9 December 2017

Cuckoo's, their Nook with Dingles, Heads and Pits

 There are few better walks in an urban area than my favourite local walk. I have waxed lyrical about this walk many times but it never ceases to please me and set me at ease with my soul. Where else in the country can you be just a few miles from a busy town centre, in this case Walsall and yet be wandering in a rural setting?

I walk up to Barr Common Road, Aldridge and then take the track through the fields to Cuckoo's Nook and then on to The Dingle, through Hayhead Wood, join the canal at Longwood Bridge and then stroll down to Park Lime Pits.

 At any time of the year it is a beautiful walk but on a crisp winter's day when there has been a small sprinkling of snow, well you cannot beat it. The light plays through the trees. The wildlife plays amongst the trees. I walk through the trees and I smile. It is a privilege to be able to wander the pathways. Today was perfect for my walk.

Cuckoo's Nook is old, very old. It was once, part of the Ancient Forest of Cank, now known as Cannock Chase. Of course, if you stand at any of the high points in Aldridge you get a clear view of the Chase, particularly from the top of Whetstone Lane and so you know it is not so far away. Cuckoo's Nook and The Dingle are a delight in spring with wild garlic and bluebells. Heavy duty pleasure for the senses!

The Nook and The Dingle lie on a geological fault line. Underneath The Dingle lies limestone, indeed you can actually see exposed Silurian Limestone beds. For anyone who doesn't know, find the cross and then look up. There's fossils to be found in that steep embankment!

Not far below the surface of the Nook lies coal. Both have completely different soils and as a consequence they both support completely different plant life and trees.

For anyone interested there is a geology trail through both and The Beacon Way runs through both too. Leaflets explaining all and the routes are available from local libraries.

The bird life is a joy in both. Woodpeckers, both Green and Greater Spotted, tits of all persuasions, treecreepers and nuthatch, finches galore and the usual blackbirds, thrush and robins.

Normally at this time of the year there are ephemeral pools in The Dingle but not today. Just mud underneath the snow sprinkle and ice.

The Dingle soon melts into Hayhead Wood via a field or two. I love watching the buzzards in that gap, soaring high above, usually being mobbed by  a group of other birds such as crows or magpies or even smaller birds, en masse.

Hayhead Wood was originally the site of Hayhead Works and limestone was extensively mined there. There is evidence that limestone was being worked there in 1593. If you know where to look (there's a lot of undergrowth now even at this time of the year) there are still remains of the old pit entrance there along with the foundations to the old pumping shaft.

The canal came later and that is still clearly visible along with foundations to the old wharf buildings. The undulations that can be seen are where lime kilns were sited. There are old industrial remains throughout the wood and that large hole near Longwood Lane just before you get to the car park? That's the partly filled shaft where limestone was raised from the mine! For me though, I love that you can always see Goldcrests and Jays in Hayhead. Just look up!
Over Longwood Bridge and onto the canal which was finally finished and opened in 1800. This was the section specifically opened to serve the limestone workings of Hayhead Wood and also Park Lime Pits.

It is a lovely stretch of 'cut'. Rural in an urban setting. My only grouse with it is that for cycling, it is difficult at times, getting thoroughly rutted in wet weather and having a very uneven surface a left over from the working days of the cut. Cyclists would be well served if someone, somehow would find the money for this part of the canal to be resurfaced. Walkers would benefit too.

This tree is completely inaccessible to the general public which is a good thing because there are two residents there that need protection from nefarious individuals. I'll say no more but if you're local you'll probably know who the residents are and if you're not, or don't know, just stand in front of it and watch.

Beautiful reflections today

At Riddian's Bridge I always stop and remember Roger Jones. Roger could always be found on top of the bridge, with his scope and binoculars, watching the local bird life and what life there is on this stretch. Lapwings in summer along with Swifts and Swallows. Reed bunting, siskin, finches of many types, yellowhammer and the ever present buzzards. I miss meeting Roger there.
And finally I reach Park Lime Pits. Again this beautiful and tranquil local nature reserve was once a heavy industrial area, a thriving limestone quarry. It is possible that the Romans  used limestone from here to construct Wall and Watling Street.  The limestone from Park Lime Pits was apparently prized because when highly polished it looked like marble. The extraction of limestone ceased 160 years ago, the quarry flooded and the land gifted to the people of Walsall as a nature reserve. Park Lime Pits is also known as Walsall Bat Central due to the presence of Daubenton's bats, which can be seen flying over the pools and along the canal at dusk in summer months. We now have resident ring necked parakeets there, probably enticed by the plethora of availability of nesting sites because there are a lot of woodpeckers at PLP!

