BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking
April 12th - I got a long ride in today, but the afternoon was dull and overcast and I hardly took any photos at all. I was just too busy, stoking the miles in. I left mid afternoon, and headed out via Stonnall, Canwell and Middleton, then on to the canal near Middleton Lakes. I headed into Birmingham against a fearsome headwind, along the canals of the city centre, then out via Smethwick, Great Bridge, Darlaston and back to Walsall. Picking up some shopping, I headed home early evening. It was a great ride - just about 50 miles in total. 
As I came over the Arboretum Junction, I took this from the stopline. Walsall looks gorgeous in the dusk.

April 12th - I got a long ride in today, but the afternoon was dull and overcast and I hardly took any photos at all. I was just too busy, stoking the miles in. I left mid afternoon, and headed out via Stonnall, Canwell and Middleton, then on to the canal near Middleton Lakes. I headed into Birmingham against a fearsome headwind, along the canals of the city centre, then out via Smethwick, Great Bridge, Darlaston and back to Walsall. Picking up some shopping, I headed home early evening. It was a great ride - just about 50 miles in total. 

As I came over the Arboretum Junction, I took this from the stopline. Walsall looks gorgeous in the dusk.

April 11th - A great day up until 4pm, then all hell broke loose. I returned home late, and was doubly slain by two separate punctures. I didn’t mind too much though, as the air was warm, the sun was out and well, it could have been worse.

What better than daffodils to cheer you up? The displays this year on Walsall’s verges and greenspaces have been terrific. This patch in Shelfield has been particularly gorgeous.

My compliments and thanks to the people who plant and tend them. They cheered up one weary, beleaguered cyclist this evening.

April 8th - Another heron. I think the spring has brought them out - this one was near Bentley Bridge, stood watching the word go by from, ironically enough, a fishing peg. Older than the one I saw last Friday, and larger, he was a an impressive bird.

Can’t get enough herons - never saw them as a kid; they’re a sign of a healthy fish population, I’d tenure.

April 7th - I’d spotted a good sky in the offing, and hopped onto the old rail line at Coopers Bridge, then headed towards Ryders Mere. On the way, I spotted something I’d not noticed before; you can actually get a clear view of Walsall and the Black Country to Turners Hill at Rowley Regis from the old bridge at the rear of what used to be Binks Bullows. 

The sky was great, and I was fascinated - there are all the landmarks of Walsall, visible over Ryders Mere and Clayhanger Marsh. A great view.

It just goes to show - you can pass the same spot loads of times, and still notice something new.

April 4th - I’ve been struggling with my relationship with Walsall, and my memories of it, for a very long time now. I think seeing some of the places I loved burnt down, and others displaced by progress started it. I felt it was time I acknowledged it for once and for all.

I still love this surprising green, but ugly town. I love it’s unexpected beauty, I love its corners, twists and turns. I love the people, the frankness. I love the mixed cultures and the frontier mentality of a place thats both within and outside the Black Country.

I hate what time and my memory have done to it. But change is what happens to everyone, and I what I suspect I mourn isn’t Walsall, but the times I spent here.

St. Matthews is a handsome church in a commanding location, atop a hill that I’m convinced was once probably a fortification. A very large, ambitiously designed church, it’s almost too good for the place yet completely appropriate. Resplendent in yellow sandstone, it watches over the town below. For two centuries or more, it was surrounded by a sprawling slum; it’s now sitting in proud isolation with greenery and open space around. Time has been kinder to St. Matthews than one might think.

I used to come up here to think, and dream and wrestle with things that troubled me. I found the benchmark on the side of the church before I knew what it was for, and its image was persistent and perplexing. In those days, someone had written above it in neat chalked script, ‘I can’t come here anymore.’ I never knew what they meant. I do now, but the writing has long since washed away.

As I wandered around, remembering good times and bad, trying to make sense of what I felt. I looked to the skyline, to the towerblocks of Paddock, and at the flowers growing so beautifully wild in the churchyard. 

I remembered the words of the great, tortured and lost songwriter Doug Hopkins:

The last horizons I can see are filled with bars and factories 
And in them all we fight to stay awake… 
Drink enough of anything to make this world look new again 
Drunk drunk drunk in the gardens and the graves 

The last horizons I could see are now resigned to memories 
I never thought I’d still be here today… 

It dawned, gradually, that it’s about going away, and returning. Spiritually, I left this place a long, long time ago. I let Walsall go. It’s right, and natural, and what happens to us all. But I never thought I’d still be here.

