A splendid escarpment walk taking in a surprisingly successful South Staffordshire vineyard.
Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Ascent/gradient 270ft (82m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Roads, grass and dirt trails, gravel tracks, 3 stiles
Landscape Village, farmland and escarpment top
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 219 Wolverhampton & Dudley
Start/finish SJ 852942
Dog friendliness Keep on lead near livestock
Parking Ample street parking in Trysull
Public toilets None on route
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1 From All Saints' Church, head north along Trysull Holloway for 100yds (91m) and, after crossing a small brook, go left along Church Lane as far as Seisdon (this might be muddy after heavy rain, so suitable footwear is recommended). Turn left on to the road (there is no pavement here, so exercise caution) and then take the first right towards Lea Farm.
2 Follow this road all the way round to a T-junction with Fox Road, heading left then immediately right towards Woodcote. Stay on this track round to the right, following signs for the Staffordshire Way and, at the top of the lane, go through a swing gate to continue along a narrower dirt trail. At the corner of the hedge follow the path left around the edge of the field and then immediately right up to Wolmore Lane.
3 Head left along this metalled road and then right along Tinker's Castle Road. At the top of the hill, just before a cottage on the left, head left up a path between a wall and a fence. Continue along the edge of the escarpment for 1¼ miles (2km), until it joins the B4176. Just after the junction, head right along a track down to the vineyard. To continue from here, keep going along the B4176 for 50yds (46m), and turn off left over a stile (there's no pavement, but plenty of grass on the left-hand side of the road).
4 Go straight across the middle of the field to a stile and then follow the hedge just to your right in the same direction. At the far right-hand corner of this field keep going straight on, aiming for a tree in the hedge ahead. Go through a wide gap in the hedge and bear slightly left to cross this next field all the way to Crockington Lane. (If this field is impassable because of crops, it may be easier to simply bear right along the hedge to Fiershill Farm, but this means a longer walk along the road into Trysull.)
5 Cross a stile to reach Crockington Lane and then go right for 100yds (91m), before turning left through a kissing gate. Go straight on across this field to another gate and then down a track between houses to Seisdon Road. Turn right here, back to the start.
The Halfpenny Green Vineyard is situated on the southern facing slopes of Upper Whittimere, to make the most of the sun throughout the year. The area was first planted in 1983 with the idea of producing wine for personal consumption, but the fine quality of the results led to it becoming a thriving business. Today, an astonishing 50,000 bottles are produced here every year.
The vineyards are one of over 400 in the UK, most of them in the south of England or South Wales. Winemaking is undoubtedly enjoying something of a revival in this country, thanks largely to improved methods and a rigorous application of science in overcoming the problems of drought, disease and lack of sunshine. Since the Romans cultivated vines here almost 2,000 years ago numerous attempts have been made to make English vineyards a viable alternative to their continental counterparts, but almost without exception these efforts ended in failure.
It wasn't until after World War Two that research chemist Ray Barrington Brock set himself the mission of discovering which varieties of grape could cope best with the vagaries of the British weather. His work inspired others to follow suit, and in 1955 the first English wine to be made commercially since World War One went on sale.
Since then, there has been a steady increase in the number of vineyards and labels. In the last decade or so, however, this trend has levelled off, partly because many vineyards were established with little knowledge of the science involved. It was once said that the best way to earn a small fortune was to have a large fortune and buy an English vineyard. Today though, there are numerous thriving vineyards throughout the south, despite the fact that in England only two years in every ten are 'good' years, with four average and four poor, again largely due to problems associated with weather. The most successful vineyards are well-sited with respect to sunlight and soil, grow appropriate varieties for the conditions, and are managed as scientific and commercial enterprises.
Wines labelled as 'British' are often merely made in the UK from imported wine concentrate and are invariably of poor quality, a fact which goes a little way to explaining the reputation of so-called 'British' wines. To be labelled 'English', wines must be made from grapes grown in England, with the wine itself also made in England. Time was when turning one's nose up at English 'plonk' was justified, but if the wine at Halfpenny Green is anything to go by, domestic wine is now flowing stronger than ever.
The excellent Bell Restaurant in Trysull is a pub offering food at lunchtime and evening, every day. Bar snacks such as jacket potatoes, pies and baguettes are all served at very reasonable prices, and there's also a full restaurant menu. The interior is friendly and relaxed, while the picnic tables have a fine view of All Saints' Church.
Highgate Common Country Park, just to the south of Trysull, offers a wide expanse of open heathland and forest, with numerous trails criss-crossing the area and plenty of perfect picnic spots. There are public toilets at the south west car park.
As you walk along Wolmore Lane (Point 3), check out the huge holly bushes that have been trimmed and sculpted into the shapes of trees. English holly can grow up to 50ft (15m) or higher, but to ensure berry production, both male and female holly trees need to be planted. This is because the male and female flowers of holly are produced on different plants. In order for bees and other insects to successfully pollinate female flowers, male trees need to be planted within 100ft (30m) or so.