Friday, 30 December 2016

A Water Coal Man!

Today's walk was along the Coventry Canal, on one of my favourite routes, from The Glascote Road Bridge to the Fazeley Aqueduct, where you can stand by the canal and look down at the River Tame, which always intrigues me. It was mid-afternoon when I set out, accompanied by the Man of the House, and we'd only gone a yard or two along the towpath when our attention was caught by the sign on this boat:


Aha, we thought, a waterborne coal man - how apt is that when you remember that coal was one of the cargoes carried on the waterway when it was first built! Indeed, according to some sources the canal was created specifically to transport coal from the midlands coalfields to the city of Coventry where it fuelled homes and industry.

Work on the waterway began in December 1768, after the Coventry Canal Company was established earlier in the year. The scheme had to be approved by an Act of Parliament, and the great engineer James Brindley was taken on to oversee the project. But the following year he was replaced by Thomas Yeoman because there was no money left to take the waterway beyond Atherstone - less than halfway to the planned destination at Fradley (near Lichfield), where it was to join the Trent and Mersey Canal.

I love looking at the boats moored by Tamworth Cruising Club.
Financial problems continued, and it was seven years before work got under way again, and the canal reached Fazeley and linked up with the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal - but it was still a long way before the proposed finishing point.

I couldn't resist trying to snap a picture of a bridge
and the bank reflected in the water.
Eventually, in 1789 the whole 39 miles was completed in after Parliament let the Trent and Mersey company, and the Birmingham and Fazeley company build the missing section. This gave boats easy access to Birmingham and Liverpool, opening up trade with a huge part of the country.

And another reflection. Isn't this beautiful? Scenes like this always lift my spirits.
Links with the Oxford Canal and the Ashby Canal followed and, for a time, Midlands canals were the motorways of their day, carrying manufactured goods all over the country, as well as things like coal.

This is the aqueduct at Fazeley, where the canal crosses the River Tame. It always feels a little unsafe perched up there on the towpath which runs alongside the canal, looking down at the river through the the old iron railings, and it seems very bizarre, to be standing by water, and looking down at water. 
In the 19th Century, of course, canals lost out to the railways which provide fast, cheap freight transport, and in the 29th Century trains were supersededby road haulage.

We were going to walk a little further, but as the viaduct ended the light began
to fade (it was mid-afternoon when we set out) so we turned and headed for home.

The heyday of the waterways may have long since gone, but the Coventry Canal has remained navigable for its entire length (some commercial boats were still using it in 1970). It's become immensely popular with leisure boaters, and the towpath is well used by walkers, cyclists, joggers and fishermen. And it's a haven for wildlife - not just waterfowl and fish, but all kinds of insects, birds, small mammals, and wild flowers. It really is life in the slow lane, a place where you can stroll along, gaze at butterflies and ducks, wave at the boaters, smile at other amblers, so you return home feeling relaxed and refreshed.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Frosty Day!

Well, it's an awfully long time since I've posted anything on this blog, but I thought I'd have a go at resurrecting it, since I'm currently full of post-Christmas enthusiasm for eating more healthily, taking more exercise, attempting to keep the house tidier, and generally trying to be happier/more positive!

Woke this morning to find a hard frost had transformed the world into a glittering wonderland, made more magical by the mist which softened and blurred everything slightly, so I donned my warmest clothes, and set off for a walk - it was much too nice to be cooped up inside, and I am trying to get back into the routine of walking somewhere every day, even if it is only a short distance. I went down the main road that leads into town, over the canal, through the park, through the Castle Grounds alongside the River Anker, over the bridge, and into town, then back over the river (different bridge this time) and back up the hill to home. Everything looked so beautiful, so I took lots of photos.

The Coventry Canal on a frosty, misty morning, looking towards Amington
from the Glascote Road Bridge (also known as Bridge No 73, or the Anchor
Bridge, after a pub which used to stand nearby.

On the other side of the road the bridge over the canal was festooned with frost-rimed cobwebs.

 

View along the canal, from the Glascote Road Bridge, towards Kettlebrook.
There's a boat moored by the towpath, and can you see bits of ice floating
in the water.

