July 22nd - I think this must be the earliest I’ve ever seen ripe blackberries - albeit in small numbers. It’s so early in the season for them, I couldn’t quite believe it. Rosehips, too - summer is definitely cranking on a notch. With the bright sunshine and very warm days of late, so much fruit is ripening.
This is definitely one of the best summers for a good few years. Get out and enjoy it - it’s stunning.
July 21st - The lads are still working hard in a field further up Green Lane. The small herd of cattle continue to live in the watermeadow, which is looking noticeably more cropped than it was. The cows themselves are all looking in fine fettle - but I do have a soft spot for the brown and white one.
Is it me, or does he seem to be smiling?
July 20th - A day coloured mainly by the sad news of the loss of a good man, but as I rode the canal mid-afternoon, taking it gentle, I reflected on life. I noted a family of 4 cygnets and mum - dad seems to be gone - doing well up in Walsall Wood. I think they’re from up the canal in Pelsall. They are healthy birds, clearly getting by just fine.
Further down the water at Catshill Junction, the swans from Catshill still numbered seven youngsters and two parents. Nature is cruel, but the cycle of life continues.
I’ve grown very attached to these birds, have many of the local residents. It’s odd that we take such beautiful but grumpy and obstreperous characters to our hearts, but we do.
We feel great sadness at the toll of nature, and predators. But that’s the roll of nature’s dice, and it was ever thus.
And life continues, as it always has.
July 20th - Last week, I noted a quantity of sectional piling had been delivered to Ogley Junction maintenance yard ready for a job locally. I wondered where the site was - and now I know.
My attention was drawn by a couple of readers to a work cabin appearing at the Black Cock Bridge, and it seems the work is being done on the embankment at the rear of houses in Bans Close, Walsall Wood, fifty metres or so from the bridge itself..
The interlocking piling is driven into the bank to strengthen it, and minimise the effects of erosion. Here the canal runs above ground level, and the embankment is built up to it, and the top level of the bank is only a couple of inches above the waterline.
Surveyors were here in the spring, and left their telltale spray paint and post datums, and this must be the result - fixing up the canal and securing it in a weak spot for another few decades.
Let’s hope they attend to the erosion on the towpath side, too.
July 3rd - Cleavers, or sweethearts as they’re colloquially known hereabouts are fascinating little things. A creeping, grippy weed, it elevates itself from the ground by hooking on to other plants with it’s spiny, sticky hairs. The seeds themselves employ the same mechanism of almost velcro-like attachment, adhering well to clothing, feathers and animal fir.
The owners of dogs and cats with longer coats will know well the hours spent picking these devilish little balls out of their animal’s hair… but as a seed dispersal tactic, it’s brilliant, as animals preen the seeds out, and they germinate where they land.
Natural engineering is damned clever.
I’ve no idea what the bug is, but he’s an interesting wee thing.
June 30th - I guess we’re halfway through the year now, and in high summer. It certainly seemed like it as I cycled home along the canal this evening - the greenery, the light, the still, clear water. The peace.
It also occurred to me that after 6 moths of opening out, we’re now closing in again, but summer will hopefully be around for another 10 weeks or so yet.
It doesn’t seem ten minutes ago since I was wrapping up warm and wondering if I needed to change to winter tyres.
Where has this year gone?
June 25th - As the summer winds on, the next stage of the season begins; moving from the flowering, to the fruiting and seeding. In Walsall Wood’s Green Lane, there’s a patch of comfrey that’s going to seed, and I was intrigued by the way it forms from the flowers, another almost prehistoric-looking plant. Intertwined with it, the white bloom of mid and late summer, bindweed.
Soon, blackberries will be forming on the brambles, and there will be hips, haws and berries ripening aplenty, and time for a new palette of colours; but at the moment we’re passing from the purple into the white for a while.
The advancing summer makes me a little sad, but the weather is fine ad warm, and everything looks splendid. I’m in my element, to be honest.
June 12th - This one is for Fresh Rosemary, as I know she likes the coos.
These particular coos - all lads - are currently being grazed on Jockey Meadows, just off Green Lane, between Walsall Wood and Shelfield. They have been brought here to churn up the meadow, eat the more aggressive species of plants, and to fertilise the land… naturally. One could say that it’s absolute bullshit.
