BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

October 17th - I came back from Shenstone just as darkness was falling, and spotted by chance another bountiful crop of autumn. Isolated in the hedgerow at Footherley, a large, impressive and perfect group of mature glistening ink caps. These are toxic, and shouldn’t be touched, but the temptation to is huge. I love their pure white stalks and brown-black, sing caps.

I don’t think the fungi have been so good this year, maybe due to the dry weather - these are rare gems.

August 26th - In the backlanes between Stonnall and Shenstone (I’m not going to say where) there are a secluded row of apple trees. I’ve known of them for years, and they always seem to grow decent fruit. This year, they’ve excelled themselves.

The apples aren’t huge, but there are lots of them. There are several varieties, Cox’s, Russets, and I think Granny Smiths. The Russet I nabbed was sweet, juicy and ripe, the Cox too.

I always love to see these apples.

August 7th - I had to nip into Brum on my way home from work, and hopped on a train to Shenstone on the way back. I haven’t been this way much lately, and the familiar wooded hill with church tower - just the one in summer, the other being obscured by trees - looked splendid in the early evening sunshine. I love how you can see the gargoyles at the vertices from a very long way away.

The station and it’s complex, partially mansard roof is still gorgeous, too, despite being neutered of it’s tall, elegant chimneys several decades ago.

Shenstone is gorgeous, and there are few better places to be on a warm, sunny evening.

August 1st - My return journey was weary, wet, grey and warm. Again, it felt like being in the gust from a hair-drier, so warm was the breeze. It was raining steadily, and having popped in to Brum, I returned from Shenstone down quiet, greasy country lanes, dodging a whole host of slippery hazards in waiting, now hydrated. 

I note most of the harvest is done here, but for a couple of fields. In the UK, I guess it pays not to dither, and as I was waiting at Shire Oak I reflected on the wonderful unreliability of the great British weather.

July 24th - One of the sights of summer I’ve so far missed is the crop sprinkler. Near Shenstone today, one solitary spray, watering a field of fine looking potatoes. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can get a full rainbow in their mist, but my efforts to find one today wee fruitless. 

If you’re even luckier, it’s near the road, and there’s a delicious game of dare as you try to cycle past without getting sprayed.

Wehen I was a youth, you could hear these - and there would have been large numbers of them - for miles, the light rushing sound and the toc-toc-toc of the rotator, but since crops have switched more to cereals, they’re a rarer sight.

July 18th - By the time I was riding home through the backlanes between Shenstone and Stonnall, my energy had gone, I was hot, tired and in pain. It was hard going, but the evening views and atmosphere made it difficult to be upset.
A truly gorgeous evening, of the kind we don’t get in the UK much. Such heat, but so glorious; and a storm is coming in.
Don’t moan about the heat too much, it’ll be cold and wet again soon enough…

July 18th - By the time I was riding home through the backlanes between Shenstone and Stonnall, my energy had gone, I was hot, tired and in pain. It was hard going, but the evening views and atmosphere made it difficult to be upset.

A truly gorgeous evening, of the kind we don’t get in the UK much. Such heat, but so glorious; and a storm is coming in.

Don’t moan about the heat too much, it’ll be cold and wet again soon enough…

July 8th - It’s been a while since I got a good sunset in the bag. I was tired. I had caffeine shakes. I was a stressed, weary mess. But Cycling home in this really sorted me out.

Divine.

July 8th - Working late. Exhausted, with very sore eyes, I hit Shenstone station just as darkness was falling. Pleased to note this camera takes very decent handheld shots in low light. This rural station is a long-time muse of mine, and I find the station building and environment fascinating, particularly at night.

In high summer like this, working late and catching the dark is a rare treat, and despite my bleariness, I did try and savour the light…

Apriul 12th - I must have passed this hundreds of times without noticing it. Facing the footpath on the Birmingham Road, just on the edge of the Highwayman Car Park at Shenstone Woodend, this Ordnance Survey monument. Cast Iron, now at a jaunty angle, it sows a benchmark in the absence of a building to carve one into.
I had no idea these ornate cast iron ones existed, and they seem relatively rare. A fine, uniquely British thing.

Apriul 12th - I must have passed this hundreds of times without noticing it. Facing the footpath on the Birmingham Road, just on the edge of the Highwayman Car Park at Shenstone Woodend, this Ordnance Survey monument. Cast Iron, now at a jaunty angle, it sows a benchmark in the absence of a building to carve one into.

I had no idea these ornate cast iron ones existed, and they seem relatively rare. A fine, uniquely British thing.

March 10th - I love it when, for a short time every spring and autumn, my homeward commute coincides with the golden hour. Even more so if it does so during a period of good weather. This evening, I returned from Shenstone specifically to catch the station and two towers in the beautiful light, and hopefully see the sunset over Ogley Hay and St. Jame’s Church. 

