August 7th - I had to nip into Brum on my way home from work, and hopped on a train to Shenstone on the way back. I haven’t been this way much lately, and the familiar wooded hill with church tower - just the one in summer, the other being obscured by trees - looked splendid in the early evening sunshine. I love how you can see the gargoyles at the vertices from a very long way away.
The station and it’s complex, partially mansard roof is still gorgeous, too, despite being neutered of it’s tall, elegant chimneys several decades ago.
Shenstone is gorgeous, and there are few better places to be on a warm, sunny evening.
July 11th - My return via Walsall for some shopping took me up through Yewtree, Delves, Highgate and over Church Hill. Rounding the corner on the cycleway, at the foot of the old, disused steps down to The Ditch (that’s the name of a place, honest), a fantastic display of flowers.
What a splendid ride for a Friday at the end of a very, very hard week.
June 23rd - Long, hard day at work on a gorgeous summer day; I only caught the beginning and end. The sky was a lovely blue this evening, and as I passed Little Aston church, I stopped to take a few shots over the meadow. That’s a remarkable spire on a very nice, underrated church.
Even better on a languid summer evening…
June 5th - A better day. There was warm sun and it was dry with a keen wind. I had to nip down to King’s Hill near Darlaston, and passed the derelict, abandoned Methodist Church. I haven’t been this way much of late, and since my last look at this architectural stunner, it has continued to decay gracefully. The building has been sold, and permission granted to convert it into apartments, but work has not commenced yet.
At least we’re not losing the building.
What fascinated me today was the way nature is reclaiming the place. When the Church still held it, although unused, volunteers used to tend the grounds. Now, it’s run wild, and a riot of begonias, roses and shrubs are taking over.
It’s sad and beautiful simultaneously.
April 19th - I was fiddling with a mechanical fault all day. I love my bikes, but the gears can be perplexing when not quite right. I spun out late to Chasewater, and unexpectedly bumped into a good friend while I was there, which brightened me up no end. On the way, I noticed the oilseed rape at Hammerwich was looking gorgeous. Still not quite peaked, it’s a lovely colour nonetheless, and I love how the tractor trails in the crop highlight the landscape contours.
As long as I live I’ll always love this changing, fascinating landscape.
March 29th - I left Lichfield and the madness of the crowds as soon as I could, and took a leisurely line through Beacon Park, past the brook and the willows, currently in bud. From there, I took Cross in Hand Lane to Farewaell, then hopped over to Burntwood and back home via Chasewater. A great afternoon in sandals and shirtsleeves, and some great spring sights in the hedgerows and fields, crowned by a stark but beautiful sunset.
Spring really is here now, and this was the last night of darkness until the end of October, a spring, summer and autumn away.
Opening out - I love it.
March 23rd - Out in the late afternoon to bright sunshine, but a fearsome wind. I had been planning to head to Hopwas Hays Wood, but the thought of the headwind on my return put me off. I headed north instead, over Gentleshaw Common, over Castle Ring, down into Stonepit Green and back around the eastern flank of the Chase through Upper Longdon, Farewell and Buntwood. The wind died as I was out, and although nippy towards sunset, it was a gorgeous ride. The CHase is still very muddy, though…
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.