People have flocked to a Midland hill for centuries, writes Jasbir Authi.
Barr Beacon means “a hill used for fire signals” in Celtic or Old English.
Today, it is known as the place where the Black Country turns green.
The beautiful nature reserve, which is easily accessible from Birmingham, Walsall and Sutton Coldfield, is more than an attraction for families looking for a Sunday afternoon stretch.
Many flock to the heath, which once stretched from Sutton Park to Cannock Chase, to enjoy the 360-degree panoramic views, fly kites, picnic, birdwatch, exercise, play, walk the dog and take advantage of the amazing star-gazing opportunities.
Just under a dozen counties – the West Midlands, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Leicestershire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and even Powys in Wales – can be seen on a clear day from the summit.
Barr Beacon is mentioned in the Domesday Book but as Morgan Bowers, senior countryside ranger, and her colleague Jeff McBride, countryside project development officer, explained, time doesn’t stand still here and a plethora of plans, parties and proposals are in the pipeline to increase its appeal. After nearly two years of work, The Barr Beacon Trust, which is managed by Walsall Council, is about to submit an application for £300,000 to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
If granted, the money, which will be raised to £500,000 through its own funding, will enable the group to restore Barr Beacon’s war memorial so it can be used for Remembrance Day services, replace the copper roof, retrieve the flagpole, and add a panoramic disk to aid visitors.
A section of perimeter railings would be removed to allow the public access to a magnificent beech and scots pine plantation. Kestrel and bat boxes would also be installed.
Some cash would be used to employ a community officer to forge stronger links with schools, colleges and groups, such as the Collingwood Centre on the Pheasey estate.
Free music concerts are held on Barr Beacon and a special concert is planned for next summer to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Mr McBride said one big hope was to develop an on-site lodge into a visitor centre with cafe.
He said: “People want a view, brew and a loo. The lodge could be used for meetings, there would be a classroom for schools, a garden, opportunities for volunteers, a cafe and a visitor point.”
The site is heavily used by Walsall Astronomical Society, whose members help with Barr Beacon’s hugely popular MeteorWatch events.
Around 80 people are booked in for events on November 8 and 18 and December 13 and 14.
Last month, Mrs Bowers went to London to have Barr Beacon nominated as a Dark Sky Discovery site, a national initiative which highlights sites around the country which could be used to promote astronomy and science.
She said: “It’s about getting members of the public up and gazing at the sky. We saw a huge meteor fly over at our meeting last month. We all sat on the steps of the memorial and saw it. It was great.”
Throughout time, fires have been lit on the beacon to send messages, warn of danger and to commemorate events such as the attack of the Spanish Armada and Queen Victoria’s golden and diamond jubilees.
A fire was lit on the beacon in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of VE Day, and the last fire was part of the People’s Millions project in 2009.
Mr McBride said, if all went well with health and safety, they would like to light one for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee next year.
“It’s been used as a beacon for centuries so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be used now,” he said.
* Barr Beacon Local Nature Reserve has entrances off Beacon Road and Bridle Lane.
* For information www.walsall.gov.uk/barr_beacon_local_nature_reserve.htm or www.facebook.com/walsallwildlife
* To keep up with meteorwatch, follow #walsalllooksup on Twitter