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…
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.