BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

August 30th - I don’t go to Shire Oak Park nearly enough. This Local Nature Reserve, which was once a sand and gravel quarry exploiting the bunter sandstone ridge on the crest of Shire Oak Hill, is a wonderful and rare place. It’s teaming with wildlife, from rabbits to amphibians, mustelids to owls. In this sandy, sheltered enclave, deciduous trees like oaks and birch (and even the odd maple) are thriving, and the outside world seems a long way away.

The reserve is maintained by Walsall Council and on this dull Saturday afternoon, it struck me how clean and litter free the place was. Like all such spots, there’s occasional nuisance from ASB and the odd idiot, but this is a lovely, little known place.

The heather in bloom is gorgeous here, but as with everywhere else, the oaks have had a bad year, with leaf miners and a lack of acorns startlingly evident. Also, I was puzzled by the white appearance of the unrecognised shrub I spotted by the main steps. Can anyone help? Is this disease, pest or normal?

August 27th - Just on the canal bank between the Black Cock Bridge and Walsall Wood Bridge, a crab apple tree with lots of good fruit.

This is the first tree along here I’ve seen with fruit this year. Normally there are three or four.

A sad reflection on the season, which seems to have been a bit strange. But never mind, this will make a lovely jelly for someone.

August 26th - In the backlanes between Stonnall and Shenstone (I’m not going to say where) there are a secluded row of apple trees. I’ve known of them for years, and they always seem to grow decent fruit. This year, they’ve excelled themselves.

The apples aren’t huge, but there are lots of them. There are several varieties, Cox’s, Russets, and I think Granny Smiths. The Russet I nabbed was sweet, juicy and ripe, the Cox too.

I always love to see these apples.

August 26th - The day was better, I guess, by virtue of being dry, but when I set out for a tentative ride mid-afternoon it was cold, and a harsh wind blew. It wasn’t a bad October day, I thought.

I’m taking it easy. My foot isn’t completely better, and I thought I’d see how far I could push it before embarking on longer rides again. I looped up to Chasewater, then down to Wall, through Chesterfield and Hilton, back to Lower Stonnall, then home. Apart from a bit of toe-burn, not too bad.

What did impress was the fruits I saw. A terrific year for large, plump conkers; the tree at Edial between Burntwood and Pipe Hill is laden, and although suffering leaf miner damage, has a huge crop this year. In a few weeks standing at that bus stop could be hazardous.

At Wall, the walnut tree has a crop too. After finding it last year, I didn’t expect it to fruit this year too, but it has, with the lime-like ripening walnuts hanging from the boughs. I picked up a few windfalls, which were firm and large. When ripe, the green husks will split to reveal the more familiar brown nut inside. That’s if any survive the squirrels.

The Walnut tree also seems to have some kind of leaf miner activity. There are ‘blisters’ on some of the otherwise healthy, waxy leaves. I wonder what the bug is?

August 25th - A wet, miserable bank holiday Monday. This was the wettest, coldest one I think I’ve ever known. I always find this day depressing; it’s the last holiday before Christmas, and for me, seems to flag the end of summer. A week later, the kids will all be back at school, the nights will be drawing in even more, and the sun will lose it’s warmth.

In short, we’re advancing to Autumn at a fair lick now.

I rode out mid morning during a lull in the rain, and spun around Brownhills and Chasewater. The fruits, glistening with rain, were gorgeous, and the heather is particularly beautiful at the moment. The still green embankments and hedgerows cut a bright dash through the gloom.

I did note puffballs on the old railway off Engine Lane, another harbinger of Autumn. 

At Chasewater, the valves are fully open and the waterlevel is dropping quickly. I wonder if there’s a purpose to this, as the canal is clearly full to overflowing.

A grim ride on a grim day. Brace yourselves, summer is closing out now.

July 10th - I’m really concerned about an early autumn, or maybe I’m just being paranoid because I’m missing so much sunny weather being trapped at work. These rowan berries - great for wine and jam - are ripening really well and seem very early to me. 

