I’m standing just beyond the outermost margins of the West Midlands conurbation, looking east towards the city of Birmingham and its southern and western outliers. The elevated landmarks – clock towers, high-rise office blocks, The Rotunda, the Telecom tower where peregrines now roost – are clearly defined. Down at ground level the lines and features are less distinct; the harsh edges blurred by a blue/grey haze. Scanning with binoculars, a passenger aircraft, headed for Birmingham International, crosses my line of sight, passing low over the southern suburbs of the city on its final approach.
Up here, separated only by relatively modest elevation and distance, there is a feeling of isolation, of standing at the rim of a different land. In the foreground gregarious groups of small birds – chaffinch, goldfinch, chiffchaff, hedge sparrow – break cover and disappear again in bewildering cascades of movement and chatter. Robin and wren, by contrast, elect to work the hedgerows alone. Two kestrels, both female, both large, hover within striking distance, primed for a moment of carelessness; neither of the two raptors seemingly disconcerted by the presence of the other.
I move a few yards, perhaps the length of a bus, look back and the city is gone; hidden by one of the many folds in the landscape. Half as far again and the whole of the conurbation – right up to its extremity no more than a mile away – has disappeared below the near horizon. The view now is to the hills of North Worcestershire and Shropshire – The Malverns, The Clee Hills, Abberley and Woodbury. On a clearer day the Brecon Beacons and other more distant hills would be visible.
I begin my return journey, which will take me across the neighbouring hill where I shall call in at the visitor centre, eat more than is advisable and cite the long walk home as spurious justification. My exact route of return is, as always, unplanned; at some point the tree line will dissolve into grazing pasture which, in turn, will lead to the uneasy, disputed suburban/rural frontier; a battleground of encroachment, vested interests and planning applications.