A sense of place

The west midlands confuses people: not the endless proliferation of local dialects; not the eccentricities of the motorway network; perplexing though both of those can be. New York might well be “so good they named it twice” but The West Midlands (capitalised this time) is apparently such a brilliantly imaginative name for a place that to use it only once would have seemed wasteful; so it’s been applied to two completely different entities – one of which resides within the other.

First, there’s The County of West Midlands: neither small nor perfectly formed, this nondescript aggregation of bits taken from Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, all of which – reduced though they may be – still separately exist, managed to be a compromise of sorts in that it was held in almost unanimous contempt by residents of all three of its constituent parts. The reasons for their discontent might have varied – from the erosion of cultural identity to concern over the effects on property prices “If people get the idea we’re a suburb of Dudley” (yes, seriously) – but the thing that united us them was that we they just weren’t happy and that’s all there was too it. It doesn’t take much.

Then there’s the other ‘West Midlands’ which, according to Wiki is “One of the nine official regions of England”, stretching from Herefordshire and The Cotswolds to the edge of The Peaks and all points west, right up to the Welsh border. None of this is new, although it is to me.

Both versions of The West Midlands are officially designated as NUTS, which will surprise almost no-one.

Within about 10-15 minutes at a decent walking pace I can reach the remnant of an old Roman road, which marks the boundary with Staffordshire, just at the point where it is tapering down to nothing in the middle of some nondescript pasture; in rather less time again it is possible to exit Staffordshire and cross seamlessly into Worcestershire. So, I reached the Roman road, left behind the neatly suburban West Midlands (designated NUTS1) and crossed into the unkempt agricultural West Midlands (NUTS2), heading for one of those places where The Woodland Trust is doing some of its sterling work.

This is, for a while, an odd patchwork of an area: the clearly defined residential plots come to an abrupt end and are replaced by a chaotic, bits and pieces landscape of indeterminate ownership – a couple of small copses and a few fields which have remained undisturbed for, to my knowledge, the best part of 35 years. Vegetation comes and goes, proliferates, dies back, and the tracks which meander between the trees and brambles follow the same lines that they have followed for as long as I’ve known them.

At least over time the wildlife changes: the buzzards and ravens which would once have been considered exotic are now relatively commonplace, particularly the buzzards. The grey squirrel and rabbit populations ensure there is certainly no shortage of food; no doubt there are field voles out there as well, but they maintain a lower profile. These days the squirrels have to compete for cached food with the expanding population of jays – a bird with attractive plumage but frequently sounding as if it’s being tortured. Goldcrest are present in good numbers; possibly they always were and I never noticed them or, more likely, thought that anything so small would automatically be a wren.

Today the kind of snowfall we rarely see any more has thrown a pristine blanket over some of the less attractive aspects, like the unused rolls of razor wire and discarded feed sacks. The woods themselves seem to be groaning under the covering of snow and the goldcrests and wrens, as they flit between branches, set up small tremors dislodging many times their own body weight.


     

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7 thoughts on “A sense of place

    • Hi Conrad, I must admit I only recently found out that the regions are clearly defined, rather than just vague generalities. For instance, it make perfect sense that the west midlands (region) extends all the way to the Welsh border; it had just never occurred to me.

      Rob took most of the photos: he’s better at switching lenses with cold fingers than I am.

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  1. I’m afraid as a child of the Black Country I’m one of the people that hated the “West Midlands” when it was created – god knows why (I was only a youngster at the time), probably the influence of my family who are all passionately from Stourbridge and proud! Really enjoyed the post and the snowy photos. Whereabouts in my beloved homeland were they taken (I’m exiled in Herefordshire these days)

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    • Hi Andy, I remember thinking at the time it (West Midlands) didn’t make much sense; then again we have a railway station called Sandwell and Dudley which is nowhere near Dudley (which doesn’t even have a railway) and Sandwell isn’t really a place at all. I’m from Tipton originally, so that’s where the Black Country roots come from; I live in Stourbridge these days.

      If you can picture leaving Stourbridge on the Kidderminster Road (The A451) you cross into Staffordshire within about a mile, just before a place called Iverley, just where Staffordshire is tapering down to a pointed corner. Within about half a mile you’re into Worcestershire (Wyre Forest).

      Coincidentally, all of the pictures except for the first and last were taken pretty much along the line of the border. The other two were taken near to the Severn Trent waterworks at the top end of Ounty John Lane (the upmarket part of Stourbridge). Bunkers Hill Wood is the Woodland Trust project.

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      • From Tipton – Black Country heartland that is!
        I remember the drive to Kiddy now when you pass through the counties in the space of a mile, very odd. I used to go cycling and walking round all these places in my youth. We lived between Stourbridge and Lye when I was a kid but my folks have gone all posh now and live in Kiddy on Wilden Lane. You’ve inspired me to take a long bike ride around all these old haunts next time I visit the oldies. Thanks for rekindling some very old memories 🙂

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  2. Hi Dave.

    Splendid post, Sir. I haven’t been able to comment for a while as I was locked out from my WordPress account because my password was on a list of ‘compromised accounts’ whatever that means. After a bit of faffing and resetting passwords all over the shop, I’m back.
    I’m sure it’s all part of Google’s continuing battle for global control.

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  3. Hi Alan, I empathise. I seem to hit more obstacles now than I did when I was right at the bottom of the learning curve. I get the need for security upgrades, particularly for social media platforms, but the effects seem to be pretty indiscriminate. Heaven help anybody who forgets the answer to their memorable place or who can’t remember who their favourite singer was 6 years ago.

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