April 18th - Between Harlaston and Clifton Campville, there’s a small, Catholic hamlet called Haunton. There’s a church, a small convent, a huge old folk’s home that used to be a private school and a lot of odd architecture. This is a tiny place, but it has surprising corners.
In the churchyard today, I noticed this railing remnant being consumed by two separate trees engaged in a slow, determined tug of war. I was fascinated in the distortion, and wondered how old the railings were.
I swear that if you put your ear close, you could hear the trees grunting…
April 3rd - the mist, poor air and lack of sun means something remarkable is happening unnoticed. In the last week, the trees, hedgerows and shrubs have mostly been bursting into leaf. The deciduous copse at the rear of the new pond in Clayhanger is alive with willow, oak, birch and elder, all sprouting a variety of foliage. At Catshill, the blackthorn blossom is gorgeous, and everywhere there are the vivd greens of fresh growth.
If the sun would only shine, they’d positively glow.
January 26th - Reader Jeepboy contacted me this morning, noting that the heathland restoration work had begun on Brownhills Common and things were a bit lumpy. My curiosity piqued, I took a ride over the common west of The Parade to have a look. True enough, the conditions up there are muddy and wet - take wellies if you’re walking. But it’s interesting to see the landscape open out a bit.
Nothing much grows under the conifer plantations, which have spread widely. This threatens the historic and biodiverse heath, and the wildlife that thrives upon it - everything from red deer, who munch on the sedges and lounge in the low cover to the birds that feed from the berries and seeds of the broad-leafed trees here.
Whilst the clearance looks shocking, only selected batches of coniferous woodland are being cleared, and deciduous trees left to thrive. It’s interesting to see the landscape re-emerge here. Come some decent weather, the mud will soon dry out and conditions will improve - however, it may be some time before access from the A5 drains sufficiently… it’s the closest Brownhills has had to a lido for some time.
I know this work has been and will continue to be controversial, but I honestly think it’s for the best. It’s sad that the situation was allowed to get so out of hand that dramatic steps were necessary.
October 8th - more pleasing spot right now is just up the road from the old Wheel Inn, at Anchor Bridge. The open space here is dotted with an assortment of mature trees, from willows to birches, poplars to ash. They are handsome any time of year, but right now, they are spreading the grass with a variety of colour. With the canal adjacent, but for the roar of the nearby traffic you could be in a great park…
July 29th - Oak Apples, or galls, are an interesting thing. Very visible right now, they are the gall of a type of wasp that lays it’s egg inside new oak leaf buds. A chemical reaction caused by a secreted fluid causes the gall to grow, and inside, the wasp larva feeds on it, eventually burrowing it’s way to the surface and flying away.
Isn’t nature amazing?
July 3rd - Summer in the Lichfield Street and Hatherton Road areas of Walsall Town Centre - the ‘civic’ quarter - is a joy. The streets here are tree-lined and green, and form a beautiful canopy over the busy roads below. From some aspects you could almost be in Cheltenham.
I keep banging on about this, but it’s very true: Walsall is surprisingly green, and most people don’t seem to notice.
May 1st - meanwhile, on the other side of the recreation centre playing fields, this sight to gladden the heart. New leaf growth, heralding another summer of green trees and warm days.
Bring it on. It’s been a long winter.
December 4th - Another gorgeous morning immediately after rain. As I headed to Shenstone to get the train, the countryside was beautiful and dramatic, and put me in mind of Joni Mitchell ‘…shivering trees standing in naked rows’. I noted that the twin towers of Shenstone are now visible on the skyline again, the smaller tower - the ruin in the churchyard - is hidden by the trees in the summer months. I love the way the gargoyles on the heavily gothic modern church tower are visible from some distance away…
May 20th - The greening is now in earnest. All over Cannock Chase and the Shugborough Estate, nature is doing it’s damnedest to get our attention. From Brindley Heath to Severn Springs, Milford to Haywood everything is a fluorescent, vibrant, verdant shade of growth. To be in England: can there be anywhere finer right now?
By the way: Cycling over the Shugborough Estate at 8pm, when all the tourists have gone is the way to see it. Hardly a soul, and very, very peaceful.
February 21st - It seems I’ve got a change of scenery for a few days. Off to Telford early today, and the weather - after a distinctly wintery dip yesterday - seemed really springlike this morning. Heading to Shenstone station along Lynn Lane, I noticed this row of bare trees. Spring will be nearly over by the time they green up, but I’m sure, somewhere in those weathered trunks, sap has started to rise. I notice bulbs are coming up and growth is tentatively commencing for another year. This thought cheered me as I sat on the train…
October 11th - I’ve been watching this tree change colour for a couple of weeks. It stands in the pasture near Little Aston Forge, on the bank of the Black Brook, and has gradually turned the most dramatic shade of yellow. I think it’s some species of ash, but haven’t got close enough to look. On this dark, dismal evening with dusk falling, it was a cheery sight as I cycled home against the wind.
June 1st - A great friend from Walsall recently commented that when he came back from holidays or distant journeys, crossing Shire Oak Hill in the car always made him and his family feel like they were nearly home. I love this view. Seeing it, like the one from Church Hill in Walsall, reminds you of what a tremendously green area Walsall actually is.
Nipping up to the Wood on the way home, I was reminded of this. Al, you’re a star.
May 26th - Today was wet, blustery and miserable. I shot out late afternoon to get some supplies and fresh air. One thing about the recent showers is that they’re really making everything green up a treat - here Brownhills Parade was wearing it’s splendid summer emerald overcoat.
April 19th - at the other end of the day, the desire to just ride continued. St. John’s Hill in Shenstone has now formed it’s usual summer green canopy. It’s like being in a leafy, cool, bright green tunnel. Gorgeous.