HARTLEBURY Common Local Nature Reserve is a rare example of heathland, one of our most threatened habitats.

The heath was created about 2,500 years ago when Iron Age farmers cleared the original woodland.

Without any form of management it would long since have reverted to woodland. Centuries of agricultural use, together with sand and gravel extraction and grazing by the horses of gipsies and other travellers have all helped to maintain the heath.

Nowadays, however, managing it involves a lot of hard work with chainsaws and brushcutters, as well as more traditional hand tools.

It’s not just trees which need to be kept at bay, but also bracken, which would smother more delicate plants in no time, given the chance.

Next to the common is another nature reserve, Hillditch Coppice, where lovely woodland surrounds a pool and a stream.

A delightful path runs through the coppice. Leapgate Country Park is equally delightful. It’s an unusual linear country park which was once a railway, so one moment you’re walking through a deep sandstone cutting full of silver birches, the next you’re high above the Stour valley as you cross a viaduct.

The walk includes Hartlebury village, where you might want to take the opportunity to visit Worcestershire County Museum (open Tuesday-Sunday) which is housed in Hartlebury Castle, the home of the bishops of Worcester since the Middle Ages, though the present building dates mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Behind the museum there’s another lovely nature reserve, Old Moat Coppice, occupying what was once the moat of the mediaeval castle. Though the moat has silted up, there is still a marshy area within what is mainly a woodland nature reserve. A stream and pond add further interest, while a grassy clearing contains picnic tables.

FACTFILE: Start: Wilden Top, Hartlebury Common, grid ref SO826714.

Length: Five miles/8km (including access to Old Moat Coppice).

Maps: OS Explorer 218 or 219, OS Landranger 138.

Terrain: Heathland, woodland, farmland; mostly flat with two slight slopes.

Footpaths: Mostly excellent, though one is overgrown by nettles.

Stiles: One (avoidable).

Parking: Wilden Top car park.

Public transport: Worcester-Kidderminster service 295, Monday-Saturday, operates along Wilden Lane – you can get off close to Wilden Top or at the Rock Tavern, right next to Leapgate; on Sundays/bank holidays take the 300, which stops in Hartlebury village; the 303 (Monday-Saturday) also goes close to the route – alight on the edge of Hartlebury and follow Inn Lane to the village; there is a rail station at Hartlebury but only very few trains stop there; www.worcestershire.gov.uk/ bustimetables or 01905 765765.

Refreshments: White Hart at Hartlebury, café at Hartlebury Museum, Rock Tavern on Wilden Lane, Bay Horse at Wilden Top.


1 Hartlebury Common is crisscrossed by dozens of paths and you can take any route you choose.

The aim is to head south across the highest part of the common until you’ve passed a prominent conifer plantation, and then descend eastwards to Lower Poollands. One suggestion is to begin by taking the waymarked Heather Trail, but leave it and turn left soon after you have passed the conifer plantation.

You can take any path going to the left and you’ll soon start to descend.

The most straightforward option is probably to join a public footpath when you see the familiar yellow arrows. It descends close to the edge of the common to meet a track by Lower Poollands car park. Cross the track and go straight on through woodland to Hillditch Pool.

2 Turn right, then left at a lane, and soon left again on an unsigned path through Hillditch Coppice. Go straight on at a junction then turn left when you meet Hillditch Lane. Just before you reach the B4193 at Hartlebury take a path on the right. Climb a wooded bank to a field then walk across to a hedge corner. Turn left along the line of a former hedge, long since grubbed out. This welltrodden path goes directly towards Chadwick Lane but the right of way forks right as you approach the lane. Turn left along the lane and then left beside the B4193.

3 When the roadside footway comes to an end, cross back to Hillditch Lane again. Take an overgrown footpath on the right which wends through woodland.

Turn right at a junction, back to the B4193. Cross to Charlton Lane and take a footpath on the left. It begins as a green lane, continues across fields and finally runs through trees to cross a disused railway bridge, then descends left to Leapgate Country Park, where you turn right.

4 As you approach the far end of the country park the main path splits, divided by a wooden fence.

Take the path to the left of the fence and turn left, with a group of silver birches on your right and a small brick building below you on the left. Go through a hedge gap and turn left along a path leading to a housing development. Go straight on along Millfields Drive then turn left at a miniroundabout, joining Mill Road. The road bends to the right after The Osiers, and right again after crossing the river Stour, then follows the river to the B4193.

5 Turn left across Wilden Lane then immediately cross the main road to a path opposite (marked ‘Horse Route’) onto Hartlebury Common. Leave the horse route at the next junction and keep straight on, then fork left at another junction, waymarked with a yellow arrow. Climb uphill on a path worn into the sandstone and ignore branching paths.

Continue in the same direction at the top of the slope, joining the Heather Trail, which soon turns left to Wilden Top.