Neither disappointed. I’m loving this spring.

February 6th - I’d been in Telford, in a building with no windows. When I came to leave, I realised it was raining fairly heavily. Nothing to do, but don the waterproofs and go for it. The journey was pretty miserable, really; delays at Telford and Birmingham made for a long, damp trudge home, but at least the wind was behind me. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a continuously warm, wet winter like this. Last year was bad enough, but at least we had variety with the snow. This is just getting boring now…

January 5th - The Lammas Land isn’t at it’s best this time of year, but it is still nice to ride along the quiet trail. Running the length of the Footherley Brook along the northern perimeter of the village, it’s a lovely community project and facility, of which the villagers are rightly proud.

I’m not sure, however, about the Shining Stone. A stainless steel sculpture standing in the brook by an old pedestrian bridge on the footpath to Ashcroft Lane, it looks like some alien dropping polluting the water. 

Put in place in 2002 and designed by artist Jo Naden, it’s said to take inspiration from the derivation of the name ‘Shenstone’, meaning shining or beautiful stone. It was stolen by metal thieves in 2010, to be found in a scrapyard in the Black Country, from whence it was returned (the material it’s made from isn’t that valuable as it happens).

The inscription reads ‘A flock of birds settle the green field re-echoes where there is a brisk bright stream’, an Irish traditional verse.

So help me god, it looks like some metallic turd. But the way the water swirls around it is fascinating.

An odd thing, to be sure.

January 5th - It was a thoroughly horrid afternoon. Windy, wet, dark. I went out with a heavy heart, and didn’t find much of interest in the immediate area, so I spun out to Shenstone down the very wet and muddy backlanes.

Visiting the church, I was again reminded what a gothic, ugly edifice it is. I’ve never liked it; it’s a perfectly competent architectural design, it’s just not to my taste. I find the dark grey sandstone, and heavy Victoriana dismal. Even the gargoyles look desperately unhappy.

Compare St. Johns, Shenstone with any other local church, say Hopwas. Hopwas is a place you’d feel happy to give praise in, to wed, to christen; Shenstone looks like a place to go and endure, repent and suffer - it’s full of foreboding.

More interesting to me is the old tower in the churchyard; crumbling, it’s the remains of an earlier church. Perhaps it would have been better left.

Down in the village,I headed to the Lammas Land - a strip of parkland along the Footherley Brook. On the way, I passed The Plough In, busy, bright, inviting. Newly reopened, it’s good to see. It had been derelict for a few years.

December 18th - Geekout time again. I nipped in to Shenstone in the morning to beat the storm and pick up a Christmas present. On my way, the wind blew me down Bullmoor Lane to Chesterfield, near Wall. On the bend near Raikes, there’s been an electricity pole for years that’s fascinated me. It has a really complicated arrangement of equipment mounted upon it, and it’s effectively in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always been interested in it’s purpose, so I resolved to find out.

After a fair bit of googling, it’s an ‘automatic recloser’, and a really high-tech piece of equipment with a simple purpose; it’s an 11,000V breaker, performing the same kind of job as the ones you get in a modern domestic fusebox.

It consists of the unit that switches on and off the supply - the big box at the top, which breaks the three phase supply voltage present on the lines above, and an electronic control unit called an ADVC, which detects when there’s a fault, such as overcurrent in the load. A small transformer sits high up to supply the ADVC.

The ADVC reads the signals in the line, like voltage and current, and should it detect a problem, it disconnects or ‘opens’ the recloser, breaking the supply. Since most faults with overhead lines like this clear themselves quickly (they may be weather, vegetation or vermin related, for instance), the ADVC monitors the disconnected line and automatically recloses - reconnecting the supply - automatically.

The system is monitored by complex electronics with a computerised controller, and can communicate by radio telemetry, hence the antenna; it even has batteries so it can keep working if it’s own supply is interrupted.

I’ve been meaning to find that out for years… you can read more here.

This project takes me to some strange places, sometimes…

December 13th - I got away early today, and raced the rain home. Having come from Birmingham, I took the first train in my general direction available, in light of recent hassles, and ended up alighting at Shenstone. Riding down Footherley Lane, I noticed the mud was quite thick on the ground.

This is to be expected - after all the ploughing, seeding and the like, mud is carried out of fields onto roads that are never cleaned except by the rains, and we haven’t had heavy prolonged rain for a while.

This mud can be evil on road bike tyres, or after a light frost, when it partially freezes and turns into wheel-stealing slush. The best advice is take it slow, steady, don’t brake unless you have to and no sudden movements.

All part of the fun of winter…