MacGregor Park, given to Tamworth 'in perpetuity' by Victorian vicar and philanthropist
William MacGregor. It looked lovely, with the frost glittering in the sunshine, and trees
outlined against the blue sky.

This photo doesn't really show it all that well, but the fallen leaves and the grass were all edged
with frost, like sugar around the rim of a glass. But underneath each tree was a frost-free area -
perhaps the branches protect those areas, or perhaps the roots make the ground warmer.
I shall have to find out!

The Arches (there are 19 of them, carrying the railway line across the Anker Valley) looked
positively picturesque (they don't always!)

A magnificent heron, in a tree on a little island bit in the River Anker as it
runs through the Castle Grounds. There are lots of herons in and around Tamworth,
and I'm always amazed at how close they come to built-up areas and human
habitation - this one is right beside a busy carpark.
 
A  view in the Castle Grounds. I thought this looked so beautiful, I couldn't resist trying
 to capture it on camera. 

And another nice scene! I think this is a storm channel rather than a stream, but it attracts lots of
wildlife, and on a bright sunny winter day, with frost on the ground, and a slight mist, it looks
almost like a fairy tale landscape. By the time I got this far the sun had melted some of the frost,
and drops of ater water were dripping through the trees like rain!
 
AI love this shot of the bare trees against the sky. They always look quite dramatic, especially
 at this time of year hen they've shed their leaves. I think they're poplars, but I don't know a lot
about trees.

The silver birches have lost most of their old bark, and the new white 'skin' really gleamed in
the sunshine, looking even brighter against the small patches of old greenish brown bark.

Tamworth is very urban, but we are very lucky to have some lovely little green spaces, and the
Castle Grounds is just about the best. I love it here - the beauty, and the sense of history, and the
air of peace. Sadly, structures like the Snowdome, the Ankerside Shopping Centre and the
  multi-storey flats all intrude on the views, especially in winter when most of the trees are
bare, so it takes a bit of ingenuity trying to find spots where you can take photos that don't show
modern buildings.
 

Another frozen cobweb! Bridges, railings, benches and all kinds of plants were
festooned with them. If cobwebs looked like this throughout the year I'm sure
it would make us see spiders in a different light. I wish I could 'pick' these and keep them!

This yellow mahonia makes me feel happy on the dullest days, but it was amazing today -
really glowing in the sunshine.

The Castle and the Bandstand. They're not lopsided - I didn't hold  the camera straight!
The Castle dates back to Norman times, and I take lots of pictures of it because it looks
different at different times of day, and in different weather, and I love that. Today it was
very pink, which is the best I think. Sometimes it looks greyer.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Waterbirds in the Picture!

We have a lot of water in and around Tamworth – rivers, canals, lakes, ponds, streams, drainage channels, worked-out gravel pits, old quarries… Which means we have a wealth of water birds. I’m getting better at identifying them, but I’m not much good at capturing them on camera – birds are not very co-operative about having their photo taken! But I was quite pleased with the ones I took earlier this week, and I thought I'd share them for a Saturday Snapshot.
I'm just quackers about ducks!
As you might expect, mallards are ten a penny everywhere you go, but even though they’re so common, I always enjoy watching them. I love the iridescent colours of the drakes’ plumage, and the glorious markings on the females – from a distance they look brown and drab, but close to they’re a riot of patterns, in more shades of brown and beige and cream than you’ve ever dreamed of.
This Canada goose was just raising his wings as I took this.
And there are masses of Canada geese, all very vocal, and not a bit shy. To be honest they can be a nuisance, and occasionally seem quite threatening, because they get so used to people feeding them, that every time they see someone they rush up, demanding titbits. It's a shame, because bread (which is what they usually get given) is bad for all waterfowl - it doesn't meet their nutritional needs, and can cause wing deformities, which prevent birds flying.

Mute swans look so ungainly when they walk on land, but as long as they stand still
they still look beautiful.
There are beautiful, graceful  mute swans who tend to keep themselves to themselves. When I first came to Tamworth there were lots of swans in Tamworth - the town had one of the biggest swan populations in the Midlands, but I think the numbers have declined over the years, although the geese have increased.
A moorhen - this photo is a little blurred, but I rather like it. The moorhen was racing along the bank,
and it shows the green legs, and the red beak with the yellow tip. 
Then there are moorhens, which have greenish legs, and red marks on the face and beak, and yellow tips and end of the beak.

