Never in a million years did I think I'd be going on a tour of my local postcode, but lockdown has changed all that. Various Stirchley-based walkers – and I'm sure it's not just us – have developed a talent for 'extreme noticing' on our mandated daily lockdown walks throughout March to May. And the result has been laid out on a map – nearly 120 pins documented so far of the weird, transitory, historical, natural, lyrical and creative.
If you haven't yet seen the map and you walk locally, check it out via the Mapping Stirchley project page.
For yesterday's Summer Solstice I suggested using the map to generate a walk, ending at a high ground sunset point for some beers. We each picked an element on the map that we wanted to visit and from this I formed a basic tour:
Meet: Bournville train station 8.45pm. Hazelwell Park/Allotments for sunset 9.34pm. Solstice 10.43pm. BYOB.
Points of interest from the map:
- ginkgo biloba tree wearing sunglasses
- rogue poplar
- I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of Little London
- bindweed curtain
- hall of mirrors door
- double-trunked tree
- experimental caged garden
- hidden cricket club
Five of us came: four Walkspacers from Stirchley and a guest from the Selly Oak/Bournville borders. We had to make a fast pace to get to the sunset point but the cloud cover meant it wasn't crucial to be in situ for the actual horizon drop.
The gingko biloba tree in Cadbury's Ladies Rec had lost its jaunty Banana Splits sunglasses since it was pinned. But it was no matter. The tree is remarkable in its own right for its smooth, fan-shaped leaves with no spines. It's also known as the 'maidenhair tree' – it's basically a 20m high houseplant. Local spoon carver JoJo Wood on the high street tipped me off as to the three gingko biloba trees in the area and I'm now a big fan.
On the way to our next map point, we stopped briefly at the 'Entrance to hell'. The path to it is getting very overgrown so it is becoming more hidden over time. It was less scary to visit in the daylight of night.
The rogue poplar on the Stirchley side of the canal by Bournville Lane's rail bridge. It's a rebel teen that has stepped outside of the strict line of parental poplars, showing little regard for our human tarmacking and popping up right in the middle of a pathway like a perfect Fuck You to both trees and people. And that's why Andy liked it enough to put it on the map.
In the same spot you can look over the rooftops of Little London and sound your barbaric YAWP over Stirchley, as Walt Whitman might have said, had he lived on Oxford, Regent or Bond Street in B30. The Solstice sky was softly striped. I YAWPED. It felt good. No one joined me or I would perhaps have YAWPED more barbarically.
The bindweed curtain had sadly shut up its array of morning glories for the evening, but hiding behind it were some yellow evening primroses, freshly popped at dusk albeit born to blush unseen and waste their fragrant sweetness on the polluted high street air.
If there was one tourist photo opportunity on this tour, it was the hall of mirrors door. In a car park off the main Pershore Road, we all took turns at elongating our bodies for amusement.
Not only is this a beautiful (ornamental cherry?) tree when in bloom but it has a conjoined double trunk. I had to look this up – it's called inosculation, or more colloquially 'husband and wife' trees, or 'marriage trees'. Some forms can be quite suggestive.
The 'experimental caged garden' is busy with stinking Bob, aka herb robert geraniums, and also the beginnings of a tree. I think there is a large flood defence system under here, put in to stop the Pershore, Cartland and Ripple Road floods. I'm guessing it drains into the River Rea just behind it. I like how the barbed wire cage frames the space and makes it a 'thing' to look at.
We didn't have time to get to the hidden cricket club – it would have been locked and inaccessible anyway. With sunset imminent, we bombed up to Hazelwell Park to see not the sunset but some beautiful partially lit skies. The photos run from the sunset at 9.34pm to the solstice – the moment the sun stands still – at 10.43pm.
I, for one, am reluctant to let the sun leave us. There is always a moment of melancholy for me after midsummer. But instead we performed our Solstice rituals, not knowingly or formally but as if it is in our pagan DNA – to light a candle, sit in a loose circle, exchange stories (of sage highs) and poems (of YAWPS in Walt Whitman's Verse 52), to drink and make merry, and hail the solstice.
After months of lockdown, this was like an emergence back into the world of celebration. And mother nature, fecund, abundant, looked down and saw it that it was good.