July 8th – Always pleased to see the wild sweet peas growing around the old coal loading chutes at Anglesey Wharf near Chasewater. They are a symbol of change for the better.
As recent as 50 years ago, this was a busy, filthy and polluting coal loading interchange between road, rail and water. Coal was loaded into a continual stream of narrowboats and the sea was treeless and devoid of life.
The coal here stopped in the 1960s, and nature reclaimed – but the coal chutes stayed, a monument to an industrial past.
Now, surrounded by greenery and wildlife, they are an anachronism, but the sweet peas bloom and speak of peaceful, cleaner, better times. A lovely sight.
May 11th – Still in recovery downtime, I pottered out around the canals and commons to try and find the cygnets and deer. I drew a complete blank on the Watermead swans – nothing unusual there, swans possess an almost unique ability to disappear when you’re looking for them – and the dear nearly defeated me too.
I say nearly, as we more or less bumped into each other unawares. I was poking around the scrub on the old rail line near Engine Lane looking for industrial remnants, and these two ladies were heading the other way. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or them.
A real pick-me-up on an otherwise fruitless journey.
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?
April 8th – I took the canal for the commute today, joining it in the centre of Walsall. Haven’t done that for a while, and it wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made, to be honest. It was wet and heavy going.
Passing Bentley Bridge, it gave me chance to look at the land clearance that had gone on here of late; a whole line of trees and scrub have gone from the roadside of Bentley Mill Way. I assume this is to do with upcoming road improvements here.
I still love that you can see the two spires of Wednesbury from here. But such a blasted, scarred landscape between.
March 16th – For what was once an old sand and gravel quarry that’s had minimal post-industrial landscaping, Shire Oak Park is a beautiful place, Down by the frog pool at the north hollow, in the golden hour reflected of the very red, red sand soil was gorgeous. It is of course, sandy here – and the stratified sandstone reveals the geology beautifully, but there is also greenery and wildlife. Not just the frogs croaking in the pool, but birds calling and foxes stalking in the scrub. The whole place feels beautifully secluded, and is complex enough to explore and get lost in for a while.
Shire Oak Park is not just a hidden gem of Brownhills, but of the Midlands in general.
December 27th – I was out taking photos for the New Year Quiz on the main blog, and I found myself in Engine Lane (no, this isn’t a clue!) as the sun set. The green lane here is nothing but a mud bath, but it was beautiful, all the same. Considering the filth and fury that would once have existed here in the form of mining, it really is hard to imagine the peace of this quiet, almost rural spot ever being disturbed; likewise, the canal between Clayhanger and the Black Cock Bridge. Where I stood, trains once crossed to a huge colliery on the other side of the canal. The air would have been full of smoke, dust and noise; the canal full of narrowboats.
As the sun set on this very, very windy but quiet afternoon, it was hard to visualise the industry that made this community.
How time moves on.
March 6th – The warm sunshine and springlike air disappeared today. It was one of those grey, murky days when it never seemed to get light. I had to go to Darlaston for the first time in ages, and I enjoyed the ride, despite the indifferent, drizzly weather. Hopping onto the canal up to Bentley Bridge, it’s a welcome, pleasant and solitary byway through the former industrial heartlands.
This place is still noisy with commerce and manufacture, of course, but as nothing compared to the heyday. I always think of this place a slumbering, one eye slightly open, waiting for the great leap forward.
The Black Country will rise again. In the meantime, the contemplation and enjoyment of it’s placid waterways, even on a dull day, is a wonderful thing.