September 16th - We’re in a real Indian summer at the moment - back to cycling around without a coat, with the sleeves rolled up. The sun has been shining, and the soft, mist-suffused light - particularly in the afternoons - has been a joy to the soul.
Autumn isn’t far away, though; the trees are turning, and when the sun goes down, there’s a distinctive nip in the air my chest and bones recognise only too well.
Here on the Lichfield Road at Walsall, the atmosphere and colour were gorgeous. I love how the trees are sculpted on the underside by the double decker busses that regularly pass under their boughs.
This has been a great season, and a good year.
September 2nd - I will continue to rave about the beauty of Darlaston until I have convinced the whole world how wonderful it is.
Passing through Victoria Park and past the Police Station having been knocked off course by the resurfacing, I noted the lady, content in the warm sun, lost to the world reading a book under the bolt-tree sculpture. The Police station is still a gorgeous building, and it’s leafy surrounds are the perfect setting.
It seems a world away from the Black Country, but at the same time, it’s close to the heart of it.
This is the Darlaston and Black Country I adore.
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 6th - Riding back through Walsall on a warm summer evening, you realise this is the best time of year to see it; the trees around Hatherton Street, Lichfield Street and the poncily named ‘Civic Quarter’ are absolutely wonderful. People run Walsall down as being dirty, post-industrial and architecturally barren, but it’s one of the greenest pieces of urban landscape I’ve ever seen.
Beneath these trees, a town lives and breathes.
If you don’t believe me, get somewhere high, like the New Art Gallery or St. Matthews steps on Church Hill, and look out. Walsall is a green oasis.
August 2nd - Still treating my injured foot with care, I took in a lazy loop of Brownhills and bimbled over to Chasewater, then back down the canal. It was a gorgeously sunny late afternoon, and after the heavy rains of the morning, all the greenery looked splendidly fresh.
In the space of 20 minutes, I admired the mature trees on The Parade, enjoyed the shimmer of Chasewater and watched spellbound as a wakeboarder practised his jumps. I also spotted the best garden chair-hammock thing ever, in a limpid, green arcadia beside the quiet, clear waters of the canal.
Don’t ever tell me there isn’t beauty in this place.
July 7th - Working late, I returned at sundown and winched my way up Shire Oak Hill from Sandhills. I noticed that lots of trees along here are laden with developing fruits - beach nuts, acorns, pine cones and these, unusually abundant sycamore seeds, or ‘helicopters’ as we used to call them as kids.
They seem to be already ripening - but this is only just the beginning of July.
Am I imagining it, or are we heading for an early autumn?
June 25th - One the way to work today in Telford, I passed, as I usually do, a tall beech hedge. My attention was snagged by the bright, crisp red-green new growth, and the intensely geometric nature of these gorgeous leaves.
Each leaf different, but similar. Macro, and fascinating. Never really studied them before, but these were remarkable.
Funny the things you sometimes see afresh by chance.
June 19th - Passing through Lichfield today on my way home, I stopped by Festival Gardens to check out the conker trees. They seem to be in fairly good nick, and aren’t showing much leaf miner activity at the moment. They are, however, showing a huge amount of fruit.
I think it’s going to be another great year for conkers. The spiny cased nuts look almost prehistoric to me at this stage.
June 4th - I have absolutely no idea. All I can assume is they’re planning to prune the trees on the Silver Street Marina. Not what I’d call a forrest. Mind you, it’s not what I’d call a marina, either.
Clearly the Brownhills reality distortion field in full effect.
May 18th - I like it when things here resolve themselves and intertwine. Way back on April 28th, I spotted an unusual, willow-like tree growing by the canal I’d not noticed before. What snagged my attention were the curious, spiky, flower-like growths, and I asked at the time what the tree might be, and were the ‘blooms’ flower or seed?
The wonderful fellow cyclist Wilymouse kindly pointed out on the original post that the tree was Grey Sallow (or Grey Willow). I learned from a link supplied that what I had seen was the female flower of this tree; the male being the familiar pussy willows.
Check out Grey Sallow here, and the images down the right hand side of the page.
Moving on, Rose Maria Burnell sent me some photos this weekend of seed fluff blowing around Chasewater. Rose assumed it was from dandelions, and I think a lot of it is… but also, it’s coming in huge amounts from grey sallow trees - the spiny flowers I photographed have seeded and are shedding wind-born material into the air, and coating everything with fluff.
The trees seem particularly dense around Fly Creek and the dam, although they’re all over Chasewater, and the atmosphere is thick with little seeds. At the creek by the boardwalk crossing, the water is white with seed fluff. It’s really quite eerie.
So, mystery solved - thanks to Wilymouse and Rose for the input!
May 5th - Only a short spin around Brownhills as I’d had a bunch of unexpected work crop up. It was pleasant enough though, and decent weather for a bank holiday, to boot.
It’s time for the annual warning - this scum on the canal isn’t pollution. Yes, it looks horrendous, but it’s natural - it’s wind-born debris from some shrub or other (never worked out which). It drifts over the surface of the canal and forms in scummy, oil-like ripples.
Nothing to be concerned about, it’s perfectly natural and soon disappears.
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…