Chasewater return

Just a few things I saw on the way to Chasewater and back this morning.

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Flag iris on the cut
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Bramble blossom by the basin
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Bird’s Foot Trefoil where Cannock Chase Colliery No 1, “The Marquis” was. This is where some spoil from the M6-Toll was tipped. A post-industrial landscape you can enjoy.

Eagle-eyed locals may just pick out the top of the old valve gear building on Chasewater dam.

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In among the trefoil and rabit-graze grasses were several bee orchids.

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Going for a song

The main purpose of my walk today was to set up another “now and then” post, but as it was such a bright, sunny morning I took a more circuitous route via Brownhills Common and Chasewater.

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The common is ever-changing. The trees grow, some are cut down to help regenerate the lowland heath, saplings spring up, seasonal palettes rotate, paths are cleared. The work leaves behind some mess that necessitates more boot cleaning than normal, but this is usually short-lived. I noticed that in the pine woods beside the old Midland Railway station holly is fast becoming the main understory plant, taking over from the unproductive brambles. I wonder if, one day, when the pines are cleared there will be a holly wood – presumably, there must have been such places in the past? Such a wood would be a good place for fieldfare and redwing and other birds that take the berries from the mature tree in my garden.

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M6 Toll eastbound

To get to Chasewater I crossed the bridge over the motorway when enables a distant view of Lichfield Cathedral. Sometimes kestrel hunt along the verge and the heath beyond.

On the reservoir itself some of the more photogenic birds seem to have dispersed to find nest sites. Mallard seem often to be overlooked by birders, but the males look quite resplendent in the sunlight. A flock of about 25 lapwing flew towards the power boat club, where they often gather on the jetties. Two more flocks of similar size flew in shortly after. Chasewater is ever-changing, too. Different birds, different people, parties of grey-haired ramblers, joggers and cyclists in their garish costumes, the water itself: one day grey and choppy as the Baltic Sea, the next aquamarine and calm as a millpond.

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Mallard
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Lapwing

At the outfall the water is well below overflowing. The invading birch has been cleared from the basin beyond, which it is believed was a filter bed for water pumped from coal mines, so that it could be cleaned up before release into the natural water course, Crane Brook. Today there is a subterranean outfall that I could hear running beneath the canal, so some water was being diverted into Crane Brook. At the weir below the dam water was being let out into the canal. I don’t recall the last time it was so copious.

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Weir and basin at Chasewater
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Weir feeding Anglesey Branch Canal

Rather than hugging the canal bank I often wander along the edge of this grassy-mossy area, atop a steep drop where the gorse and brambles meet hawthorn scrub and semi-mature birch. This is the site of the Marquis pit, the first of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company mines (1849-1856, according to the blue plaque). The flattish ground is the result of dumping spoil from the motorway construction. In the background is the dam with its little housing for the long defunct sluice control. It is all the result of industry and yet produces a surprising range of wild creatures and plants. Today my reward was the music of a song thrush. I managed this one shot before it plunged back into the undergrowth. In hindsight I wish I had set my camera to movie mode to record the sound, but alas hindsight is precisely that.

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Habitat edge. Site of coal mine.
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Song thrush

Eventually, I did get to the location for my “now” picture, but that is for another post.

Now and then

This is another attempt to stand in the shoes of an old photographer and capture the same place as it looks now.  Today’s subject is the nine foot pool at Chasewater.

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Now …
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… and then. 

This scan was from ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington, pilfered from Browmhills Bob.

The main point of reference is the small building atop the dam.  The pumping engine house was clearly an imposing structure.  Today there seems to be no evidence of its existence.

 

The blue plaque and the unmanned lectern

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Heath at the eastern end of Chasewater Country Park

Peter Foden  identifies those tilted tables that tell you about the history or wildlife of the place you are looking at as lecterns, apparently preaching at us.  An idea I find appealing.

 

Peter prefers blue plaques and I agree; they are less obtrusive, but convey sufficient information for the curious to find out more. Here is a local example that stands beside the end of the Anglesey Branch Canal, beneath the dam at Chasewater:

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The key information is: “Site of No. 1 pit of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company. Known as ‘The Marquis’. Opened 1849, Closed 1856.”

So this is a post-industrial landscape. The blue plaque and its mounting is unobtrusive and unnoticed by many passers-by – I have seen them not noticing. If it were not for a smattering of clues one would be hard pressed to know of the absolute dominance of more than a hundred years of coal mining, of pit buildings, winding gear, railways, steam trains, spoil heaps, and canal boats, men shouting, engines roaring, metal clanking.

Nearby is a lectern, perched on a high point, appropriately as though on a pulpit, which, like many has been vandalised.

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In essence it tells us that cattle have been introduced to graze young trees and scrub to preserve the lowland heath. This is a precious landscape, it says, because 90% of such habitat has been lost since 1800. Apart from the long gone coal mines and their acoutrements this is the landscape that my grandfather and his grandfather, and travellers like John Wesley, knew: a blasted heath with few trees and no shelter from the bitter Siberian wind and driving snow.

At first sight, looking up from the lectern, as though to address the now absent cattle, the grazing is largely successful. However, turn around and see that the basin forming the outfall from the reservoir overflow is succumbing to the natural climax vegetation. Birch is slowly displacing the reeds that once filtered mine water of its heavy metals before release into the natural water course.

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But this is a man-made landscape, even where not touched by coal mining. Many sources tell us that the extensive woodland of Cannock Forest was cleared at the behest of King Charles so that he and his chums could mount their horses and career across the open land in pursuit of deer and other creatures. Where the land is untended the wildwood reclaims its ancient hold.

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The plaque will outlive the lectern. Partly because it is unobtrusive, mainly becase it is metallic. But what might be the future of the blue plaque or some technological replacement?

It would be simple enough to incorporate a website address, a QR code, or some other device to facilitate further study. For those with relevant gadgets this could be on the spot, in space-time. Perhaps there will one day be a blue plaque app that alerts carriers of smart phones, or other social media enabling technologies, to the content of the plaque as they pass. This, without breaking the headlong rush to work, revealing all about the thing they just passed, but had no time to see. They forget it all until they repass tomorrow, and tomorrow …

Or maybe when you walk through a damp meadow or dive beside an atoll you will see or hear how this and that plant or coral grows, if any survives. Will there be an advanced Brave New World in which everyone has a reader implanted, the unltimate in instant knowledge? Not QR, but ZZ. What? No quiz shows! No television! Ah, the novel, the poem, the creative mind. And those places with no ZZ? World Heritage Sanity Parks! (Perhaps I should trade mark that?)