Sadly one of the oldest trees at PLP looks as though it may not survive for too much longer. This is the trunk of an Ash tree thought to be about 200 years old. Successive generations of vandals  have lit fires in the trunk and I fear that the damage is now too severe for it to be healthy. Leave it alone!

The view over the small pool at PLP. This is a must stop for me on every visit. I sit or stand and wait. Today I was rewarded with one of the resident kingfishers giving me a very close fly by but I've often seen willow tits there and a few years ago there were nesting Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.

I hope you've enjoyed my walk through a part of  Walsall Borough that is still well blessed with its green spaces and nature reserves, even if some parts really do need some tlc now. 

1 December 2017

Oh Christmas Tree....

 My photographs don't do these beautiful trees justice but they give you a flavour of the Aldridge Village Partnership Christmas Tree Festival that started today at The Methodist Church in Aldridge.

Entrance is free and you can vote for your favourites by purchasing tokens for a pound. All profits go to St Giles Walsall Hospice and Aldridge Volunteer Gardeners.

Open today (Friday) until 6 pm and Saturday 10 am to 4 pm, Sunday Noon to 4 pm.

Please go along and support this event and get into the Christmas spirit!

24 November 2017

Sundialing Troubles

The Croft
Back in  March for the first time and surprise to many, I published a post bringing attention to plans involving sundials on the Croft and at the War Memorial in Aldridge. A lot has happened since then including the insistence that planning permission was indeed required and now revised plans have been submitted.

It's worth bringing things together and telling the story one more time in order that people can make any submissions, comments or objections prior to 4th December 2017, which is the date the consultation period closes. It should be noted that even if you have made a submission to the original application, you are perfectly entitled to make a further comment or submission on the amended plans.

Protected (shaded) and unprotected areas of The Croft
The revised plans can be found by going to https://go.walsall.gov.uk/planningsearch pressing search and then entering the number 17/0704. The revised plans are on page 2.

How much do you know about The Croft? Many people wrongly believe that all of the Croft as outlined in the aerial photograph at the top of the page from StreetMap is protected either as Common Land or with Village Green status.  In fact the area that is not shaded by those little dots on the photograph aside, is entirely unprotected. This means that any sort of silly plans could be submitted for any sort of silly means and for that area of unprotected Croft to be built upon! If you want to see that photograph in more detail, just click on it.

If you feel that Walsall Council made a bit of a mistake by not having all of the Croft protected when it applied for Village Green Status for The Croft then please let your local Councillors, the Council and MP know!

The application for the Sundial has been amended in order to bring the whole structure within the unprotected area and therefore avoid the extra scrutiny required for planned structures on a Village Green, in a Conservation Zone.

Two and half years ago the local Rotary Club in the guise of a sub group called Aldridge Croft Community Group (ACCG) brought a proposal before Aldridge Village Partnership (AVP) for two sundials; one for The Croft and one to be placed next to the War Memorial.  AVP is in fact a company limited by guarantee to which Walsall Council provided funds from its budget for Aldridge that can be used for many purposes. AVP is run by company directors. Some directors are also members of the Rotary Club and also ACCG. Despite AVP being a limited company there are some meetings held that are open to the public but I personally have never seen these meetings advertised. That doesn't mean that they are not advertised but it would appear they are not widely advertised.

The proposal was apparently accepted by AVP with enthusiasm, although I have seen a document that confirms that it was never voted upon, and without wider consultation. On this flimsy basis and with the agreement and signing off by an Officer of the Council, an application for a grant was made to Tesco Bags of Help

Despite the fact that one of the criteria set out by Tesco Bags of Help is that any planning permission required should have been obtained prior to applying for the grant, which it wasn't and still hasn't been, the application was accepted and shoppers in various local Tesco stores voted with their tokens. A grant of £10,000 was awarded for the sundials project.

Following that there was indeed some local consultation in the form of a stall one Saturday in the shopping centre and a display at the library. This consultation was neither independent or timely, coming after the grant from Tesco had been awarded.

The project supporters were then told that despite their protestations to the contrary, planning permission was indeed required. Plans for the sundial next to the memorial were dropped and a planning application for the sundial on the Croft was finally submitted in May 2017.

You may be wondering why this proposal has not been discussed by the planning committee before now. Well notices were not served or displayed correctly, so the consultation period had to be extended and also plans have been variously amended by the proposer as the objections to the project came in.

You are warned before reading further, that any impartiality I have, is now laid to rest, so if all you wanted was a summary and details of where to obtain information, please do not continue reading. Thank you

The revised plans bring the sundial into the area of the Croft that is unprotected. They also state that the sundial is not a memorial. If this is so, why is the word 'memorial' used all over the planning application? Why is the fact that the War Memorial is just a few yards away across the road, still referred to in the revised plans? In my opinion the references to the National Memorial Arboretum make it quite plain what the proposers think their sundial is; a memorial. They now refer to it as a public art project. Yes, it always was in one way but in my personal opinion a nasty, tacky piece of public art if the drawings that accompany the planning application are anything to go by and unlike the beautiful sculptures presented as art at say the National Memorial Arboretum. That is a personal opinion though, after all art is a very personal thing.

