"Ancient Champion has tasked me with writing about three landmarks or landmasses I think people should visit before they die. With my latest book, The Chain Coral Chorus, out, which explores the UNESCO Black Country Geopark in different ways, it would be remiss of not me to give readers my top three regional sites.
Wren’s Nest Nature Reserve
Wren’s Nest Nature Reserve, or The Wrenna, as locals know it, is the best place in the Black Country. It’s a rich and lush haven of protected insect and plant life, where beautiful hawks soar in their menacing predations. It’s also a site of industrial relics. Know where and how to look at you stumble on old train lines and mine shafts, now overgrown by the wildflower colonies since its own unique rewilding took place. This is the flagship site of the UNESCO Global Black Country Geopark too, and rightly so; Silurian outcrops pierce the soils in monumental cliffs and fossil rich banks, echoing their stratigraphic layers out to the wider region. The famous Wren’s Nest ripple beds are fossilised remains of tropical ocean currents – that which is fleeting and liquid is now caught in these beautiful time traps. And all of this strange fusion of primal, ancient, industrial and natural is orbited by Wren’s Nest Housing estate. You step through the limen of the everyday, through the threshold of the domestic and mundane into this site where you’re definitely not merely in Dudley anymore. There is ancient, animist magic in these tracks.
Saltwells Nature Reserve
A close second, is Saltwells Nature Reserve. Site of the Doulton clay pit and, as with the Wrenna, a place that weaves in and out of wild, industrial and domestic. Here you get a close up to the bell pits of old mine shafts and sink down through the layers of coal, fireclay and sandstone. Walk from one edge to the other and you travel across geological periods, you shift between the manmade and the ancient and seek out rare species of marsh land orchids and dragonfly. This is the closest you’ll get to time travel and it sits right in the middle of the Lodge Hill Farm housing estate, Netherton and Merry Hill Shopping Centre – I see it a symbolic place, a primordial belt land between the hypermodern and the deep time. A quintessentially Black Country landscape.
My third favourite is Portway Hill. This is one of the most beautiful vistas in the Black Country. Sitting on top of Rowley Hills, between Dudley, Rowley and Tividale, a basalt and dolerite intrusion casts its eye out to Birmingham and Blackheath. A view captured by the incredible night-time landscapes of Robert Perry. Turn your back on the beautiful views for a moment and get your head down to the rocks behind you – you are witnessing amazing vertical columnar jointing and the onion skinning weathering of the basalt. Worlds within and wide are a special feature of this transcendental landscape.
Main image: The Wrenna by RM Francis
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RM Francis at Outsideleft⇒
7th June, 2023, Outsideleft Night Out with RM Francis tickets here