeks. However, on my return this evening, something had changed. It felt warm. I took off my gloves. It was grey, and the air felt moist, but as I winched myself up Shire Oak Hill, a pale ochre sun etched it’s way through the clouds.
Little by little, there’s a change under way. Las weekend, I changed back to normal tyres. Let’s hope that’s the last outing of the ice spikes until next winter…
April 9th - Hiding in plain sight on the treeline of a small copse on Sandhills, near Shire Oak, is a Tetra mast. Painted matt brown to blend in with the background, it’s not a mobile phone cell tower, but one of the nodes of the emergency services radio communications and telemetry network for the UK.
Erected in the last decade, Tetra is a secure system designed for use specifically with emergency services in mind. Working at a lower frequency than normal mobile GSM, it’s more efficient structurally, provides secure, encrypted communications and provides all the features required for modern operations.
The network wasn’t without controversy, as the earliest systems interfered with TV transmissions in some instances, and it has proven very expensive to implement, although the system is in use now in much of the developed world.
There are a fair few of these installations around. Look out for them - like this one, they can be hard to spot, but mostly share the same, three-element design.
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.
March 4th - I came home from Shenstone at sunset. They day hadn’t improved much - coming back necessarily late, my train ticket was invalid and I had to buy a second. All the way back I’d been fighting the kind of tiredness that repeatedly pulls you into slumber, then cruelly snatches you awake, momentarily terrified. I just wanted to be home.
It was chilly, and slightly misty as the sun went down. The countryside around Stonnall, Lynn and Sandhills looked gorgeous in the subtle light and mist. I was still tired, but I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I love the outdoors, even when I’m nearly beaten. It gives me strength.
I note that at Home Farm, at Sandhills, the field that was potatoes last year has been prepared with long, flat, plastic film encased beds, suggesting something delicate. I’m wondering if it’s connected with the pipework I saw being installed last weekend. The geometry and precision of the automated planting and covering is stunning. It’ll be interesting to see what crop emerges.
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 21st - It’s been cold, and the wind has been evil. Not particularly strong, but it’s from the east and is lazy; it doesn’t so much blow around you as straight through. Tired tonight after a hard day at work, I really couldn’t face the prospect of a headwind all the way home. So I got the train to Shenstone, and cycled back home from there.
I stopped for a picture just at the bottom of Shire Oak Hill. I haven’t cycled this route much this winter. The wind was behind me, but it was still cold. This hill doesn’t get any less steep either, but the lights are gorgeous in the dusk.
Tonight, this hill gave me a very hard time. Shire Oak Hill is an old adversary, and like all old adversaries, life wouldn’t be the same without it.
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.
23rd October - As I headed homeward, conditions - and the light - didn’t improve, but at least the wind was almost behind me. The amount of motorists I saw without lights was astounding, and by the time I was negotiating Shire Oak Hill, it was both raining steadily, and very nearly dark. This weather is difficult to ride in - not just for practical visibility and comfort reasons, but the rain makes people drive oddly, and it puts me on my guard. One would imagine that bad weather would make people drive more carefully, but the opposite seams to be the case. Most bizarre.