January 11th - Burntwood Church is lovely, although arguably, it’s not in Burntwood itself, but Fulfen. Built in 1819 by Joseph Potter of Lichfield, it’s a very square, squat design in very red red brick. It’s in a lovely spot, overlooking open countryside, and within sight of the thatched Fulfen Cottage.
Also nearby in the centre of the road junction Christ Church overlooks, Princes Park, said to be the smallest park in the world.
Burntwood is a place it’s easy to pass through without looking. But stopping and taking time to see the place really rewards the inquisitive.
January 5th - It was a thoroughly horrid afternoon. Windy, wet, dark. I went out with a heavy heart, and didn’t find much of interest in the immediate area, so I spun out to Shenstone down the very wet and muddy backlanes.
Visiting the church, I was again reminded what a gothic, ugly edifice it is. I’ve never liked it; it’s a perfectly competent architectural design, it’s just not to my taste. I find the dark grey sandstone, and heavy Victoriana dismal. Even the gargoyles look desperately unhappy.
Compare St. Johns, Shenstone with any other local church, say Hopwas. Hopwas is a place you’d feel happy to give praise in, to wed, to christen; Shenstone looks like a place to go and endure, repent and suffer - it’s full of foreboding.
More interesting to me is the old tower in the churchyard; crumbling, it’s the remains of an earlier church. Perhaps it would have been better left.
Down in the village,I headed to the Lammas Land - a strip of parkland along the Footherley Brook. On the way, I passed The Plough In, busy, bright, inviting. Newly reopened, it’s good to see. It had been derelict for a few years.
December 25th - I stopped off for a breather at Canwell. A proud, foursquare, fearsomely geometric little church that was buggered, like so many were in the Lichfield Diocese with a horridly mismatched 1980s extension. The building and churchyard are still lovely though, and the porch was beautifully decorated. It’s a lonely spot, and I daresay few of the folk who pass it know it’s there, just off the London Road, nestling in the trees.
December 22nd - Near the top gate of Hopwas Churchyard, this pissy, dictatorial, arrogant notice. People pay to have their loved ones interred here. They pay for the service. Why shouldn’t they have more than one vase, or a card? Why must poppies and wreaths be removed within a month?
Heaven forbid someone might be sentimental in their loss.
The jobsworth cheeseparers who made these rules and posted them up will probably be sat somewhere now, wondering why churchgoing is in decline.
December 15th - On an mission to Shelfield before tea (why does Christmas involve distributing stuff far and wide?), I took a route up Walsall Wood High Street to get the church lit up for it’s carol service. Sadly, my photos were awful, but it did look nice and seasonal. I noticed too the the Drunken Duck seemed busy for the hour. Recently under new management, it seems to be gaining popularity.
Must give it a go at some point.
December 1st - I swung past St. James Church in Brownhills to check a couple of things out, and taking the path between Great Charles Street and the Church, I noticed how much litter and leaf detritus was gathering there. I’m not sure who’s responsible for this path - whether it’s Walsall Council or the Church - but it’s pretty grim.
I also noticed that in the fantastic covered bike shed in the adjacent schoolyard, two children’s bikes had been left. It struck me as being a bit odd, and slightly sad: who’d go to school on a bike, and not come home on it? Surely the wee ones are missing their wheels?
Few things sadder than an abandoned bicycle.
November 10th - Remembrance. I called in at Hopwas to get a shot of the War Memorial here (there is none at Wall, to my surprise). It was darkening as I arrived, and having forgotten my tripod, I struggled. But this is a beautiful building and a delightful place, especially on an autumn evening.
Hopwas is the most curious, lovely church in all of Staffordshire. There, I said it.Yet what gazetteer or guide breathes it’s name? Who ever mentions this delightful country church?
Sitting in the shadow of Hopwas Hays Wood, high on the hillside, it gives the air of a country farmhouse, with white and timber gables, chimney and leaded pocket windows. Built in 1881 and designed by John Douglas of Cheshire, it’s a building that, to the best of my knowledge, is unique, and in a beautiful spot.
I was glad to see a wreath from the local Scouts, and several crosses. This is a fine place to be remembered.
November 1st - On the other hand around by St. Jame’s Church, things were atmospheric in a different way. None of the street lighting in the paths through the church grounds is working, and the area is dark, peaceful and atmospheric. The photography was poor, but I liked the shadows, the sodium light and the otherworldliness. Must come back and do this with a better camera.
October 22nd - That’s more like it. I returned home from work after yet another wet morning commute on a bright, sunny afternoon. There was a great sunset over Little Aston, and after the recent rainy days I dawdled, loving it.
Ah, for the blessed sunlight.
October 14th - I was in Darlaston, and had to nip into Wednesbury, so I shot over King’s Hill on the way home. It’s a funny area, combining a post industriaair with pockets of modern commercial units and surprisingly beautiful old buildings. This one - the former Kings Hill Methodist Church is one such lovely old building. Sat on the edge of the glorious King George park, it sits unused. It was up for auction on the 5th October - wonder if anyone bought it? It would convert into a lovely home to someone with the imagination (and budget) to do so.
October 3rd - I’m not a big fan of domestic roses - I much prefer their wild, more fragrant cousins. However, even cultivated blooms look great with a fresh rainfall upon them. I spotted these glorious flowers outside Shenstone Church.
A real splash of colour on a very murky day. There’s beauty everywhere if we’re open to it, I guess.
September 20th - Meeting a good friend and respected local historian for morning tea in Lichfield, and time flew by. I took lunch in the city, did a little shopping and returned home through Wall on what seemed like an almost spring-like afternoon. The sun was warm on my back, the birds sang and freshly ploughed and planted fields were emald green with new growth. The peculiarly angular church looked lovely against the blue sky, and had I had more time, I’d have popped in for a look at the Roman remains.
A great day.
July 15th - I snatched a ride out at 3pm, and headed for Hoar Cross. I rocketed through the countryside of Longdon, Handsacre and the Ridwares, only stopping at the old church at Pipe Ridware to take a quick couple of photos. The pretty little building is now a theatre whose latest show was only a few days ago.
I continued to Hoar Cross, and returned via the Needwood Valley,with the countryside looking gorgeous in the hazy, hot summer sun. I was hurrying a 35 mile journey and didn’t stop to take many photos, but it was a lovely, fast ride.
June 8th - From Lichfield, out to Croxall, Edingale, Harlaston and back via Hopwas. The countryside is a riot of colour and biordsong right now. The meadows are stunning with dandeliions and buttercups, oilseed rape in still flowering strongly, and all the fresh foliage glows in the sunshine.
I love the view of the wind turbine from Huddlesford: such a graceful machine.
June 6th - If you’re a cyclist, when summer comes - I mean, truly comes - you can feel it in everything and see it everywhere. It’s not just, or even sunshine; it’s not only warmth in the air. It’s the way people dress, the way commuters are at stations. It’s views that have been harsh, and clear and dark, suddenly being green and hazy. It’s the air of growth, and pollen and lazy meadows. It’s like a beautiful, vague infection that laces all it touches with languor and grace. It renders the ugly, beautiful. It makes dull journeys once more a delight. It’s joyful, and noisy, with birdsong, laughter and insect buzz, be it the riot of open countryside or the human din of an inner city street.
Welcome back, old friend. Stick around this year, you’re very welcome.