And a coot, with its white beak and white mark on the head.
And there are coots, with white beaks and head marks.

Birds perched on a kerb in a carpark by Borrowpit Lake, Some kind of gull
I think - not tern, because their tails aren't crossed.
Various gulls and terns flock to Tamworth, filling the air with their raucous squawks, and their acrobatic antics, and perching in the most unlikely places.
Blobby bird... An out of focus tufted duck. I do wish he'd stayed still, just for a moment!
Sadly, at the moment there’s no sign of the crested grebes I saw last summer, but I did spot a pair of tufted ducks, which are not exactly rare, but are nowhere near as common as mallards, and are certainly much shyer. As soon as I pointed the camera at them they took off at a great rate of knots, and this was all I managed to get… a blobby bird!
AI guess these hybrid ducks are oddities, but I think they are beautiful.
I had better luck with these beauties, two of our hybrids. They’re a cross between mallards and other waterfowl, and there are a few of them around. I’ve featured them before, because they fascinate me. Over the last few years they’ve bred, and I think these are descendants (if that's the right word) because they are lighter, with more colour variation.
An oystercatcher! In landlocked Tamworth!
Now this is the bird I was really excited about, because I’m positive it’s an oystercatcher, which is amazing, since they are coastal birds, and we’re about as far from the sea as you can get. It’s very distinctive, with those red eyes, feet and legs, and that red beak, which must be as vicious as it looks because it can break open oysters. Apparently they do breed on inland sites, by water, and then they eat earthworms – this one was digging his beak into the damp earth when I spotted him, and it seems to have some brown soil stuck halfway up the beak. If anyone can confirm my identification  of this bird I would be grateful - and if I'm wrong I'm sorry!

Herons are so amazing, with those long spindly legs and their elegant
necks, but they're deadly hunters, spearing fish and small mammals
with their sharp, pointed beaks.
Finally a grey heron. Isn’t he gorgeous? I am so pleased with this picture – you can see the feathers really clearly, and that wispy ‘beard’ beneath his beak. There are quite common really, but some of them look very scruffy indeed, while others are kind of faded looking. But the colours and markings on this one are particularly crisp, bright and clear. Herons look incredibly elegant  with their long, spindly legs, and graceful necks, but they are savage killers, and their sharp, pointed beaks like a spear to catch fish and small mammals.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads, and you'll find all kinds of photos there, from all around the world.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Seagulls and Crab Pots!

Well, Christmas and New Year have been and gone, and the world is slowly getting get back to normal. We had some snow on Boxing Day, then the temperature plummeted and everything was covered in ice and thick frost, until yesterday, when it got a little warmer, but very windy. So, somewhat perversely I suppose, I’ve got some nice, cheerful, sunshiny piccies for my Saturday Snapshot! These were taken in Brixham, on a lovely sunny day back at the end of August when we were kitten sitting for our Elder Daughter and her Boyfriend while they went on holiday – they acquired two little black cats after they’d booked their trip, then found the local cattery was full up…  So, of course, it was Mum and Dad to the rescue, and we had a wonderful (but unplanned) stay in Devon!
A view of Brixham - isn't it beautiful?
While we were there we had a day out in Brixham, which is a beautifully unspoilt little fishing town, and isn’t really ‘touristified’, if you know what I mean, and we thoroughly ourselves. As we arrived the first thing we noticed was the picturesque row of old, brightly coloured, fishermen’s cottages up on the cliff (though I doubt if many fishermen live in them these days).
The Golden Hind - at high tide she floats but, as you can see, it wasn't high tide!
 Then, in the harbour we spotted a full-size replica of the Golden Hind, the ship in which Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe back in the 16th Century (I know, I’ve already seen one reproduction of it at Southwark, in London – there are obviously a lot of them around!). Apparently, this particular vessel is here because in 1963 a TV series about Drake was filmed in and around Brixham, and this is a replica of the replica used in filming, because the first one was destroyed in a storm… confusing, or what?
Trying to be arty and get a close-up of the masts and all
that rigging. 
The original Golden Hind (Drake’s flagship – there were four other ships in his fleet) was launched as the Pelican, but was renamed to honour the wealthy patron who provided most of the funds for the expedition. Officially the brief, as explained by Queen Elizabeth, was to explore new lands and ‘find out places meet to have traffic’, which I gather means discovering new opportunities for trade. But unofficially the Queen had let it be known that she wanted revenge on the King of Spain for ‘divers injuries that we have received’.