And once you’ve left, although you can come back, you can’t go there anymore.

Relieved, but hurting, I got back on my bike, and rode home.

April 4th - I broke free after lunch and had time to kill in Walsall. It wasn’t a particularly bright afternoon, but I headed up to the church and memorial gardens as I hadn’t been up there in a long while. The Memorial Gardens were as I remembered them; quiet, peaceful, solitary and beautiful. Slightly down-at-heel, but no less beautiful for it, the flowers there are just kicking off. I have great memories of this little-known spot, but while I was here, it occurred to me that somewhere in the intervening years between my discovery of this wonderful place and the present here and now, that either Walsall had lost me, or I had lost Walsall.

These places, these streets, used to feel like mine. I used to haunt them. I knew them well, the shops, pubs, cafes. Today, although I pass through regularly, I don’t know any of it anymore. I still get the geography. But I’ve lost the sense of belonging. 

The horizon I could see from here today over the dull, overcast town was the same horizon, but changed, I saw three decades ago. But somewhere, inbetween that place and this, I exchanged that whole wide world for other horizons.

I wept a bit. But you can’t go back; I can no longer class this place as mine. But there are other places, and this will always, always be a part of me.

For better, or for worse.

April 3rd - The poor air quality brouhaha at the moment isn’t all hype. As a chap given to a degree of sinus trouble, it’s hell out there at the moment. There’s an appreciable wind, and the air isn’t wet like in normal mist; yet it feels oxygen-less, like being stuck in an unventilated house with the heating on. It makes me feel breathless faster, and stings my eyes, as well as causing a blocked nose. 

I’ve never experienced days like these before. I’m used to traffic fumes in the city in high summer, and the effect it has on my hayfever, but I’ve never seen this before.

The New Ring Road in Walsall looked ethereal and grey, even dystopian. But I did notice one thing; that’s a fine weathervane on the roof of the old Workhouse Guardians office, there.

March 31st - First light work night of the year, and I found myself working late - and returning home just as it was getting dark. In Walsall it had not long rained, but it was warm and felt still. It wasn’t a great sunset, but it found a crack in the clouds; Alumwell wore it well, as did Birchills.

It is so nice to have the light back. I feel like a weight is lifted from me already.

March 27th - The refurbishment of Austin House in The Butts, Walsall is an impressive thing indeed. Boasting 248 solar panels and a geothermally assisted heating system, as well as state of the art insulation, this ageing towerblock has been transformed by landlords Walsall Housing Group.

It’s sad that they couldn’t push the boat out similarly for the flats in Brownhills, but it is very impressive indeed.

March 27th - Not a great photo, but the light was terrible as I headed home. This curious matt-brown box with a bright white light on top puzzles many folk heading east towards Chuckery on the New Ring Road in Walsall, just by Queen Mary’s School. It’s an environmental monitoring pod which takes climatic and and air quality measurements, and logs them. It features a host of sensors - the white light is a particulate analyser, shining light through the air and measuring the floating contaminants. There will be wind, temperature, humidity, and various chemical sensors humming away in what is actually a vehicle trailer. The triangular cowl on the front is covering the towing hitch.
This is a fairly expensive piece of kit, being used to tell us what anyone in Walsall already knows; the air quality here is terrible - particularly next to a badly designed junction where traffic is often static.
No shit, Sherlock.

March 27th - Not a great photo, but the light was terrible as I headed home. This curious matt-brown box with a bright white light on top puzzles many folk heading east towards Chuckery on the New Ring Road in Walsall, just by Queen Mary’s School. It’s an environmental monitoring pod which takes climatic and and air quality measurements, and logs them. It features a host of sensors - the white light is a particulate analyser, shining light through the air and measuring the floating contaminants. There will be wind, temperature, humidity, and various chemical sensors humming away in what is actually a vehicle trailer. The triangular cowl on the front is covering the towing hitch.

This is a fairly expensive piece of kit, being used to tell us what anyone in Walsall already knows; the air quality here is terrible - particularly next to a badly designed junction where traffic is often static.

No shit, Sherlock.

March 26th - It was a grim commute home. The morning had been fine, but cold. Leaving work fairly late, I thought I’m missed the day’s showers so left off the waterproof trousers. This was a mistake. As I headed home through Walsall, the skies darkened threateningly. From the first spots, to a freezing-cold, wind driven downpour. 

These shots follow the rain as I I rode into it, and were captured from the ride camera.

