Friday, 10 April 2015

Perfect days

Beautiful woodland on a beautiful day at Kinver
Hasn't it been a beautiful week? Perfect for just lazing around in the sun, not rushing anywhere and simply wandering the local footpaths to admire the scenery and watch Spring unfurl.
Which is exactly what we've been doing. We're certainly not in a rush: we have an appointment with the boatyard crane next Tuesday and it's only four miles and five locks away. I think we can make it on time.
Having spent our allotted 24 hours mooring up in Kinver, we eased our way just half a mile out of town to the most idyllic country mooring on a sweeping bend past Hyde Lock where we could stay a couple of weeks should we wish. And we'd be tempted if it wasn't for that crane.
We've found ourselves at the centre of a little network of secretive country walks, the simplest of which was a circular route to Kinver and back, returning (via the Plough & Harrow for a pint of Bathams, the celebrated Black Country bitter) along the course of the old Kinver Light Railway.
This, incidentally – the railway, not the Bathams – rescued the village from near oblivion when it was built in 1901 and brought thousands of day trippers to visit the cave houses and Kinver Edge.
The River Stour twists and turns a delightful course beside the canal
But our truly delightful walks were in the other direction, through magnificent old woods with towering ancient oaks and beeches. The canal here, as elsewhere, follows the course of the River Stour and the woodland runs alongside them both. It's an ancient wood, only lightly managed and decaying and decrepit in places, but all the more delightful for it.
The Sheep Whisperer at work
Our route was taking us towards Stourton and the final stretch crossed a ploughed field, full of sheep chewing on some unrecognisable root crop or lying in the furrows to try and mitigate the sweltering heat. I've never come across sheep so tame – one particularly curious one came up and allowed me to stroke it. Even Brian the dog didn't seem to bother them.
From Stourton we returned along the towpath to the boat where a two mile walk deserved a beer in the sun.
Brian pays his respects at the pet cemetery
Today we explored further in the woods and discovered part was a local nature reserve, Chance Wood. This was originally planted as an ornamental wood and, hidden here and there were half buried remnants of stone walls and paths like something from a lost civilisation. Here, too, we found an overgrown Victorian pet cemetery and Brian paid his respects to 'Punch' and 'Tim' and the rest.
Yet another walk today (we were overdoing it; this was going to be a 'two beers' evening) saw us cross the canal by the lock and climb a steep track to the main road. Where the river and canal take the valley, the road follows them along the high hilltop and the views all around are superb. Then a short footpath took us down to the top of the little Dunsley Tunnel where we spotted a weasel scurrying along the towpath until he heard us coming and scuttled off into the undergrowth.
Yes, it's been a blissful few days, enjoying the delights of the countryside. Yet it wasn't always like this here. Back in the 17th century a local entrepreneur built a waterwheel powered 'slitting mill' here – one of the first – and harnessed the power of the river to slit iron bars into strips that could be made into cut nails. That brought industry to the area and it was followed by what grew into a massive ironworks along the canalside, right where we are moored now.
Not a trace of this remains; the Light Railway's razed the site to the ground and nature did the rest, incorporating the land back into the woods around it.
The slitting mill had gone much earlier, though ironwork continued and a firm making spades worked there until the early 1900s. The ironworks manager had a magnificent Victorian pile of a house, Hyde House, and when the works closed it was leased by a pastor who formed the Midland Counties Crippled Children's Guild and brought disabled youngsters from all over the Midlands to live there. Sadly, after he died home went downhill, eventually closed and the building fell into decay before being destroyed in a fire. Just a few fragmentary traces of this past remain: bits of brick wall, remains of millponds and fragments of gates and fences.
Fragments of a past life in this sturdy old fence tensioning ratchet
Nature has reclaimed the rest – and is making a better job of it than we probably could. Leave it to us humans and we'd probably have a Tesco and some executive style homes there.

Nature works its magic in miniature on the top of this fencepost


  1. and all helped by perfect spring weather....enjoy the slow pace before the BIG LIFT. Hope it is only a short spell out of the water.

  2. Ah, Kinver, the birthplace of my paternal grandfather - or so my dad thought until he saw his dad's birth certificate after my grandmother died. Thomas Genner was born in Warrington, although brought up for most of his childhood in Kinver. Being a family historian I now know the story. John Samuel Genner, my Great Grandfather was a puddler at Kinver ironworks until they closed about 1880. He and his brother (Thomas also) moved to Warrington where there was work in the new steelworks, and the lovely (I presume) Jane Banner, daughter of his landlord. John Samuel and Jane were married, and then followed Alice and my Grandfather, and then we believe Jane died in pregnancy/childbirth, just 23 years old, with a third child. Thomas and Alice were sent back to Kinver to be brought up by their grandparents. The ironworks at Kinver last barely more than a generation. My great grandfather and his brother both died in Warrington Workhouse, both alcoholics, an occupational hazard for iron & steelworkers of the time, it was physical, hot and thirsty work and lightly brewed beer was drunk all day long, the brewing process helping to purify the water. My grandfather (my father told me) remembered his grandmother talking of taking jugs of beer to the ironworkers. Me, I just remember going over the canal whenever we went to see my Grandparents in Kinver, and more recently seeing the Stourton locks when I visited my mother when she had a spell in a Old people's home near there.
    Richard Genner