A Brixham seagull. There are gulls everywhere!
So Drake and his crew had carte blanche to harry the Spanish, and that’s exactly what they did. They set sail in 1577, and the Golden Hind made it back three years later, laden with riches looted from Spanish treasure ships. The Queen was delighted – and no wonder, because she got half the proceeds. Drake made his fortune, was knighted, and became a national hero.

A fire juggling pirate.
Brixham seems to have a long history of piracy, smuggling and the like. When we visited there was some kind of pirate event going on, with children (and adults) dressed as buccaneers, and there were market stalls, street theatre performers, and all kinds of activities going on.  It gave a real carnival atmosphere to the day, but we never did discover what was happening – there is a proper Pirate Festival every May, so it can’t have been that!

A wall of crab pots..
Fishing has always been important for the town. From the Middle Ages right through to the 19th century it was the biggest fishing port in the West Country, and it’s still a thriving, working fishing port today. The quays around the harbour are piled high with nets, ropes, pots, baskets and all kinds of paraphernalia to do with fishing, and it all looks just as you imagine it should.

... And a close-up. I was trying to be artistic - again!
 Brixham, apparently, was famous for its fast-moving, powerful sailing boats, which were able to trawl for fish in the deep sea, in all weathers. Several of them, with their distinctive red sails (dyed with local ochre, which helped protect the canvas against sea and weather damage), have now been restored, and provide cruising holidays and training expeditions. We had hoped to see some of these Heritage ships in the harbour, so we could get a good look, but they were all out, and we were a bit disappointed - until we spotted this glorious craft sailing past in the distance, and felt as if we'd been transported back 150 years or so. We were really thrilled to see this - much better than looking at one in the harbour!

Red sails in the sunshine!
Doubtlessly, WW2 buffs will know that the Americans trained in Brixham  prior to the D-Day landings, as part of Operation Overlord, and the 'slipway and hard' that they used is now officially ‘listed’, and there is  a blue plaque explaining how troops and tanks left from here bound for Utah Beach, and convoys followed loaded with supplies and equipment. 
 
A D Day landing - A reminder of World War II.
There's a big, modern marina as well, and all alongside the quay, nestling up against the cliff sides, are little gardens, created by local volunteers as part of a Pride in Brixham project, and there were people fishing for crabs with string and bits of bacon, and I do wish we'd had a go at that - next time, perhaps!
 
Garden by the sea... One of the gardens created for the Pride in Brixham project.
The town itself was lovely, with some nice little independent shops - and a statue commemorating William of Orange who landed at Brixham in November 1688 with his Dutch army during the ‘Glorious Revolution; when the Catholic King  James 11 was forced to abdicate in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William..
 
Crowned with a seagull! I accidently deleted my photo of the e statue of
William of Orange in Brixham, so I've borrowe this one, from the
 http://www.devonperspectives.co.uk/brixham.html site.
You’ll find more photographs, and details of how to participate in Saturday Snapshot at Melinda’s site, at West Metro Mummy Reads.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Hooky Happiness

Ta dah! My first effort at designing a crochet blanket.
 
This week's Saturday Snapshot is an update on a blog piece I posted in August last year showing a piccie of a Work in Progress for my Younger Daughter. At that point she and her Boyfriend were just about to move to a flat in London, and they wanted a cuddly crochet blanket  big enough to wrap around them both as they sat on the sofa - even though they didn't actually have a sofa at that time!

