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.
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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. 

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