March 13th - This is a terrible photo, and sorry about that, but the mood I was in precluded concentrating on image quality; but the subject did very much cheer me up. On the way home, I rode up Shire Oak Hill from Stonnall in the dark. Since I was tired and not 100%, I rode up the pavement, as I feared my speed would not keep with the traffic. It was then I noticed them.
Loads of clumps of beautiful, white spring snowflakes - leucojum vernum- which are very like snowdrops, but the blooms are more bell shaped, the plants taller, with more foliage. Each flower has tiny green tips to the petals which the harshness of the flash sadly stripped away in the photo.
These gorgeous flowers grow in increasing numbers in this spot every year and they always surprise me. Today, on this dark and weary night, they were a real tonic.
May 20th - Spotted on the way home this evening - red campion. Seeing lots of this this year; although named red, most of what I see is shades of hot pink. A lovely, delicate flower, this is growing in the hedgerow at Sandhills on Shire Oak Hill.
November 3rd - The Shire Oak pub has stood at this junction for over a hundred years. Forming the bottom - or top, depending on your perspective - of Brownhills, it’s a busy crossing of two arterial routes. The Chester Road crosses the Lichfield Road, and it’s a busy, often difficult proposition to negotiate - particularly if turning right. It doesn’t bother me these days so much, I often cross it twice a day, but getting stuck turning right here can be scary. I once fund myself stranded in the 6 foot void between to lorries travelling in opposite directions. The junction stands near the brow of Shire Oak Hill, itself named after the tree that stood near the old junction with Holly Lane, further downhill to the southwest, as the boundary marker between parishes.
August 30th - The Chester Road between Shire Oak and Stonnall forms quite a steep hill. The sandy soil on this side of the ridge, coupled with the presence of an open demolition site and a landfill access way on the brow of the hill mean that when it rains, sand and detritus is washed into the local drain gullies, most of which are permanently blocked as a result. This one has been in this state for several years, and I think is now beyond recovery. It’s worrying because when it rains, surface water flows down this road like a river as a result, lowering traction, reducing braking and soaking the determined cyclist….
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?
April 20th - As the weather had cleared, I stopped to snap a familiar view - from Shire Oak to Lichfield and beyond. Burton, Swadlincote and the disused cooling towers of Willington were in sunlight. In the foreground, the Old Ladies of the vale looked constant and imperious.
May 3rd - Another spot that benefited from the sunshine and offered some shelter from the wind was Fishpond Wood, which I’d taken such a poor photo of the previous Friday.
The wood is currently carpeted with delicate, English bluebells and is a magical, captivating place.
I come here every spring; it’s life-affirming and reminds me just why I love this area so much. We may not be on the list of the nation’s tourist must-see places, but we have such beauty in so many unexpected places.
June 27th - This post was inspired by top Pelsall geezer Matt Drew, who spotted a different clump of these fellows and posted a pic on Facebook last week, inspiring me to look out for them.
These delightfully spiky caterpillars are the larvae of the beautiful peacock butterfly. They really are rather impressively hostile-looking, but cute at the same time - I spotted them in a nettle bed at the top of Shire Oak Hill, near the old quarry there.
In summer, the adult female peacock will lay between 200 and 500 eggs at the very top of a stinging nettle in direct sunlight. 10 days later they’ll hatch, and the emerging caterpillars will spin a communal web-tent out of silk (see the top picture) which they’ll live in until large enough to leave; they live and grow in clumps at the top of nettles, and as they grow, they may move from nettle to nettle in a patch together as a group, before pupating separately.
They’re easy to spot as a dark infestation at the tops of the tallest nettles in a nettle bed.
Male peacock butterflies are very territorial, and can often be seen attempting to chase away birds that may be coming near their selected nettle patch.
I’m glad I found some - and thanks again to Matt for the inspiration to look.
August 30th - From the top of Shire Oak heading into Rushall, I stopped to admire the view, as I often do. It’s worth clicking on that top image and checking it out closely - beyond Walsall, Dudley Castle is clearly visible to the left. From here one can see just how green and verdant our area is in Summer, and I do think this vista - with the church tower above the treetops - is rather beautiful in summer. I’m still no wiser as to what the tower central on the skyline is.
Further down the Lichfield Road the houses being built on the former St. John’s school site are making progress. Interesting to see the old roof truss still in use on the open gable. In time, the new houses will adjoin the remainder of the old school.
April 11 - For a few days, I’ll be up before sunlight. Today, I had to go to Redditch, which meant cycling to Four Oaks to get a through train. It was jolly cold this morning at 6AM, and there was a ground frost in the hollows - but what more than made up for it was an absolutely stunning sunrise, viewed from the best place around here to see it - Shire Oak. As I piled it in down the Chester Road, I caught sight of Grove Hill with a fiery red backdrop, and slammed the anchors on, and pulled out the camera. What a start to the day. These images are untouched and exactly as I took them.
The smudge of rising stem on the horizon to the north east is Radcliffe On Soar power station, between Derby and Nottingham.
August 1st - I came home over Shire Oak Hill, and stopped at the old quarry entrance to see if there was a decent view now - recently, the southern boundary of the site has had a mound landscaped, which partially obscures one of the best views around here.
Thankfully, it was still good for a view of the distant Lichfield Cathedral. and although the day was hazy, it was still clear enough to pick out the Coors (formerly Bass) silo at Burton and the wooded hill of Swadlincote.
This is a great view, and not many folk really seem to notice it.
March 28th - On my return, I popped through a very boggy Shire Oak Park to see if the frogs were busy mating here yet - sadly no evidence of that (although they may have been and gone, the spawn here tends to get eaten by foxed and corvids pretty quickly) but spring is here with green shoots, bright yellow gorse and a lovely, warming atmosphere.
This really is a gem of a place and so little known. Visit if you can, it’s well worth the time.
January 29th - I came home fairly late and had to pop into Stonnall. Coming back up the hill was hard - I have a cold and my energy was nearly gone. But there’s something about reaching the Shire Oak junction - maybe it’s just being at the top of the hill, or the fact that it’s all downhill to Brownhills from here, or maybe just the welcoming lights from the pub - that’s almost cathartic.
The working week ended here, and it was a soft roll down into the weekend, sleep and a good deal of rest.
June 6th - The life I mentioned in the last post manifested itself in many ways. Birds sang, flitted and fought in the hedgerows. I saw a fox stalking near Lynn, and there were rabbits and even hares aplenty. After the deluge, nature was busy doing it’s thing. On the footpaths at Sandhills, Shire Oak, there was a profusion of snails, of several different shapes, colours and sizes. It made walking a unexpectedly challenging activity…