Chasewater Fossils ?

Chasewater. An expanse of water, which apparently way back in time was simply called Norton Pool, then somebody at the local council (I imagine) had the said brainwave of romanticising it (to make it more of a tourist attraction perhaps) and got some giddily-advised inspiration from the absolutely-different-in-all-respects  Lake District (Derwent Water, Wastwater) … and hey presto!

I do remember attempts to “beachify” the place, with a fairground and adventure playground with both a paddling and boating pool as attractions.

I certainly knew it as a reservoir feeding the local canal system, including eventually the Shropshire Union Canal (Which runs from Birmingham to Ellesmere Port (I know I’ve done the journey on a narrow-boat). Other local people have told me that the water was originally used to wash coal from the pits that literally pepper and undermine the whole area. The mystery has really always been – for me at any rate – where the water came from to fill the reservoir … there is no land higher so no streams flow into the water to the very best of my knowledge.

More recently Chasewater, walled in with a concrete dam wall became part of a local conspiracy theory. The lake was drained. Apparently surveyors believed the wall might crack and the lower-lying land around it would be flooded – and that might include Lichfield.

(It was amazing to walk around the drained lake and be able to see the bottom – in which a number of walkers got trapped, curiosity being what it is! The bottom of the lake is clay, whether deliberately puddled or occurring naturally is irrelevant. A sunken metal framed boat was also discovered at the bottom and that lead to no end of salacious rumours (murder, elopement, illicit rendezvous … and the wry comment in a local newspaper that it would have been newsworthy if an aeroplane had been discovered, but a boat … in a lake ??))

Council appointed experts predicted that it could take up to seven years for the reservoir to re-fill and people began to believe that the council would allow the refilling to fail, then sell off the land. Rumours grew.

Until the rains started! The reservoir was very soon full :to its previous levels and beyond!  Rumours washed clean away! The Sailing Club now has more water than it can comfortably bob up and down in, tack around and across and the Water Ski-Club now has more ski-jumps and jetties than before, thank you very much.

The wildlife that uses the water didn’t need to spend too long finding alternative stop over or breeding sites and the scrubby willow and birch woodlands and upland heath remain in good nick.

I decided to take the car up there yesterday and walk around it. We have had so much rain recently and precipitation in the past twelve months starting with snow last January that I did wonder if the footpaths would be inundated. So, a real adventure.

And I was able to get all of the way around. There were quite serious waves along the one shore, raised y a cold wind. They have swept all of the flotsam and jetsam across the water: swan feathers, Red Bull cans, weed, twigs and cardboard jostling endlessly up and down.

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Most of the mute swans were on the small pond by the North Shore Café, with mallard, coot and a solitary moorhen. A whole flotilla of  Canada geese (more than thirty) were trying to look graceful on the main pool.

Jays, a wren and blue tits bobbed from tree to tree in front of me in some patches and wagtails flitted on and off the puddle-strewn path. Joggers and dog-walkers were out in force. A guy with binoculars – quite a few “twitchers” are drawn to the pool every now and then – wandered absently past me. There were a pair of great crested grebes, tufted ducks together like a raft and squadrons of gulls : black headed and herring ,with half a dozen terns amongst them.

The path which I thought would be below water was, surprisingly not. There is a section which includes a wooden bridged section and a boardwalk. Freshly replaced and very passable. On this path, sheltered by trees the air was warmer too and I could hear myself breathe.

Across the heathland proper, with cotton grass and flowering gorse dotted among the heather. To the Chasewater Steam Railway track and back along the opposite shore back to the car park.

Where I saw through different eyes the pieces of salvaged track, concrete “sleepers” and railway paraphernalia that is awaiting reclamation. Reminding me of nothing more than some type of bones and mechanical remains in the process of fossilisation. Maybe because I am still thinking about the Pratchett book Raising Steam or for some other reason, but I sensed the life of machine and track as somehow sentient. Alive but becoming extinct. Or maybe the rain was finally getting to me.

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But with low grey clouds, puddles in the making, these pieces definitely had a presence. The more pragmatic side of me was wondering about the history of the railway there. Was there a passenger line here once upon a time, or a freight line? Or did the enthusiast build a line where none had previously been?

A day or so later, I am watching A TV programme – Speed with Guy Martin – and bless my soul if they didn’t actually use Chasewater for some of the power boat section of the programme.

 

Photos: boat: www.lichfieldlive.co.uk   jetty: www.photoforum.com

Final four: my own.

 

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