Emma Pinch visits historic Coleshill in Warwickshire and gets a bird's eye view of life in the town.

The best way to get an overview of Coleshill is from the air - and the 170ft church tower which rears majestically above the town's well-stocked high street fits the bill perfectly.

From the airy vantage point at the foot of the 13th century Church of St Peter and St Paul, you can look out to the BT tower in Birmingham to the west, 11 miles away, and even the Clent hills in the distance.

A swathe of green belt - correct at time of going to press - protects Coleshill from the encroachment of the Birmingham conurbation.

It narrows to roughly 150 yards to the north near Water Orton and to around 700 yards at the southern tip of the settlement boundary where Coleshill meets Chelmsley Wood, whose unedifying tower blocks are about three miles distant - but the belt is in excess of a mile at some points in between.

In the 1970s, incidentally, Coleshill - the northern most point of Warwickshire - narrowly avoided being absorbed into Birmingham.

To the right of Birmingham is the Hams Hall industrial parks, plus some moderately dense housing estates. On the third side is the rubbish "alp" - a growing green peak rising incongruously out of the flat Midlands countryside.

Redeeming the other views is the fourth, of uninterrupted rural Warwickshire - all pale gold stubbly fields, hedgerows and coppices.

You can also glimpse a ribbon of water, the River Blythe, one of the two rivers that the town perches between, and planes nosed steeply upwards from Birmingham International.

Church wardens throw open the doors of the belltower to the public several times a year, and Juliet Baker had made it up the 120 or so steep stone steps to take a look across her town.

Originally from Southend in Essex, she has lived in Coleshill for 25 years, which the 2001 census reports as being home to 6,300 people.

"I love it," she says. "It's a wonderful place to bring up children. What I like is that it is a town and not a village. You are not anonymous, and some people have lived here for generations, and you get to know people.

"But it is not too small and there is a great mix of people, young and old and people work here. There's a sports complex and a cricket club but it's all quite contained.

"You can always hear the traffic - the M42 is only about two miles away - but you don't hear the planes."

As an old coaching town, Coleshill used to have more than 20 inns. During the heyday of the coaching trade and the turnpike trusts, Coleshill became important as a major staging post on the coaching roads from London to Holyhead and from London to Chester and Liverpool.

It was doubtless a place where, in time-honoured fashion, while the horses were watered, tired travellers would have a flagon or two of liquid refreshment too.

Coleshill began life in the Iron Age before the Roman conquest of 43AD, as a settlement on the south face of Grimstock Hill. Evidence of hut circles were found by archaeologists at the end of the 1970s.

These excavations showed that throughout the Roman period there was a Romano-Celtic temple on Grimstock Hill. It had developed over the earlier Iron Age huts and had gone through at least three phases of development.

On the Old Market Square, off which the church lies, is the Coleshill pillory, constructed in 1708 in the shape of a oak cross with stocks and a mid-height whipping transom with shackles for whipping drunks and bakers selling underweight loaves.

It was restored by a local family, the Gascoignes, and was last used in 1863 to punish "two felons, for drunkeness".

Is Coleshill still afflicted by such behaviour? "There is a little bit of graffiti and people do come out on Friday and Saturday from Chelmsley Wood and around about, because there are so many pubs, and some CCTV cameras have been put up," answers Juliet. "But anti-social behaviour is not really a problem here."

Perhaps that is because the town appears so lovingly looked after.

The high street - and it does rise quite steeply to the older part - has terraced 19th and 18th century dwellings flanking either side, many with attractive wavy rooflines - and the route is lined with colourful flowering baskets.

That's not to say Coleshill is a time capsule. Many of the quaint cottages are homes to technology consultancies, law and accountancy firms.

And as well as the post office, ironmongers, bike shop, pharmacies and old pubs, there is a modern bistro - the B46, which opens out on to the high street showing off de-rigour dark brown squishy sofas - plus a phalanx of stylish hair and beauty studios, a Tesco Metro and a Somerfield.

Carolyn Roger lives in one of ten pretty cottages built originally for gentlewomen who had fallen on hard times in 1930s, on Sumner Street, just off the high street.

Philanthropist John Sumner, heir to the Typhoo Tea empire, had them constructed and they still make up some of the town's most attractive buildings. Each has an insignia relating to one of the region's counties - an elephant and a bear, for example.

Caroline, a retired headmistress, moved to Coleshill ten years ago from Wolverhampton. She had more mixed feelings about her adopted home town.

"Unless you've got your own transport, it can be a bit difficult to get further afield, getting back from Solihull, our nearest big town, in the evening for example," she says. It reminds me of the Isle of Wight in some ways, it has a slightly Victorian flavour to it."

In the last few weeks Coleshill's transport problems have been solved, which seems set to make it become more popular.

The town is already close to the M6 and M42 motorways, but until recently, the town's nearest railway station was at Water Orton some two miles (four kilometres) away.

But a new station opened as Coleshill Parkway adjacent to the old Forge Mills site has now been completed and is served by two trains an hour in each direction on the route from Birmingham to Nuneaton, Leicester, Cambridge and Stansted Airport.