They’re certainly working well, and hopefully this will allow the less strong species of meadow fauna to thrive. As to the coos, they go home somewhere every night. When I pass in a morning, they’re all out grazing around the field; when I come back late afternoon, they always seem to be waiting by the gate for their lift home. Coos certainly seem to know what time it is.
They’re certainly going somewhere, as I passed by again at 10pm and they’d definitely gone. This begs the question of how my bovine brothers see this: is it like a job to them? ‘Hey Steve, that’s enough grazing. Time to knock off. Where the hell’s the herdsman?’
I’ve asked them. They’re not telling. Bloody inscrutable creatures, coos.
June 7th - A slow handclap please, for the Canal and River Trust, supposedly custodians of our waterways. They have really, really pissed me off. To put it mildly.
I had nipped up to Screwfix in Walsall Wood, and with the sun fresh out and warm after heavy rainstorms, I cycled down the canal to Chasewater. It looked great, and shimmered and steamed in that way it does after summer rain. Then I realised - they’ve cut the grass on the embankments.
Initially this appears to be a good thing. Then I realised - they’ve blindly mown down the marsh orchids, and miles of other wild flowers doing so well here, providing food and breeding space for loads of different bugs, butterflies and bees.
Well played, C & RT, well payed. Not.
Acres of productive, healthy and untouched flowers destroyed without need. The grass wasn’t too long, and could comfortably have been left another few weeks.
Meanwhile, despite the complaints, the chasm in the footpath at Anchor Bridge remains unrepaired and ready to swallow a foot or bike wheel.
Custodians my arse.
May 28th - A foul commute to and from work, characterised by constant drizzle, wet greasy roads and drivers not concentrating. Nearly wiped out on the way to work, a lady pulled out on me from a factory forecourt so closely her car snapped the reflector off my rear mudguard. Had I been slightly slower, she’d have clipped my wheel and I’d have been off. She didn’t even stop.
Returning on a no less intemperate journey home, I was cheered to see the cows still on Jockey Meadows; a fair-sized herd, there seem to be about 12 or 15, and they were looking wet and fatalistic as only cows can.
I’m convinced they’re here to maintain the meadow and churn it up, whilst spreading the fertile love in the form of cowpats. They certainly seem to be having a good go.
They were fascinated by me and my bike. I’m sure they’d all have come to the gate had I waited long enough.
May 21st - It really is about the flowers right now. On a weary homeward commute I noticed the honeysuckle at the Black Cock Bridge in Walsall Wood was coming into bloom - and the buds are prolific and dense this year. The unsung heroes of the scrub and verge, the buttercups, are also prolific on the canal banks, commons and heaths, providing welcome food for bugs and bees.
At the moment, every journey is rewarded with new flowers to see!
May 13th - Greetings from the West Midlands conurbation.
This is post industrial land, between Shelfield and Walsall Wood; scarred by mining, marl extraction and years of poor drainage. Now partially a site of Special Scientific Interest, the land here is a beautiful green lung.
The Oilseed Rape on the corner by Grange Farm is nearly over now, but the may is out, and with cowparsley bobbing in the wind, one might be somewhere more rural.
Cows have been let loose on Jockey Meadows again - I assume it’s part of the rotational heathland management here. They seem in their element in this boggy watermeadow.
Wen did this space - in my youth a hinterland of desertion and scrubby, polluted bog - get so beautiful?
May 10th - Not a great day, blustery with rain showers, but the flowers and blossom still look good. On the local canal bands hawthorn, gorse, laburnum and cowparsley combine to leave the hedgerows a riot of yellow and white, the colours of spring and early summer.
All these are quite ordinary, overlooked blooms, but do look at the gorse and cowparsley - fantastically complex and beautiful.
April 30th - I returned from work late, in the evening, just before dark. I stopped at the Co-op in Walsall Wood for some groceries, and then noticed that the land where the derelict terraces was, opposite Walsall Wood School, has now been sold.
Planning permission was obtained for a new development here a couple of years ago, the eyesore abandoned homes here demolished, and then, surprisingly, the site was put up for sale again.
Hopefully, this might see the end of a long period of dereliction for this site - which would be ideal for housing, it has to be said. I think this could be one to watch in coming weeks.
30th April - Green Lane, Walsall Wood. The Hawthorn blossom is just coming on, and going by it’s colloquial name of May, I think it’s just about bang on cue.
A vastly under-appreciated, strongly scented blossom, and with the emergence, the seasons wheels grind on another notch.