I spotted them on the way to work at Clayhanger. It’s nice to see, and the colour - bright, vivid orange - will be excellent. But it feels like the summer is slipping away…

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 30th - With the passage of the early summer, we move from the flowering to the fruiting. Most fruits and seeds will be weeks in development, and not become of anything until late summer and autumn, but many flowers and trees seed early. The lupins by the canal at Clayhanger have long passed their best, but the seed pods they’ve formed, resplendent with downy fur, are a treat in themselves.

The dandelions, of course, such masters of natural engineering, seed all summer through. Such common flowers, rarely studied, but so gorgeous in their perfection.

November 25th - Sorry, but it was a great sunset. I was late for my train, and took a short cut through an industrial park. As I cut through the access tunnel, the sun pulled me up short. In the winter days, light is short and precious, which is why I think the sunsets are so much more beautiful to me. Within ten days, I’ll miss the sunsets completely.

November 24th - I enjoyed today’s ride more than I was expecting to. When I left home, it was cold and the air was murky. For some reason, the chill didn’t seem to get to me today - I just wrapped up warm and went for it. The leaves are beautiful now - this is the kind of scene I always expect in late October, but doesn’t seem to happen until later. I shot around Hilton, Wall Butts, Chesterfield, Shenstone, Weeford and Hints. From there, I dropped onto the canal at Hopwas and returned via Whittington and Wall. Between Weeford and Hints, I cycled Dog Lane, a green lane I try to ride at least once a year. The colours were great, and had this been a sunny afternoon, would have been stunning.

If you get chance this week, go for a walk in your nearest countryside, before the next big winds. It’s gorgeous.

November 23rd - I hit Chasewater for the sunset, which looked to be pretty decent, but sadly, wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. The light was good though, the park pretty much deserted. The gull roost - despite the last few boats only just leaving the water - was absolutely huge, with what must have been thousands of birds bobbing on the lake. I even saw an angler - the first I’ve seen on the main body of water since the reservoir refilled. It’s still a wonderful place to be, more so now the park has recovered.

The street light through that footbridge still fascinates me. It’s like a portal.

November 22nd - Passing through Aldridge on the canal on my way home, the scent of woodsmoke was never far away. There are few things better than seeing an occupied narrowboat with a nicely smoking chimney. The sight and smell are a joy to behold - and the whole scene was set off beautifully by the autumn colours.

November 18th - I left for work a little early today, I took the backlanes for a change. Despite the grey, overcast weather, they were beautiful in late autumn colours. A good wind now, and these trees will be stripped of their last leaves.It really is gorgeous out there at the moment.

November 11th - The weather is stuck in repeat. A lousy, wet and heart-in-mouth commute to Darlaston, and I hopped onto the canal as soon as I could. The roads were mad today, really, truly awful.

The rain varied between a light drizzle and very heavy, and  was again glad of good waterproofs. Twice I stopped for shelter under bridges. The autumn colour is gorgeous, but I’d love to see a bit more of yesterday’s sun rather than this endless rain we seem to be cursed with tis last couple of weeks.

November 10th - I was still tired, and it took me a long time to get moving, but it was a gorgeous afternoon. I headed to Hopwas Hays Wood, again to test my mettle on the downhill there that fascinates me. On the way through, I stopped at Wall in a gorgeous golden hour. I studied for the first time the new milepost erected there in 2012. It’s an impressive thing, but like a lot of statuary these days, it’s so inoffensive, I don’t really see the point; commemorating the Queen as it does, it’s neither historically accurate or informative, but the carving is lovely. On the post’s crown, a last ladybird seemed to be enjoying the sun. I hope it found somewhere decent to hibernate. 

The real star of Wall for me is not Roman but Victorian - the church, with it’s gorgeous, well-kept terraced churchyard. It’s always peaceful here, and the golden light rendered the light Sandstone church and all else it touched golden.