I got in soaked, tired and freezing cold. Spring, eh?

March 19th - A hurried, poor snap as I was passing - but what a curious bike. Parked up in Station Street, Walsall, a wee Apollo folder, with a nice rack box, bulb reed horn, lights … and a tea flask. Interesting approach to locking, and what’s the luggage elastic for?
A clearly well used, but unusual workhorse. An odd thing for Walsall.

March 19th - A hurried, poor snap as I was passing - but what a curious bike. Parked up in Station Street, Walsall, a wee Apollo folder, with a nice rack box, bulb reed horn, lights … and a tea flask. Interesting approach to locking, and what’s the luggage elastic for?

A clearly well used, but unusual workhorse. An odd thing for Walsall.

March 19th - Spring, it seems, has sprung. Not just the daffodils, crocuses and early blossoms, but buds, green shoots and nascent leaves. All taken in one short stretch of the Goscote Valley cycleway on the way to work this morning. 

The verdant young leaves of the hawthorn are particularly wonderful to see…

March 18th - Empty for months now, the former Rushall Mews care home for the elderly was built and operated throughout most of it’s life by the local authority, Walsall Council. It was a well loved, modern facility built in the 1980s, and was a fine thing indeed. Sadly, it has been a victim of the cold wind blowing through local government, and it has been closed, like most such council provision.

Councillors and ‘change managers’ waffle on with weasel words and forked tongues about ‘increasing choice’ and other such worn-out cliches, but the closure of lifelines like this and other units like Narrow Lane in Pleck and Short Street in Brownhills, coupled with the loss of daycentres, is purely a money saving exercise. Like the rest, this good quality building - still more than fit for purpose - will be bulldozed for private housing.

The service users and the cost of their care didn’t create the problems, but most don’t vote, so they’re an easy target. Meanwhile, the politicians and money men who did cause the problem walk away unscathed.

It took decades to get facilities like this for our aged and vulnerable. It has taken but a few short years to wipe them out. The social care system is hard to assemble, but tragically easy to take apart.

I pass this empty place often, and the site of it fills me with sadness.

March 3rd - The Four Crosses at Shelfield is a classic community boozer. Basic, but comfy, it serves fine real ale and is friendly and welcoming. I love the place. It’s telling that this small pub survived, while the plusher and larger Spring Cottage less than 50 yards away closed and became a retail grocery store.
Recently, following a frankly bizarre planning application, the venerable pub has been declared an ‘Asset of Community Value’ by Walsall Council. This declaration is essentially meaningless, but does show the council’s commitment to support this tiny pubs existence, which is appreciated.
The other pub I know to be listed in such a manner is The Black Horse at Edingale, which closed some time before it came to Lichfield District Council’s attention,and was awarded the status primarily to prevent the former inn being converted into flats. When I passed the other day, the Black Horse was still closed, and appeared to be in use as a private dwelling.
The unescapable fact of these things - ACVs, Local Listing and other such declarations - is that although planning can sometimes stop stuff being changed, you can’t force a business to continue to exist; you may well preserve a building, but not the pub itself.
A quandary for our times, and a demonstration that planning, heritage and community are uneasy bedfellows.
I wish the Four Crosses, it’s regulars, landlord and community well. If ever a pub deserves to thrive, it’s that one. Long may it do so.

March 3rd - The Four Crosses at Shelfield is a classic community boozer. Basic, but comfy, it serves fine real ale and is friendly and welcoming. I love the place. It’s telling that this small pub survived, while the plusher and larger Spring Cottage less than 50 yards away closed and became a retail grocery store.

Recently, following a frankly bizarre planning application, the venerable pub has been declared an ‘Asset of Community Value’ by Walsall Council. This declaration is essentially meaningless, but does show the council’s commitment to support this tiny pubs existence, which is appreciated.

The other pub I know to be listed in such a manner is The Black Horse at Edingale, which closed some time before it came to Lichfield District Council’s attention,and was awarded the status primarily to prevent the former inn being converted into flats. When I passed the other day, the Black Horse was still closed, and appeared to be in use as a private dwelling.

The unescapable fact of these things - ACVs, Local Listing and other such declarations - is that although planning can sometimes stop stuff being changed, you can’t force a business to continue to exist; you may well preserve a building, but not the pub itself.

A quandary for our times, and a demonstration that planning, heritage and community are uneasy bedfellows.

I wish the Four Crosses, it’s regulars, landlord and community well. If ever a pub deserves to thrive, it’s that one. Long may it do so.