March 6th - Out for the evening and returning late, the streets were very, very quiet. I sped from Walsall with the wind at my back on silent, wet roads; I even sailed through the lights at Rushall Square on green without having to slow down.
Sadly, the night was more redolent of November than March, but the ride was nice.
Still can’t get past my unease over the eeriness of Green Lane at night…
February 26th - It was beautiful as I returned along the canal. The sky was dramatic, and although not a great sunset, the dying embers of the day were still quite beautiful. And the best thing about it? 5:45pm. We really are pushing the darkness back now. I’ve really enjoyed the last few commutes in the relative dry, and it’s nice seeing the ground and countryside dry out a little, finally.
I want this to be spring. It’s mild. The weather is good. Just 3 weeks until we switch to British Summer Time. But I can’t get away from the fact that on the 22nd March 2013, there was deep snow on the ground.
February 22nd - Spring certainly felt on her throne in and around Walsall Wood. The crocuses were coming into bloom on the High Street, the Canada geese were developing their customary mating territorial aggression on the towpaths and the display outside the florists was gorgeous. Sadly, on what was probably the best cycling day of the year, I had other stuff to do, and my ride was short - but oh my, it was enjoyable. It’s been so long since the weather felt as favourable as it does now.
February 18th - A great sky tonight, and a good sunset although I wasn’t in a good place to catch it. The day had been showery, but mostly dry and sunny, with a low wind. I really feel right now that the weather is, at last, settling down a bit.
I was on the lookout for good views of the sky on my way home from Walsall, and found myself unable to get any, but plenty of urban textures and skylines.
I bet it was beautiful at Chasewater, or up on Barr Beacon…
February 14th - Valentines Day, but not much love from the weather, which was back to wet and windy. I ‘d been to Darlaston early again, and left in the mid-afternoon lull before the winds really got up. Unlike the ride in, the ride out was again wind assisted and fun.
The traffic was a bit frantic in the wet and I chose to hit the canal again in Walsall Wood. An interestingly wind-cleaved tree near the Black Cock, and cutting across the new Pond and Clayhanger Common the landscape was again sodden and dripping. But there was a kind of peace to it too, which I appreciated.
Crossing the bridge back into Brownhills, the moorings at Silver Street are busier than I’ve ever seen them before (except during a canal festival) - I’m curious as to why. The waterside has been unchanged for a good few years, now, and it seemed to take the boaters ages to discover us. Is it just a pure shortage of places to moor, or the fact that there’s no charge?
February 13th - It had been, by any measure, a dreadful day. Work had been a nightmare, the journey home more so. It appeared to be ‘drive like a maniac day’ too, and yet again, I’d not seen the memo. As I came through Bullings Heath on the edge of Walsall Wood, the lights of the Black Cock were like a welcoming beacon. The urge to pull up, lock the bike and have a pint was massive, and compelling. But I was hungry, and needed to eat and unwind at home.
I did the right thing. I took a photo, got back on my bike and rode on. Sometimes, you need to be amongst those you know and love.
February 10th - I came home in the early afternoon, just as the rain was clearing. I’d had to call in at Aldridge, so found myself in the hinterlands between Walsall Wood, Leighswood and Stubbers Green. This is a very scarred landscape, mainly from brick marl extraction. The geology of the former quarries here is perfect for landfill, and for decades, as a site is abandoned by the brickmakers, it is adopted by the refuse industry.
Now at the capping and landscaping stage, Vigo Utopia was a massive hole in the ground when I was a child, but now stands high above the surrounding area. Bulkheads tap off the methane and pipe it to a generator plant. Eventually, this mound will be a public open space, but that’s some way off yet.
Of course, the brickworks are still busy, and there’s still marl to be extracted, and there will therefore be further space for landfill. A vicious cycle of blight and nuisance, it renders this landscape hostile, ugly and barren, particularly on a dark, wet and blustery February Monday afternoon.
February 7th - It had been a hard, long day. For the third time this week, I hit the canal back into Brownhills, but not before I’d stopped to reflect at Jockey Meadows in Walsall Wood. The heath there is sodden, and the meadow is still in winter clothing, but the daffodils here too are sprouting. No sign of snowdrops, though, which was sad.
The canal overflow is working to high capacity at Clayhanger Common, and I was interested to note the trash screen was clear of debris - either someone is cleaning it out or the canal isn’t that polluted these days. Think it’s probably the latter.
I paused on Catshill Junction bridge to look over to the wasteland where Bayley House once stood. One of the two high rise blocks demolished here just shy of a decade ago, permission has finally been granted for a new canalside development here.
Things change - the seasons, the weather, the skyline. But sometimes, the constancy of just loving where you are is enough after a tough day. Standing there in the weak February sun this afternoon, I really felt that attachment deeply.
I absorbed the space, the sun, the smell of the damp earth, the canal.
January 24th - I was out with the birds, and came home early afternoon. I hopped on the canal near Aldridge, and headed towards Chasewater, where I wanted to see if the lake was still in overflow. On the way, I noticed business was brisk at the Highfields South Landfill, just between Walsall Wood and Shelfield. The site seems to be being filled in three sections, and the one closest is currently being covered in hardcore. Gas is being tapped off from the mound and feeding a generator set connected to the mains, so at least the gas isn’t wasted.
Every time I pass this hole, it’s a bit fuller. Five days a week, trucks disgorge their waste here - things we daily throw away and never wish to see again. The trouble is, we’ll run out of holes in the ground soon. Our rubbish really is becoming an issue - and who wants a landfill nearby?
January 21st - Here’s a thing. Continuing my somnambulant, bleary-eyed journey to Brownhills, I passed through Walsall Wood to pick up a takeaway. As I approached the canal bridge in Walsall Wood, I noticed we have a new Screwfix opening soon.
Screwfix sell tools, building stuff, hardware and the like. Since Focus went, we’ve not really had anywhere to get a good selection of tools and fixings locally, so this is good news.
I welcome this new store and wish it every success.
January 14th - Endless rain. It seems generally OK in the mornings - except today there was rather challenging black ice in abundance - followed by a wet commute home. I really am at my wit’s end with it. I just want a decent dry spell for a change, to let me, the bike and the countryside dry off a little.
On the footway beside the Black Cock Bridge the rain and the streetlights collided beautifully.
January 11th - It was a terrible ride out, if I’m honest. Despite the sunny day, like Boxing Day, the towpaths and trails were nothing but slop, and I was covered in mud. I had several silly mechanical issues with the bike, including a puncture (no, I haven’t put the tape in yet!). I ended up on a short, abortive ride around Burntwood, Hammerwich and Springhill.
Despite all of that, the sunset was gorgeous.
This one goes out to Trevor in Australia, who I’m told isn’t too well right now. Get well soon, old chap.
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 two years down the road, he's still cycling every day and recording a little bit of every journey.