August 31st - It was a gorgeous afternoon - sunny, warm, with only a light wind. Sadly, I missed most of it due to being unwell. I finally left for a gentle spin at 5pm, and spun up the canal to Aldridge, then over Lazy Hill and back up the Chester Road over Shire Oak into Brownhills.
I had no energy at all. But it was a lovely ride, and I stopped to photograph the view at the top of Lazy Hill and at Shire Oak. I’m astounded how far you can see from Shire Oak on a clear day - those cooling towers are the derelict ones at Willington; inbetween, Burton and the huge Argos warehouse at Barton.
Note also the wind turbine at Whittington Hurst, seemingly very close in the shot of prospect house.
A great, short ride.
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 8th - In contrast to recent days, it was dark and overcast with a very threatening atmosphere for most of the day. Racing home, I could smell rain on the wind, and it felt ominous.
A bit of rain is welcome; it’s needed. But we haven’t had weather like this for any length of time for a long period, and this felt dramatic and alien.
As I rode down Mill Lane in Stonnall, I noticed a flock of starlings had settled on the field, hedgerow and overhead lines. Perhaps it’s just the Hitchcock thing, but even those little birds in silhouette felt menacing…
August 5th - Grove Hill, Stonnall, on the way to work, just past dawn. Granddad used to say ‘Mackerel sky, 24 hours dry.’ On this, his rule of thumb is generally right.
This pagan place was beautiful, and despite running close to time (as ever), I stopped to capture it.
A morning like this sets you up for the day.
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 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.