The West Midlands probably doesn’t rate highly as an area to walk, but late last year as I was in the area and secondly it was such a fine day, I had the opportunity to walk up to Barr Beacon. It may only be 227 metres in height but its claim to fame is that it is the highest spot within the Metropolitan Borough of Walsall. Between the built up areas of Walsall and the now called Royal Sutton Coldfield there is several square miles of open countryside and so I decided to see what it had to offer as a circular walk.
My original plan was to park at Heyhead Wood Car Park but on my arrival, this rather rough secluded and empty car park was full of fly tipping and not the sort of place to leave a car for a few hours. The nearby car parks at either end of Barr Beacon were all closed and gates padlocked and in any case, the access roads into these car parks were on steep snow covered roads which would have been problematical. In the end I found parking in a small cul-de-sac just below Barr Beacon where there were some up market houses. It meant altering my intended walk a little, and to start off with it would mean some road walking with no pavements.
Setting off under a deep blue winter sky I am glad to leave the busy road to climb up onto the ridge north of Barr Beacon. From this high point there are good views to the east and to the west, and I now head south to the summit of Barr Beacon. The trig point itself lies within a reservoir compound with a secure fence but on the Trigpointing Website I read that there is a chink in its armour. After a little searching around I spot an upright rail missing and just wide enough to squeeze through into a small thicket on the reservoir compound side. It is just a short walk to the trig point but then I have to find my way out again through the little gap which is hidden somewhere in the thicket. Thankfully there is hardly anyone around to cause suspicion.
Nearby on Barr Beacon is a restored war memorial with a tall flag pole nearby displaying the Union Jack and I stop here to photograph it in the snow with a deep blue sky as a back cloth.
My plan now is to stay with the recreational path called the Beacon Way which descends to reach the Rushall Canal at Hill Farm Bridge. The walk from Barr Beacon is pleasant enough with a view as far as the snowy Clee Hills in Shropshire. Descending, I cross a road then continue through woodland to join another road. I now have to follow this road for around a mile and initially there is no pavement and the road is quite busy, and furthermore icy in places. Thankfully further on there is a grassy path beside the road but I feel that this path is little walked. I later made a diversion into the churchyard of St Margaret’s Church at Great Barr. Although the tower dates from 1677 the church was largely rebuilt in 1862 in Gothic revival red sandstone. I next head west on a path through what was once the grounds of the Great Barr Estate and now a nature reserve. I emerged later onto the A34 dual carriageway which thankfully is fairly quiet to cross. A path on the far side runs down through a large sports complex with many pitches, but again I conclude that few people walk here. Way-finding becomes more difficult as I near Hill Farm Bridge due to the lack of signage and changes in the landscape which doesn’t agree with my map. As a result I end up by the Rushall Canal sooner than expect.
The Rushall Canal was built between1844 and 1847 by the engineer James Walker. It main use was to transport coal between the Tame valley Canal and the Daw End Branch Canal.
My plan now is to head north along the towpath and despite what lying snow there is on the ground it is gradually melting, however the canal remains largely frozen. I press on, ascending by Rushall Locks and later reaching the upper locks at Rushall where I opt to stop for lunch in the fine winter sunshine. There are a few people out walking in this area but what saddens me is the amount of fly tipping almost everywhere and in the water too.
The return leg of the walk to the car is relatively short and I leave the canal to re-join the Beacon Way once more. I cross a road and walk through the run down Heyhead Wood Car Park and continue on a path through a woodland belt but sadly the locals had used this for fly tipping also, despite the area being a nature reserve. I am pleased to see new signposting as I gradually ascend into more rural scenery and from Cuckoo’s Nook Nature Reserve I head south along a field boundary in the winter sunshine. I later cross the B4151 and continue on another field path before briefly joining a lane after which it is more field walking. It is pleasing to see that Walsall Council have put some money into footpath improvements with new kissing gates but again fly-tipping is a really big issue. I finally join a lane uphill to reach the car before the journey back to Macclesfield.
Well this was a bit of new territory for me to walk in, and overall the paths were good coupled with the weather sunny but the big downside is the amount of fly-tipping everywhere which seems to be a main problem in this area.