What isn't personal however, is expansion of the play area on The Croft. There are people in Aldridge who are working to try and get the play area expanded in order to install suitable play equipment for children in our community that have disabilities. What a wonderful idea and from what I understand there are organisations that would be happy to provide funding for such a project. Unfortunately if you have a sundial you cannot expand the children's play area as the space on the unprotected part of the Croft will not be available any longer. So, a public art project or a play area for ALL children?

The other problem as I see it, is if we allow a tacky art project to be built on the unprotected area of The Croft, is how many other projects are going to come out of the woodwork? By allowing the sundial, you set a precedent for other projects that are a good idea in their eyes, are enhancements in their eyes and not just a precedent for the unprotected area of the Croft but for the protected area too. Precedence is a dangerous thing.

I have other objections to the project but they will go into my submission to Planning.

You may not agree with me and my mad opinions but at least you know about this now and can make up your own mind and make submissions to Planning if you so desire. The sundial could have already been installed on the Croft, without planning permission or consultation, had it not been for the dogged determination of some local people who refuse to bow to the cabal that likes to run Aldridge, preferably without consultation.

16 November 2017

Christmas Presents

Christmas is coming and our thoughts turn to, well whatever your thoughts turn to I do wish you all a very happy one, whatever you do, however you celebrate and with whomever you do it with.  May I however, ask you spare to just £1 for The Glebe Centre in Walsall?

Recently I launched this appeal 

The Glebe Centre provides many services for vulnerable people in Walsall, from the unemployed to the homeless, those who have addiction problems and those who have mental health problems. Services include breakfast, lunch, showers, clothing plus information and help in training, looking for work and so on. The centre is lifeline for many people and no doubt when the Night Shelter opens very shortly it may see increased usage during the day too.

The Walsall Night Shelter is a joint effort between YMCA Black Country Group (who run The Glebe) and Walsall Council and it will provide a bed for the night for rough sleepers in Walsall for three months this winter.The Shelter although having one full time worker will be run by volunteers and they are still needed so if you feel you may be able to help please use the contact details on the Facebook page

Back to my appeal. The aim is to provide people who use The Glebe with breakfasts, lunches, snacks and treats for a week over the Christmas period and also to contribute to a buffet lunch during The Glebe's  12 Days of Christmas period. If enough was raised it would be nice to think that we could contribute hot chocolate drinks and festive treats for those using the night shelter too.

All I'm asking for is one pound. If everyone who reads this made that one pound contribution we would easily exceed the target.

Please click on the picture above of HERE to view the appeal and make contribution and put a smile on the face of someone you don't know this Christmas who isn't perhaps having the best of times at the moment.

Thank you

10 November 2017

Remembrance - ripples through time

As is usual at this time of the year, remembrance comes to the fore.

I don't believe that war is the answer, or conflict, or violence. Having long ago been a history student and studied the reasons that war has been entered into, I get angered that arguments between a tiny group of people, family spats, extreme political ideology and so forth, lead to the deaths of sometimes millions of ordinary men and women who often had no idea what they were really fighting and working for and what cause was theirs.

Remembrance for me has nothing to do with patriotism, for after all we should include in our remembrances, those from other countries who also paid the ultimate sacrifice for they were ordinary men and women caught up in something much larger than themselves too. One only has to walk around The German War Graves Cemetery at Cannock Chase to see that.  I also remember that it wasn't just young men and women from the UK who fought 'on our side'. They were joined by many nationalities and creeds from all around what are now Commonwealth countries and some too that do not wish to belong to the Commonwealth. Remembrance isn't just a white British thing and those who wish to hijack this season of remembrance for their own right wing political ends would do well to remember that.

But it isn't just those who were involved in the conflict that for me, should be remembered. I also remember those whose lives were drastically changed by conflict. My maternal Grandmother and her sisters grew up without a Father. My paternal Grandfather came home from WW1 but the privations of service left him with a weakened body leading to a premature death. This  led to my Father growing up without his Father around. My Father saw active service in Korea whilst ostensibly on National Service. Just 18 years old. He never speaks of what he saw and experienced but I know it still plays on his mind especially that now he is the only one of his group that remains alive.

