Beyond The Rea and off to historic Hill Top Nature Reserve in Sandwell Valley Country Park

Hill Top, at the western edge of Birmingham, bordering the Sandwell Valley Country Park.

An intriguing and ancient broad green lane runs SE to NW, passing the old farmsteads of 'Hill Top' and 'The Uplands'.

The track is hollowed, hence holloway

Hill Top today (top) 1890 (below)

The holloway looks like an ancient green road running south-east to north-west, and many of the field lines either side are the same today as in 1890. The old farmsteads of 'The Uplands' and 'Hill Top' can be located, with clusters of trees emanating from the hedge line

From the 1890's map below it looks as if The Uplands is a landscaped estate with an avenue of trees laid out to the north of the house. A much larger building than nearby Hill Top Farm and complete with stables and other out buildings.

Hill top Farm from the 1950's

Hill Top Nature Reserve 
 A wonderful and essentially green expanse of unwritten and untold history, crossed and crossed again, north south east west and grazed for centuries.

Holloways deep and wide, banked and hedged with holly, hazel and hawthorn, and pockets of ancient oak woodland throughout the unexpectedly vast site. Covering around 153.52 acres (62.13 hectares) of the total green space area of 1943.70 acres | 786.59 hectares.

There's opportunity to get mindfully lost amongst the hedge banks, full of curiosity and carbuncular oddities; whilst movement in the canopy distracts from the ground as mixed wintering flocks of Tits, Finches, Nuthatch, Goldcrests, Thrushes, Tree Creeper and others flit determinedly searching the hedged corridors.
The Holloway is worn by ancient foot, hoof and cartwheel eroding the surface of a broad track beneath  field level, carving a way from point to point, from the holy well and the 12th century Priory to the settlements around Handsworth Wood.

A hermitage is thought to have predated the priory and an overwhelming feeling of ancientness pervades the atmosphere.  Hermits and Monks found mediaeval wilderness, and today 'Earthers' seek solace. 
The openness of the surrounding land is glimpsed through the trees, with views beyond the valley towards the high point at Barr Beacon, the thick hedged track and wooded coverts create deception, for the land is largely hedge bordered pasture, but feels like dense woodland in places.

Huge hazel stools line the holloway and it's not difficult to conjure ghosts of passing hermit, monk, land worker, pauper and peasant, crossing the hill top with timeless anxiety, with thoughts of food, drink, warmth, shelter, loved ones and perhaps carnal desire.

The hermit perhaps didn't dwell alone in a state of primitive desperation, but maybe out of choice, giving time for contemplation, so as to ponder on physical and spiritual existence.
The Hermit
 A time of confusion blending 'earth ways' with christian teaching, so that talk of God required much thought before vocal opinion was attempted.
The farm workers may have provided morsels of food, whilst the itinerant holy man gave spiritual food for thought.
Rabbits aplenty and waterfowl from the nearby wetland, together with local grain and rooted fodder for human, cattle and other livestock.
The women and monks brewed an intoxicating gruit to aid the hermit's merriment, and made the finest bread with pickings from the hedgerow and undergrowth; bog myrtle or sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow, and heather and no doubt an arcanum of one's own.
Glimpses through the hedgerow
A wide view with hawk-like eye gives a glimpse of the world beyond the homestead, but the hermit largely avoided earthly materialism and wonder; his leathered footwear carried him stealthily and securely around the marshy flats of the Tame Valley, padding ankle deep on occasions in water, silt and grass.

Today I met with those seeking Firecrests, "reported on the 'birdline'", they were equipped with huge cameras and tripods, excited at the prospect of the shoot. They were keen and eager to learn of any sightings. I reported what I thought to be Goldcrests on the southern edge, but added doubt to my claim because of the lack of eyeglass - they could have been Firecrest. There was little movement in that direction chaps.

This is a wonderfully secluded spot within Birmingham and the Black Country, I saw five people and two dogs during my three hour visit, and I guess it was even more so during the 12th Century, when the Priory was established. 

Evidence of mesolithic settlement has been unearthed with flint tool finds, and I imagine these were used for hunting waterfowl from the Tame Marshes.
Remnant brickwork of 'The Uplands'

'The Uplands' farmstead

#Track, #causeway, #holloway, #footway, #pilgrim way - finger-posted for 21st century visitors

Peter the Hermit - A site fit for pilgrims - maybe the sign of the cross was never far away, today the site is well finger posted.

"Conflict and disorder-Sandwell Priory seems to have had a turbulent history and to have lacked real vigour as a community. There were serious tensions within the priory, between the monks and lay people, and between the priory and other ecclesiastical institutions." (Wiki) At one point in its history there was just one Prior and one Monk living there.

"Originally the poor or destitute of the parish would have been cared for by the Priory which was established by 1160 in Sandwell Valley."
Wildfood is hard to come by, especially during winter, so this apple crop will be welcomed and devoured by visiting Fieldfare later in the year as cold, bleak conditions break through.

The farmers are gone but evidence of recent farming exists in old gate posts, hedgerows, fields and brickwork

The holly hedgerow on the northern side of the track is matched with a hawthorn hedge on the southern

One can only imagine the travellers passing along this route over the past 500 years, for I believe this to be an ancient route, pre-dating the farms at 'The Uplands' and 'Hill Top'

 Wintery setting sun

Holly of good proportion on the banked hedgerow near the former Hill Top Farm


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