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.
September 11th - Less charming than the sunflower, but fascinating to me, just under a bridge in Pleck, I pull up to a halt to allow a rat to get out of my way. Brown, and in good nick, it loops around the path before diving into a drain hole in the bridge underwall. If you watch closely, it briefly pokes it’s nose back out of the hole.
Rats are a fact of life with canal cycling, and there are lots in urban areas. Previously, I’ve seen them swimming here. Humans have a symbiotic relationship with rats, and we’ve co-existed for millennia.
I don’t find them repulsive, I find them fascinating. Their adaptability and nimbleness are fascinating.
Worth watching full screen. Click on the little square box on the vide toolbar.
September 11th - I only went and forgot the camera again. This week can’t end quickly enough. Something is not functioning at all well.
On the way to work, in central Walsall the traffic felt risky, so I hopped on the canal and rode to Darlaston that way. On the way, I bumped into this family of swans.
This bunch are very attentive to humans - I suspect they get fed regularly. They were almost harassing me for food. The adults seem smaller than the Catshill brood, and there’s only three cygnets, but they’re lovely, healthy birds, and seem to have been ringed.
As soon as they realised I wasn’t going to produce bread, they went back to foraging in the weed and quickly drifted away. Cupboard love.
September 9th - This is bothering me. On the border between Darlaston and Walsall at Bentley Bridge, there’s a field of meadow-scrub next to the nascent River Tame. There has been planning permission granted here for a warehouse and new driveways and drainage which have never been built - instead, the land is being used ostensibly as storage, but is more akin to a flytip.
Building materials, old pallets and scrap, including a couple of portable site toilets are strewn around, and the water that must run off this site into the Tame is more than likely contaminated by the waste here.
I have mentioned this to Walsall Council, who assured me something was being done, although I’m not sure they understood the location or where I was referring to.
September 2nd - A better commute this morning. The sun was out, and it was a nice day. Spinning through Darlaston I was pleased to see Bull Street being resurface at long last - it was getting to the point where it didn’t need sweeping so much as ploughing.
I’ve been quite lucky this year; Green Lane in Shelfield and Bull Street both resurfaced, two roads that were nasty to ride on.
September 1st - It really is coming on autumn now, and it’s getting me down a little. Cycling to work down Scarborough Road in Walsall on a grey Monday, fallen leaves already scatted on the road, it’s hard not to feel sad for the passage of another summer.
I feel this one has been good; it hasn’t seemed very wet, and although August was a tad grim, the previous months had been great. Sadly I’ve not got out for longer rides this year much at all, with a combination of work and family pressures and a healing, but still troublesome foot injury - but commuting this summer was a real joy.
It’ll be a while until this season gets beautiful, and I’ll be low for a bit yet. Every year, as I get older, this transition seems to be the hardest of the year. I’m wearing a jacket again more and more, soon the scarf and full gloves will be back out of the drawer, and dark evenings will be upon us.
August 30th - From the top of Shire Oak heading into Rushall, I stopped to admire the view, as I often do. It’s worth clicking on that top image and checking it out closely - beyond Walsall, Dudley Castle is clearly visible to the left. From here one can see just how green and verdant our area is in Summer, and I do think this vista - with the church tower above the treetops - is rather beautiful in summer. I’m still no wiser as to what the tower central on the skyline is.
Further down the Lichfield Road the houses being built on the former St. John’s school site are making progress. Interesting to see the old roof truss still in use on the open gable. In time, the new houses will adjoin the remainder of the old school.
August 28th - A bit of a strange day. I wasn’t planning on going to work, but ended up called in anyway. It wasn’t a bad commute as it happened, and the journeys were pleasant. On the way home, I passed over the The Bridge in Walsall town centre. It was while there that I spotted something I pass by loads, that is really part of Walsall’s furniture; the concrete hippo. It occurred to me that I’d never featured it here before.
Derided and loved in equal measure, this 1970s artwork has formed a meeting point for a couple of generations of Walsallians. Up until a decade ago, the hippo basked outside BHS, and teenagers, before mobiles and social media would agree to ‘see you by the hippo at 12 o’clock’ or somesuch.
For a while, the hippo image was even used to advertise the Walsall Show.
The story of how our town came to have this bizarre object is complex and not without some debate, but I think all true Walsall folk love it. There is talk of a renovation, of fixing the broken ear. I hope they go through with it.
Walsall is full of surprises. A concrete hippo - without any apparent rhyme or reason - is just one of them. And it’s lovely.
August 22nd - At the back of Brickyard Road in Aldridge is a small marina, home to a number of moored narrowboats. Today, the water was mirror-calm, and it makes for an unexpectedly pleasant sight in an otherwise very urban, scarred landscape.
Admiring perfect waterlilies basking in the late summer sun, it’s hard to imaging this oasis of piece is wedged tightly between two landill sites, Europe’s largest toxic waste facility and a working marlpit.
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.
July 29th - Sorry, more cygnets. I didn’t know about these, but taking a desperate dive onto the canal to avoid traffic madness on my way to work, I passed this family of three and parents in Pleck, Walsall.
They interested me particularly, as the young are clearly starting to develop white plumage, yet look younger than the Catshill brood (they’re smaller, too).
July 23rd - in the Goscote Valley on my way to work, as the day started to warm up, I was drawn to a continual crackling sound. This always fascinates me; it’s the sound of gorse pods popping open with a snap, and scattering their seeds.
The action is induced by the warmth of the sun, and makes for an interesting diversion on the way to work. I love how the pods rattle musically when you shake the bushes, too.
July 22nd - The Mad Old Baggage noted the other day that buddleia was known as the ‘butterfly bush’ - and she’s right. By a busy roadside in Walsall, the purple, masonry-destroying shrub is quietly reclaiming the built, and using it to nurture the lepidoptera.
It may be a plant of the margins, scrubs and wastes, but buddleia is a bright, beautiful shrub that clearly supports a whole host of bugs - which can’t be bad.
BrownhillsBob biked every day for the thirty days of April 2011, part of the #30daysofbiking project, but enjoyed the process so much that he carried on. Over three years down the road, he's still cycling every day and recording a little bit of every journey.