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Hartlebury Common and Stourport-on-Severn

Cut through a Georgian 'new town' before striding out across a common.

Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 328ft (100m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tow path, tracks, good paths, some streets

Landscape Urban, watery, and common with extensive views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 218 Wyre Forest & Kidderminster or 219 Wolverhampton & Dudley

Start/finish SO 820704

Dog friendliness Good on common and tow path, not much fun in town

Parking Worcester Road car park on A4025 (poorly signed; black-and-white height restriction bar spans narrow entrance)

Public toilets None on route


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Cross the A4025. Turn left for just 25yds (23m) to take a footpath. Strike across this bottom part of Hartlebury Common: you'll see some buildings in the far distance. Veer right, through spindly silver birches, to find a sandy track at the back of some houses with scruffy gardens. At a modern housing estate join the tarmac briefly, aiming for a dirt track beyond the second 'Britannia Gardens' sign and in front of Globe House. Shortly turn left down a tarmac footpath, initially with wooden paling on the left, to the river.

2 Turn right. In 650yds (594m) you'll reach a lock and Stourport's canal basins. You'll probably want to spend some time exploring here. However, the route is neither across the two-plank walkway at the upper lock gate, nor the upper brick bridge with timber and metal railings; instead take the neat brick-paved path to circumnavigate the boarded-up Tontine public house. Now skirt the Upper Basin, passing the Severn Valley Boat Centre. Across York Street join the tow path. Follow this for a little under ¾ mile (1.2km), leaving it at the Bird in Hand, before a defunct brick railway bridge.

3 Go down Holly Road, then half left into Mill Road, passing under the railway then over the River Stour to the B4193. Cross and go to the left of Myday Windows to take a narrow, sandy, uphill path back on to the common. Soon, at a fork, go left, keeping in this direction as the ground levels. Less than 50 paces after joining a motor vehicle track reach the unpainted trig point.

4 Now retrace those 50 paces and go a further 30yds (27m), passing a wooden waymarker, to a junction. Here turn left, away from the car park. In just 40yds (37m) take the right fork, then in 100yds (91m) take a left fork (not straight on). At the corner of a conifer plantation, 275yds further (251m), turn right. After 110yds (100m) turn left, then in 220yds (201m), just after the far end of the plantation, enjoy views to the west. Now 65yds (60m) beyond this viewpoint take the right option at a subtle fork. Go forward on this for another 250yds (229m), until an opening. Here step very carefully over a pair of exposed and disused (and not actually hazardous) pipes. Follow the sandy track slanting downhill for (110yds) 100m, then swing right, now making a beeline for the car park.

You will understand the rise and fall of Stourport-on-Severn if you look at a map of England. The infrastructural advantage realised by the opening of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal was to link the River Severn with the Rivers Trent and Mersey.

Canals were conceived when road transport was not only uncomfortable for passengers but also extremely slow for goods, and railways had yet to be invented. Roads were in a poor condition, invariably worsened by the winter months. River transport was, at least, an option along the Severn. (In comparison, Herefordshire's River Wye was usually too low in the summer months to give sufficient draught to even a small sailing barge.) A horse and cart could carry perhaps 300lb (136kg). Along a canal tow path, a horse could haul a barge carrying a vastly greater burden - up to 50 tons (50,679kg), a more than 300-fold weight advantage. Although the horse moved slowly, it is easy to see how those with money to invest fashionably threw it at all manner of canal projects). For Joe Public the main outcome was cheaper coal.

In 1771, when the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal opened, Stourport grew up, becoming perhaps what we would call a 'new town'. Apart from the barge and boat building, foundries and carpet factories, for example, were opened too. After just four decades, trade was hit by the new Worcester and Birmingham Canal, which had itself been 24 years in the making. Railway proliferation sent Stourport into further decline.

When the canals were nationalised in 1948, the days of commercial canal activity were already numbered. In the case of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, the last two companies to use the canal regularly stopped in the early 1960s; they were Worcester's Royal Porcelain (for coal) and Cadbury's of Bournville (for chocolate crumb). The commercial activity seen on the canal nowadays is of a totally different sort - canal-boat cruising is an enormously popular holiday choice.

In a sense we have the railways to thank for canal-boat holidays. Trains were to prove the undoing of the canals (as lorries were to prove the undoing of the railways), but the initial response by the canal operators was to cut prices, and this meant cutting costs. Labour was not in short supply, so wages for boatmen were cut; their response, since so much of their time was spent on the water anyway, was to shed the burden of rent-paying by bringing their families on board their barges - the family narrow boat was born.

Where to eat and drink

The Angel serves hot food and has outdoor seating overlooking the Severn. At the start of the canal stretch is the Lock Shop and Tea Rooms. At the next bridge the Black Star offers home-cooked food and welcomes children. The Bird in Hand serves traditional ale.

While you're there

Just east of the common, off the B4193, is the vibrant Worcestershire County Museum, Hartlebury Castle. Despite the sober setting of a castle (its state rooms are open Tuesday to Thursday), the emphasis is very much on hands-on, interactive visiting, aimed particularly at families (and schools). A little further afield, up the A450, is Harvington Hall, a 16th-century moated manor house that has had a turbulent history. Here the 'must see' item is its dazzling collection of priest-holes - in the 17th century any Catholic priest was guilty of treason just by being in England.

What to look for

At the junction of canal and river, the Tontine (looking very sad in 2002) occupied a prime site when it opened for business in 1788; at that time just the middle of five terraced houses was the public house, the other four providing accommodation for hop merchants. Nip up to Mitton Street from the canal beside the Black Star to view the petite but well-kept Villeneuve le Roi Garden, honouring Stourport's twin town.


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