8 January 2014

In the Bleak Mid Winter of Cuts and Decline

Main pathway into Park Lime Pits from car park
 As there are some long shifts ahead for the rest of this week and weekend, we decided to put aside a couple of hours today for a walk. We stayed local and dropped by on Park Lime Pits. Regular readers will know how much I adore this local nature reserve and the taste of countryside that it offers to the people of Walsall.

This winter although stormy, wet and windy has been incredibly mild and today would have been a pleasant day for a walk had the conditions been conducive. Attempting to walk on incredibly wet ground where the clay mud attempts to suck your sturdy walking boots off your feet is hard going and there is no let up. Even on walkways and hard pathways there are puddles and slippy, slimy mud waiting to trap you with each footstep.

Water levels are incredibly high- the steep embankments look positively benign!
I was saddened to note that there are many signs that anti-social behaviour continues at the Lime Pits. Well trodden paths lead to areas where only those with certain unsavoury activities in mind, go. There are now parts of this lovely nature reserve that are no-go places for ordinary, law abiding, non-exhibitionist people and for children too. It seems that all the hours of work identifying and assessing the situation, liaising with the local police and Network Rail were all for naught. Cuts in budgets and in staffing levels at Walsall Council mean that only rudimentary work is being carried out and much of the clearance work to discourage certain behaviour, previously undertaken by the Friends of Park Lime Pits was for nothing because for it to have been effective, it needed to be kept up to date. It hasn't been.

The brook that runs through the reserve was as fast and full as I have ever seen and it is making massive inroads into the banking. No willow weaving to keep the banks sturdy and strong.

The pools also are as full as I can remember and this can be seen from the level of the water line shown in some of the photographs I took today. No steep embankments at the lower end of the large pool and no decking platform on which to pond dip on the smaller pool because it is several inches below the water level. Despite the clearance of an old and damaged beech tree, the shrubbery on the edge of the small pool by the pathway between the two pools is in dire need of some attention. The view to the smaller pool and the hope of seeing the resident kingfisher is constrained by the abundance of willows that have set strong, even in the bleak mid winter. Come spring there will be no view at all.

Towards the small pool, getting difficult to see
Turning to the canal the walking didn't get any easier as can be seen and I worry as to the safety of Riddians Bridge. The sandbagging of the edge of the canal in an attempt to hold up the embankment and keep the water where it should be, is holding well as a two year old temporary measure but alas there is now a huge stretch of canal that requires attention before all of the water in the canal pours into adjacent fields.

Although I enjoyed the walk today particularly as the small birds were in abundance, their song a joy to hear and we even had the pleasure of spotting a yellowhammer, I couldn't help but feel the gradual decline of these places I love, through neglect, wanton or otherwise. What I feared is coming to fruition, only much sooner that I feared.

The farmer's compost heap gets larger, a home for all sorts of insects

Rushall Church through the trees

I'm always amazed that this very old beech tree manages not just to survive but to thrive despite the damage to its heart

Cycling could prove difficult along here

Riddians Bridge - looking like it needs some TLC

4 January 2014

Beware - Plant Crossing

Back in the mid to late 1960s my parents made the most of having good babysitters readily and willingly available by allowing my maternal grandparents the honour of looking after me and my siblings every Saturday night whilst they enjoyed the offerings of The Muckley Corner Hotel. If you live in Aldridge you will know that there are several routes to what is now a huge roundabout on the A5, the quick direct way and the more paced, measured and interesting way. I believe it was the latter route that my parents took although this cannot be confirmed by my father as his lips remain sealed however, based upon the evidence of what could be found in the kitchen on a Sunday morning, I am 100% certain they didn't follow the direct route.

My Mom's Sunday dinners were beautiful and bounteous affairs. The main meal would be a good joint usually of beef but sometimes pork or lamb, cooked to perfection accompanied by potatoes of roasted and boiled persuasions and various vegetables, always of a seasonal nature and extremely fresh. I have never been able to replicate Mom's gravy, made with the juices in the roasting pan with additions. I wish that I could for I could never have enough of that nectar like liquid upon my plate and every single drop would be consumed.

I added emphasis to the seasonal nature and freshness of the vegetables for a reason. I return to Sunday mornings of my childhood. Without exception there on the old wooden draining board, next to the butlers type white porcelain sink would be a large and sumptuous example of vegetation. Green cabbage or cauliflower, bunches of carrots, parsnips, turnips, their green leaves a little wilted and dark soil attached to their fine, long roots. Now and then a mound of soil encased potatoes or peas still attached to their winding, leafy vines. I recall asking my Mom where these bounties came from but never got an answer but as I grew into a teenager that would now and then, make a few pennies from picking spuds and the like over Stonnall and Shenstone way, the source became clearer to me.

It seems that there is a family tradition in such matters as a trawl through the archives of newspapers now available online has revealed. Thomas Plant was my Great Great Grandfather. He was born in Walsall and for many years he traded as a poulterer and green grocer on the Wolverhampton Road. He also tried his hand as a publican of the now fire damaged shell of what was The Orange Tree Pub shortly before moving to Aldridge to farm. His farming was of no great acreage being limited to the fields around the Walsall Road heading up to where the White House pub is now but it was enough to help maintain the hoards of grandchildren that had now arrived courtesy of his numerous children. It seems he was quite a character....


The Lichfield Mercury Friday 11 January 1895:


Thomas Plant, farmer, Aldridge, Walsall, pleaded guilty to having damaged a holly tree, at Mile Oak, Drayton, the property of the Trustees of Sir Robert Peel's settled estates to the amount of 2s 6d, on the 10th Ult. - Harry Jones, gamekeeper, said about 3 pm., he saw the defendant and another man in a cart. Defendant, who was driving, turned the cart under the tree, from which he cut two boughs (produced).- Defendant said he was very sorry. He was a 64 years of age, and had been punished enough without having to come there. - The Mayor said defendant was old enough to know better. (Laughter).- The Chairman questioned whether the holly was worth 2s 6d, whereupon the Magistrates Clerk (Mr E Argyle) pointed out that that amount was for the damage done to the tree. - The witness Jones said bills cautioning people against damaging the trees were exhibited on the road, and a reward of £2 offered to persons giving information which would lead to a conviction. - The Bench fined defendant 4s with 1s for the damage, and 10s costs.


His daughter in law, Rose, my Great Grandmother was renowned (according to my father) for her thrift and ensuring what pennies she did have, multiplied and went as far as anyone could stretch them, was no stranger in attempting to use the bounties available for free if only you knew where to take advantage. The one photograph that I have seen of her reveals a sturdy but small woman, with light coloured curly hair pulled tight into a no nonsense bun at the nape of her neck and a very set and determined expression upon her face, no smile, just grim determination.


The Lichfield Mercury Friday 2 October 1903:


Rose Plant, married woman, Speedwell Lane, Aldridge, was charged with stealing coal from the Birmingham Canal on Sept 16. - PC Collins saw the defendant raking coal out of the canal, and said she offered to give him a nice fowl if he would not report the affair. - Defendant pleaded guilty, and was fined 10s and 18s costs.


I have to say I expressed astonishment that a person could be prosecuted for what they found in the canal especially through industrious activity! You have to admire Rose's attempt to bribe the police officer with a 'fowl'.

Me? I think we call it foraging these days.......