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 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.
June 27th - A hard day and an awful journey home for the last commute of the week. The trains were a mess and I came back from Four Oaks against a grinding headwind with little left in my reserve tanks. I was knackered.
Re-armed with the camera, I spied this field of high-quality, nicely ripening barley at the foot of Castle Hill. It’s a lovely crop, with plump, large grain and will make fine malt.
I love the satin sheen of an undulating crop of barley, as it bobs in the wind. It’s one of the great seasonal sights of the English countryside.
June 23rd - Been meaning to point this out for a while. On the Chester Road at Stonnall, there’s a set of abandoned steel gates to the old lower quarry that operated here for a while, a few decades ago. Both the gates, and the land they provide access to have been overgrown for years - but recently, someone has cleared the area of scrub, and the tyre tracks of heavy machinery can be seen.
Can’t find a planning application anywhere, and I’m interested to see what becomes of this…
June 20th - I came back along the lanes around Stonnall for the first time in a while. On such a warm, sunny afternoon they were a delight to the soul, and very green and peaceful.
At Stonnall itself, I noted the barn conversion at the top of Main Street is nearly complete. A beautiful, painstaking job, the pointing alone has been a work of art. I was initially shocked when the covering bushes were cut down, but this is a sympathetic and lovely conversion and the craftspeople and designers should be proud. I love the way the dovecote in the eaves has been preserved, too.
A fine thing indeed.
May 23rd - I noticed something today I’d not spotted before. Cycling back up the Chester Road from Mill Green, as the land rises and undulates (from about 130m AOD to about 175m AOD) the plant life on the grass verges and in the hedgerows changes. At the low end, there’s birds foot trefoil, ragwort, ox-eye daises and clover in abundance in lush green grass. Higher up, these plants peter out to campion, dandelions and spiky grasses. Wonder if it’s changing soil or height?
The trefoil - called egg and bacon by us as kids - is lovely this year, and always looks nice after rain.
May 14th - Grove Hill, near Stonnall, remains a muse to local photographers and historians alike. The hill topped with a lone tree is well known as a landmark to people passing on the Chester Road.
Myth and legend has it that a noble man is buried here, hence the tree, although the reason for its placement is probably more esoteric. Like the groinal hedge to its side, the tree is probably preventing soil erosion.
This year, the hill appears to have a crop of fine-looking wheat growing lush and green all around.
It’s a lovely spot.
May 10th - Fishpond Wood just off the Chester Road at Stonnall is often locally referred to as Bluebell Wood, for obvious reasons. Last year the display of very delicate, native bluebells was quite poor due to the late spring, but this year they are excellent. This is a lovely quiet spot just off a main road, but when in bloom, the bluebells render it magical, even on a poor day like this.
January 31st - It was a day of ups and downs. I had to get to the dentist, which is never pleasant, but the morning was decent, and the long awaited arrival of a new computer was good news. The weather turned about lunchtime, and cleared a little around 6pm. It’s really hard at the moment to find decent photographic subjects in a wet, grey or dark landscape. I find myself really craving spring right now.
I went down to Stonnall, and experimented with long exposures without a great deal of success. The long-distance shot from the quarry gates was interesting enough - although out of focus - to feature here. I did like the ones down onto Main Street, but others I took of the Chester Road were useless.
Some days are just to dark to do anything with.
January 8th - I wasn’t expecting to be caught by the rain this afternoon. For some reason I though the rains weren’t coming in until later in the evening, and I was caught without full waterproofs. To heap on the misery, I had to nip down to Stonnall on an errand on the way home. It was wet, but not cold. I got soaked.
Surely, this rain must end soon? I’m developing webbed feet…
December 25th - A total contrast to the day before, Christmas Day was bright and sunny with little wind. As is traditional, a pre-lunch ride out this year took in Stonnall, Shenstone Woodend, Canwell, Hints, Weeford, Little Hay Shenstone and Lynn. The riding was fast and quiet, and the wet landscape beautiful. Even the young porkers at Shenstone Park were enjoying the sun. A couple of hours working up an appetite, I saw lots of folk out walking, kids trying new bikes and old timers like me just out for a spin. Best Christmas day pootle for a long, long time.
December 13th - Nice to see The Old Swan at Stonnall back open again and under new management. On a very grey Friday, mid afternoon, the car park was quite full, and the place looked homely and warm. Were it not for the encroaching downpour and lack of a bike lock I’d have nipped in for a swift one.
It’s great to see a well-loved house get another chance, and I wish the new hosts well in their endeavour.
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…
November 26th - Heading off to work on a less than inspiring morning. I’m glad to say I’m used to the chill again now, but the greyness is still a bind. As I sped down through Stonnall, I passed Grove Hill. Last time I looked up there, it was a field of oilseed rape, and the tree, now barren, was in full leaf.
There’s a winter crop grown in the surrounding field now, which was young and vivid green, perhaps the only splash of natural colour on an otherwise dismal grey morning.
That hedge still demonstrates soil erosion beautifully, mind. The folks that planted that knew exactly what they were doing.