The ripples of war reach out down the decades and centuries. What was done cannot be undone. The consequences are not just for the generation that lived it but for those that follow too. Emotional scars that cannot be healed. Poverty endured because a parent wasn't there. The Poppy Appeal as we now call it was originally set up as The Haig Fund by Field Marshall Douglas Haig to assist ex servicemen. That we still need a Poppy Appeal now  in the 21st century, along with all the other charities specifically and more recently set up such as Help for Heroes, in one of the largest economies of the world, speaks volumes about how this country supports it's ex servicemen and women. Successive governments have failed them and their families as the governments that sent so many to be slaughtered not just on the battlefields of Europe but further away too, failed in the past.

Just recently I learned that my Father's first cousin, an Aldridge man born and bred,  was one of the last men to die before the Armistice came into effect at 11 am on the 11th November 1918. The war diary for his regiment reads:

"....at 10.10 hours, received an order that hostilities would cease at 11.00 hours, this order only reached coys a few minutes before that hour. Enemy artillery remained active to the last and No. 54854 Pte J Frost of 'A' company was fatally wounded by a shell less than ten minutes before the armistice commenced" 

He was 19 years old.

This weekend I will be remembering the following, some who died in conflict, some who died afterwards and I will also be remembering those they left behind, those that missed, grieved and mourned them and whose lives were never the same again.

Corporal John Thomas Mason
Lance Corporal Charles Mason Died 10 May 1915
Private Eli William Frost
Private James Henry Ernest Frost Died 11 November 1918
Private William Plant Died 10 March 1915
Gunner Frank Plant
Gunner Charles Frederick Cook
Private Frank Keys Died 14 July 1916
Private Harry Keys
Private Francis Leslie Phillips Died 20 July 1916

5 October 2017

Ancestor Hunting

Whitbeck Church
I've been hunting my ancestors for forty years now. It's an interesting journey and one that never ends. Family history is part of my existence and was, long before the internet made it easier to research and long before programmes such Who Do You Think You Are were part of the BBC's remit on public broadcasting. Days in record offices are not over by any means but they are less frequent. I still get a thrill when discovering something new online about someone I am looking for from the comfort of my living room but you cannot beat the thrill of pouring over old documents in a record office and having to play silent deadpan at Eureka moments!

Gotcha! Robert Ainsworth

I am often asked why? They're dead those people you look for. The past is gone. Leave it be. Let the skeletons remain in the cupboards. My reply is usually  about history and learning from it, not repeating mistakes but my prime motivator and response is that I never want to forget my roots, where I came from and to remember all those who went before and who have made my own life possible. Ancient peoples remember their ancestors and honour them in many ways but modern society, the first world, does its best to forget them and by doing that I believe we become disconnected with our past and history and then live without true grounding and purpose but what do I know!

Recently I began researching Aiden's family history and it is fascinating. I am not related to any of these people but I have become wrapped up in their lives and where they lived them. I wrote about one character a little while ago and although larger than life characters are fantastic, I love trying to discover a little more about the unsung and the forgotten.

A beautiful place to rest - Barrow Cemetery
In September we were lucky to be able to spend some time in The Lake District (if you like photographs of that area there's lots here) and surroundings, an area where Aiden has deep roots. We deliberately put a few days aside to hunt down some of his ancestors, to discover the places they had lived and frequented, to gaze at views they must have also looked upon, to get a feel for them and their lives.

Some of the places they came from were remote and some were remote and bleak. None were far from the coast and some were downright open to every element that would have come their way.

The view from the south of Walney Island
Biggar Village, Walney Island
I did wonder at their resilience and as to why they remained in such places or kept returning to them. We see remote places differently now. With the internet. TV, modern communications, heating systems and light, a place can be remote but yet we can still stay in touch with everyone we want to in an easy and convenient way, whilst being well fed and kept warm.

Imagine somewhere like Walney Island in 1700. Windswept, burning peat as likely as not to keep warm, draughts swirling around backs and knees and the only light after sunset being from the fire and candles. Few creature comforts and yet the Ainsworths' kept returning there. Was it the absolute magnificence of the views of never ending skies and sand (when the tide was out) and marvelling at the creation of the Lord? Or did they care for neither, it was where the work was and where they could find a home?

I suppose I will never know the answers to those questions but there is a sense of yes, they loved it there, the coast, the sea, the beaches because I know and have known the love for the sea resurrected in both Aiden and his Mother. Perhaps it's all in the blood after all?!

The view from Walney to Piel Castle
Ancestor hunting always fires my hunger for more family history research. It also reminds me that there is never enough time. We are on this planet  for such a short time whether we die young or old, it is a mere blip in time. I am conscious of never being satisfied with my discoveries and of the yearning for more and for never having enough time to continue the voyage of discovery. Perhaps that is why I hunt the ancestors for whilst I do they remain immortal, at least for me.

The old lighthouse at Rampside

Aldingham Church