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Cycling cynic from Brownhills.

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Tamworth has always had a hard time defining itself - this eastern outpost of Staffordshire was never as pretty or historic as Lichfield, and grew exponentially in the sixties and seventies with industrial development and Birmingham overspill, only to be decimated by the recessions of the eighties. Now host to a perplexing road system and identikit housing estates, it casts a grey shadow over the landscape looking eastwards from Rock Hill.

The wooded hill entitled The Rookery is a prominent landmark from the old A5 as it climbs Rock Hill to Hints Lane. Nestling in the valley in the middle distance is the picturesque village of Hints - it's church can just be seen above the fruit fields before you. I find it well worth coming this way once in a while, if only to experience the now deserted former main road, now bypassed by a new dual carriageway to the north, one of the few well-executed road schemes to have taken place in recent years.

Another of The South Stafffordshire Water Works pumping stations, built in the early part of the last century, as seen from Springhill at Barracks Lane - note the associated waterworks cottages in front of it. Still in use, but now electrically powered, it will soon have served for a century. They don't make 'em like that anymore...

The Anglesey Branch Canal is a good inclusion in any outward bound ride, be it 12 or 120 miles. Apart from providing easy access to surrounding countryside, the views it rewards the traveler with are splendid, and really set you up for the expedition to come. This view northeast is worth studying full size in your browser - it takes in the landmarks of Hammerwich; the sailless windmill and proud church; nestling between the rolling hills the three spires of Lichfield can clearly be seen; in the foreground, the new, unused railway bridge over the unloved, unwanted toll motorway. A better statement of the nonsense that is current UK transport policy would be hard to find. Dawntreader has an excellent series of photos in his gallery - a walk along the length of the disused Brownhills-Lichfield railway, and one of this very bridge.

When I was a kid I took to exploring the lanes of Staffordshire by bike with enthusiasm and a rather out of date map; being situated at the junction of four roads I often found myself passing a place marked as Lads Grave, and the house that stands here has always fascinated me. I still pass it regularly, and now note that it bears the name 'Ladsgrave Cottage'... I'm not sure which is correct.

The dreadful foot and moth crisis of 2001 had some unexpected side effects in the fields and pastures around the country. Due to the ban on livestock movements, many fields were left fallow and uncut, resulting in some spectacular displays of wildflowers. This field, near Bourne Vale, Aldridge, was a riot of poppies and oilseed rape for several weeks in high summer.

This skeletal tree eerily shrouded in mist provided an unmissable photo. Behind it, veiled by the mist, the Rookery rises out of the Blackbrook Valley.

Tixall is a stately, classically English place. From the humble pepperpot lodge and ruggedly ornate gatehouse, to the majestic 'wides' and large stables, it was a village built to serve it's estate. This avenue leads to a small decorative observatory on the track between farm and church, but continues back to the long demolished Tixall hall over the road.

Cannock Chase is probably more enchanting in winter than it is in summer - it wears frost and mist so beautifully. The small pool that sits in the valley at Stonepit Green, on the track between Castle Ring and Wandon, gave up this marvelous mystic view on a cold December day in 2006.

When the ill-fated, ill planned and ill conceived M6 toll was gifted upon the residents of south Staffordshire, it led to many changes in the rural roads and byways in it's path. Bullmoor Lane near Muckley Corner was cut off and routed south westerly, rising in elevation to meet a new bridge carrying Cranebrook Lane; this unexpectedly provided pleasing views of the landscape toward Shenstone, whose church tower can be seen on the right of the picture. Beyond it, the hills and quarries of Little Hay and Weeford can clearly be seen.


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