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Breathing Space in the Clent Hills

A brief circuit of the most visited hills in Worcestershire where, in springtime, fields of oilseed rape flood the landscape with colour.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 660ft (200m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Woodland paths (sometimes muddy), tracks, 8 stiles

Landscape Mixture of urban cityscape and rolling rural scenery

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 219 Wolverhampton & Dudley

Start/finish SO 938808

Dog friendliness Plenty of running on tops, under control near livestock

Parking National Trust pay-and-display car park, Nimmings Wood

Public toilets At start

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1 Return to the car park entrance and turn right for a few paces. Cross the road to a stile and take the left-hand of two options. Immediately you'll see a striking urban panorama. Descend steadily but, at a cylindrical wooden post, turn right (with a waymarker). Continue across fields, probably populated with horses, until a kissing gate. Here take the forward option (not the right fork), to reach the churchyard of St Kenelm's in Romsley parish. It may appear 'overgrown' since, like the churchyard of St Michael at Dulas, it is managed like a traditional hay meadow.

2 Leave by the lychgate. Turn left along the road for a short distance, then right when you reach the T-junction. In about 125yds (114m) take the waymarked path at the driveway to The Wesleys to ascend gently. Turn left on to a tarmac road. Ignore the left turn but, just 30yds (27m) beyond it, take a muddy, narrow path into woodland up on the right, angled away from the road and not signposted. Emerge from the trees to the trig point on Walton Hill. Turn left, taking the right-hand of the two options. Follow this for ¾ mile (1.2km) until just 10yds (9m) beyond a National Trust marker post. Here take the right-hand fork to a stile. Go steeply down two meadows to the road beside the Church of St Leonard's in Clent.

3 Turn right then right again. At Church View Cottage, opposite the church's driveway, turn left. In 125yds (114m) take the upper, left fork. In 90yds (82m), at a crossing, go left. After a further 100yds (91m) ignore options to turn right or half right. Proceed for a further 120yds (110m). Do not climb the stile on your left but go straight on, soon ascending steeply up wooden steps. After another 100yds (91m) you'll emerge from the trees. Now cross a track then turn right.

4 Keep on this broad, open path, passing close to (or viewing) a toposcope beside four standing stones. Maintain this line to descend in woodland to the road. Just on the left is the car park at the start of the walk.

If you are a visitor to Worcestershire then the Clent Hills provide an excellent starting point. More people visit the Clent Hills than Worcester Cathedral. Three car parks provide easy access and make the hills the county's number one non-paying attraction. Of course, proximity to the West Midlands conurbation has much to do with it, but there is something satisfying in standing on the top as dusk falls, watching the city lights begin to sparkle in the distance.

Come up to the ridge along the Clent Hills in late April or early May and you may see not only vertical grey blocks of suburban Birmingham, but horizontal yellow blocks of modern rural Worcestershire, created by the flowers of oilseed rape. In 1971 the amount of oilseed rape grown in Britain was a mere 12,500 acres (5,062ha), but it increased 20-fold in the following decade and by 2001 was a staggering 3.2 million acres (1.3 million ha). Daffodils aside, it is now the main source of early spring colour in the countryside - Worcestershire and Herefordshire are no exceptions.

In spite of all this nutritional worthiness, however, only about 40 per cent of the rapeseed oil goes into cooking-oil production, for it is used in a number of industrial applications too, such as lubricants.

Oilseed rape typically begins to flower in mid-April - earlier than traditional crops - for a 5-6 week period, so beekeepers have to mobilise their bees earlier, to exploit the available nectar. The nectar sets very quickly, so the beekeeper must extract it from the honeycomb just as the yellow hue is turning to green. Honey derived primarily from oilseed rape is almost white, has a soft texture, and a comparatively bland favour. So much oilseed rape is now grown that it has taken over from white clover as the country's largest source of honey, although some say that white clover produced the best honey (which is not white but pale straw in colour), especially when it grew in long-established, permanent pasture.

What to look for

At the St Kenelm's Church in Romsley parish there is supposedly a crypt containing a holy spring; indeed, a 'Well' is shown on the suggested map. Reputedly the water sprung up when, in the year ad 819, the boy King of Mercia was killed here. This 'legend' has, apparently, been shown to be rubbish, but something must have happened for the story to survive nearly 1,200 years.

Where to eat and drink

There is a small refreshment booth in the car park at the start. The only hostelry close to the route is the Vine, an M&B pub about 250yds (229m) beyond Church View Cottage, along a narrow lane. A little further afield, in Romsley, the Swallow's Nest has a large beer garden and the Sun (in fact, almost in Hunnington) is a Banks's pub that serves food.

While you're there

If you think you have done well to reach the dizzy heights of the Clent Hills, then go along to the Falconry Centre at Hagley, near Stourbridge, to put your achievement into perspective. Here you can see all manner of birds of prey soaring overhead. Lord Lyttleton's Hagley Hall (1760) is a striking house in formal gardens and parkland.

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