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46. Two Birmingham Localities, June 2012.


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19th June 2012. The dog roses were out in the linear LNR (Local Nature Reserve) in Kings Norton. It’s linear because it follows the River Rea, which is meandering slowly towards the centre of Birmingham. It incorporates a canal reservoir, which used to be much larger, but is now only about 15% of its original size, having silted up & been invaded by plants. But it is still used as a flood control area; if there is a cloud-burst, the water will run out of the little River Rea into the reservoir area, and be detained. Actually, there is little to photograph…


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this view is not particularly impressive; but this LNR (and the many others) is a vital resource to the great West Midlands conurbation, with Birmingham at its centre. The weather was dull, cool & damp; quite a long period of disappointing weather for June was prevailing. I only walked about a mile, & then back. It began to rain. A group of the ‘Friends of Kings Norton LNR’ were working on various tasks & I wished them well… now wish I had asked them if they minded a photo. Well: perhaps next time?


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27th June 2012. We are now deep in Tolkien territory. This is the little River Cole. It’s only a 10 or 12 feet wide at this point. As we have remarked before, Birmingham is essentially on a plateau, the southern edge of which marks the watershed of the River Severn and River Trent catchment areas. Therefore, there are only a few small streams. The 27-mile-long Cole skirts the south of modern Birmingham, and runs into the River Blythe at the appropriately-named Cole End, shortly before the Blythe meets the River Tame – at the equally appropriately-named Blythe End. The Tame of course, runs into the River Trent at Alrewas – see Diary #44 –and from thence, eventually, into the Humber & the North Sea. J R R Tolkien lived a couple of hundred yards downstream from here at one time in his childhood.


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We took a sample of algae, scraped off a stone we borrowed at the above point from the bed of the Cole, and made a preparation of it to look for diatoms, fascinating microscopic plants, some of which have the ability to move about. Alas, our camera has autofocus that cannot be over-ridden, so the above image of a diatom ‘shell’ is very bad. It is less than 1 millimetre long. All the other stuff is silt &c. One day we will get a better imaging device for our microscope & bore you with better images! But back to J R R Tolkien…


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This is the ford over the Cole in Gracewell Road; Tolkien lived in a house in the opposite direction for some time during his & his brother’s rather disrupted early years. Next time I go I must find out which one it is – it’s bound to have a Blue Plaque on it!


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Our real destination today was Sarehole Mill, Tolkien’s prototype for ‘Ted Sandyman’s Mill’. It is an ancient water mill, several hundred years old. We have been here before: see Diary #36. Our plan was to get another water sample from the Mill Pond – but it has been drained, as you see here! However, there is no need for alarm. On the contrary, it is part of a plan to enlarge the pond back to something like it was years ago, before it was gradually invaded by reeds, silted up &c. Even then, it will not be as large as it was at its maximum extent; but it will be large & deep enough to allow the mill to work much more often & longer than it has been able to in recent years. The enthusiastic staff there told me that the idea is (I’m sure I’m not giving anything away!) that the mill will not only continue to demonstrate water power & flour milling to the visitors (including many school parties), but also mill flour ‘in its own right’, for sale to visitors. In this way, one will be able to make a loaf from flour milled in Ted Sandyman’s Mill! Apart from being a fan of Tolkien, we have made our own bread (albeit in a bread-maker) for several years; so this will be an irresistible combination.


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Apparently the dredging & deepening of the pond will begin this autumn (2012). Ecologically, of course, the pond is receiving a severe set-back; but it will equally be very interesting to follow the progress of this commendable exercise, and see how Dame Nature will re-establish Herself over the new, larger & restored pond! The trees which now surround the pond were never there in olden times: trees were never suffered to grow near Mill Ponds, for in Autumn their leaves would help silt up the pond. Indeed, more than 100 years ago, one tree that was relatively near the Pool was a favourite climbing tree of the young Tolkien. He was terribly disappointed when it was cut down! But that was what we would now call ‘management’, wasn’t it? Just as this new phase in the evolution of Sarehole Mill is ‘appropriate management’ of this invaluable site, so that visitors will continue to enjoy it in the future?


For more on Sarehole Mill, see:






Page written 27th June 2012.