They wanted something bright and cheerful, in Superman colours, which is not necessarily my usual style, but I was happy to oblige. I decided on granny squares, because they're quick and easy, and I love making them, but I didn't want my usual random effort with a mish-mash of different colours and yarns in random squares or stripes. No, I wanted something clever, with a properly designed pattern, and I had in mind a central panel, of blue and yellow squares, edged in white, surrounded by lots of red (YD's favourite colour) with yellow and blue stripes all around the edge.
 
http://chriscross53.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/hooky-happiness.html
Work in Progress!

I originally planned one shade of red for the main part of the blanket, but it was very red indeed, and I was afraid it might be too dominant, especially as red is not my favourite colour (but YD loves it, and that's the main thing, because it is her blanket, after all). Anyway, I added a second, slightly darker shade (like a nice dark, red wine) to give a bit of interest, and I really liked the effect. It wasn't my usual palette at all, but I loved working with these colours because they were so cheerful and uplifting. 
 
Woollie wonders... Vibrant colours for a crochet blanket.
The worst bit was trying to fathom out how many different squares I could produce with four colours (two blues and two yellows) for the central panel. However, YD's Boyfriend, who is a real whizz at maths, came to my rescue,  and explained that I would end up with 24 different squares, which really surprised me - I never dreamed that so many variations could be created from just four colours. Apparently it's all to do with something called factorial notation (hope I've got that right), and there's a magical formula for working this kind of thing out. I never knew numbers could be so fascinating - or so useful for arty-crafty stuff!

Thready, steady, go... Stitching in the loose ends.

In the end it turned out that 24 little squares didn't make a big enough panel, so I doubled up and made two of each design. And I was amazingly well organised, and made a chart, listing the colour patterns for each square, and ticked everything off as I went along, so I didn't lose my way and end up with lots of the same block, and none of another! Then, once I'd stitched all the pieces into shape for a rectangular panel, I just kept hooking round and round and round until it was more or less the right size, then made a pretty, loopy, shell-like edging, and ta-dah, it was finished - apart from all the loose ends which had to be stitched in... Hundreds of them... I always promise myself I'll do that as I go along, but I never do, and I always regret it!

Earning my stripes!
It took an awfully long time, and used an awful lot of wool (I wish now I'd kept track of the amount) and there was quite a bit of unpicking and redoing as I went along, and I had no idea how big it should be, so I kept laying it out on the bed - I figured if it covered a double bed it was OK! And, of course, I had other sewing/woolly projects on the go at the same time, so there were periods when I didn't anything on the blanket for quite a while, and sometimes I wondered if it would ever get finished. But eventually I stitched the very last loose end in just a couple of weeks after YD and her Boyfriend bought themselves a bright red sofa, so between us our timing was pretty good.

My blanket (I still think of it as mine) now has pride of place draped over the sofa, and, though I say it myself, it looks absolutely fabulous. And I know self-praise is no recommendation, but I feel very proud of my achievement.


Cosy comfort.... I draped the finished blanket over our sofa, and liked it so much
I was really sorry when I handed it to my Younger Daughter!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Reindeer and Candles

 
Look what I saw yesterday – reindeer!!! At the local garden centre!!! I was so excited when I spotted them I felt as if Christmas had already arrived. There were two of them, in a pen, outside with all the plants, and they looked beautiful, although it does seem sad that creatures which roam wild and free in a land of ice and snow should be cooped up on a bed of straw in an alien environment for people to look at. But I daresay this duo were bred in the UK, and have never been further north than the Midlands.

I went with a friend I hadn’t seen for a few weeks, so we treated ourselves to a snack in the cafĂ© – coffee and a huge Christmas tree shortbread for her, and tea and a toasted cheese sarnie for me. I almost wished I’d had the shortbread, but I was hungry, and the sandwich was yummy. Then we mooched around, looking at all the wonderful Christmas displays, which featured lots of penguins, and glittery baubles, and twinkly lights. Part of me always thinks stuff like this is very commercial, and it’s not what Christmas is all about, but it looks so magical, and is such fun.

And there were stacks of pretty, useless things, and tables full of festive jams, chutneys, sweets, cakes and wines. And, of course, there were lots of plants, including Christmas cacti and poinsettia. I was determined not to spend money on things I don’t need, but my resolve wavered, and I bought a box of spiced orange tea lights because I love the smell!

 
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