Birmingham Nature Lovers: Sandwell Valley Country Park

It’s not every day that you can innocently take your dog out for a walk and end up playing on a giant wooden glockenspiel in the woods! 

Well, that is unless you regularly frequent Sandwell Valley Country Park and have a walk in Priory Woods, which can be easily accessed from the car park next to Sandwell Park Farm.  Priory Woods is one of a number of Nature Reserves on the site.  The woods make for a delightful walk, as you’ll find other musical instruments made of natural materials, as well as numerous statues throughout.

If statues, music and woods aren’t your thing, never fear!  There’s plenty to do at this fabulous, award winning Green Flag park.  With around 660 acres of variable landscape, ranging from woods, farmland to pools and streams, there plenty for you to do in this child and dog friendly park. 

When we visited, it was the last week of the summer holidays and there was still a fun fair with stalls, rides and games.  If you’re looking for something a little more low key, then Sandwell Park Farm is a treat; a fully restored working Victorian farm with where there is a small museum and a traditional farmyard full of cute animals, as well as a fabulous tea rooms.  I’ve actually done a couple of parties there with my face painting business, so I know they do have venue hire upstairs (with disabled access).

If adventure is more your thing, then you may well be interested in the fabulous high and low ropes, and a climbing wall that is operated by Closer to the Edge, or in the Adventure Playground next to it.

Sandwell  Valley Country Park really does have something for everyone, and promises a varied and interesting day out for all.

Opening and closing times for the park vary throughout the year, so check the website before your visit.

Address: Salter's Ln, West Bromwich, West Midlands B71 4BG Contact number: 0121 553 0220. Take a look at the website

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves


Birmingham Nature Lovers: Woodgate Valley Country Park

As a first impression, when you pull into the car park, and see the visitors centre, Woodgate Valley is pleasant enough, yet lacking in any particular wow factor.  However, as you start to move away from the main children's play area, the scene begins to open up and becomes quite spectacular.

Behind the visitors centre, there is a large open area, and in the distance, a playing field.  From here, we were able to loop back round using a small trail between the trees.  Returning to the main path, we turned away from the car park, and towards the open ground in the distance.  Meadows bordered us on either side.  To the right, buttercups cheerily sprinkled the grass with bright yellow.  To the left, we could see horses grazing in the distance. As we approached, a couple of the more curious ones came over to the fence, which is (for me) always a delight!

We continued on down the pathway towards some distant trees, and there we found the Bourn Brook which runs through the 450 acre park.  For us, this is where our journey ended, as it was a hot day, and my dog, Finn, had found some fox poo to roll in (thanks Finn!). The park consists of an expanse of mixed terrain, including meadows, woodland, ponds and the brook.  The park has a rural feel to it due to its origins as a collection of farms and smallholdings.

Most definitely worth a visit!

Address: Clapgate Lane, Birmingham B32 3DS

Facilities: Cafe, toilets, education via the Ranger service, events, walks, wheelchair accessible.

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham Nature Lovers: Lickey Hills Country Park

Before this recent visit, I had only one memory of Lickey Hills; as a child, one winter, I remember going there with my parents, and rolling in the snow with my dog, Megan.  The memory is faded now, so I really didn't know what to expect - other than hills, obviously!  We went to the visitors centre entranced, which has a free car park that is surrounded by towering trees.  There is also a wheelchair accessible car park right behind the visitors centre, and pathways/ramps to make this area of the park welcoming for all.

There is a café, exhibition and toilets, nearby, a large children's play area.  Outside, there are plenty of picnic benches, so you have somewhere to sit if you're there with your dog.

Within the 524 acre park, there are plenty of walking trails that head off into the forest, or up onto higher ground.  It is hilly, and much of the park isn't accessible to wheelchairs though there is a purpose built wheelchair pathway and viewing platform.  Also, Landrover tours are available to ensure that anyone can enjoy the less accessible areas of the park.

On some trees, you'll find way marked signs, and information about those walks is located within the visitor’s centre, along with details of any Ranger led activities that are happening.  As we were walking, I remembered that there is also Beacon Hill within the park (which has its own car park), and this was featured on a Tolkien Tour I attended a few years back with Midlands Discovery Tours.

In addition to plenty of walking and green spaces, there is also an 18 hole municipal golf course, which was apparently the first facility of its type in the country.  There is also a bowling green, tennis court and a putting green, so, there really is something for everyone!
When you reach higher ground, there are some truly spectacular views out over the surrounding countryside, and if you're lucky, you may spot a dear grazing, as well as seeing other wildlife such as rabbits and squirrels.  It is a beautiful area, approximately 11 miles south west of Birmingham city centre, and most definitely worth investigating.

Address: Lickey Hills Country Park, Warren Lane, Rednal, Birmingham. B45 8ER

Facilities: cafe, toilets, Landrover tours, ranger service/led events

Opening Times: Summer season 10am-6.00pm | Winter season 10am-4.20pm

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham Natures Lovers: Kings Heath Park & Highbury Park

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Kings Heath Park & Highbury Park

As these parks are so close to one another, that you could feasible walk from one to the other, I thought I'd write them up as one.

We started off at Kings Heath Park, which is a very picturesque and well-kept park, with a more formal feel.  As there is a Horticultural college there, this is to be expected.  There is also a lovely pond with water features, which is very relaxing.  The walks are gentle, the pathways good, and it's great for disabled access.  It didn't take us very long to walk around the pathways, so is ideal if you don't have a lot of time, or energy!

There is a toilet block outside in the park, but they were pretty unpleasant, so I'd recommend using those inside the college (the ladies are up a flight of stairs). 

Within the college premises, you will find the delightful Victorian Tearooms which does amazing coffee, and has a fabulous looking menu (I'll be going back for lunch in the Autumn, that's for sure) as well as a wide range of cakes and treats. 

Afterwards, we headed over to Highbury Park, which is right next door (you can cross over the road and into Highbury Park from the corner of Avenue Road).  I loved Highbury Park for its wilder feel.  It was once part of Sir Joseph Chamberlain’s estate, as he lived in the adjacent Highbury Hall (which is now a banqueting centre). 

In the early 20th Century, the park was landscaped with extensive tree planting, and the Dutch and Italian gardens were also created.  As well as these smaller areas of formal gardens, there are plenty of wide open spaces, with lots of running space for children and dogs, and many a shady tree under which to sit and read, or picnic. 

Address for Kings Heath Park: Vicarage Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7TQ Kings Heath Park Facilities: Free parking, children's play area, The Victorian Tearooms, toilets, ranger service/events

Address for Highbury Park: Highbury Park, off Shutlock Lane, Kings Heath Highbury Park Facilities: Free parking and children's play area.

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

 What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham Nature Lovers: Plantsbrook Nature Reserve

Debra Jane is back with her Birmingham Nature Lovers series and this time has fallen in love with Plantsbrook Nature Reserve.

As I leaned on the viewing platform overlooking the lake, I watched bright blue dragonflies skimming daintily across the glistening water.  Swarms of tadpoles transformed from black to silver as, one by one, they left the shadow of an overhanging tree, and were illuminated by the sun kissed lake.  Gradually, they vanished beneath into the darkness beneath the flowering lily pads. 

Further on, a family of swans moved swiftly across the open expanse of water, steering themselves gracefully in our direction, perhaps hoping for a morsel of bread.  Instead, they were greeted by my camera, and my dog's eager, wagging tail.  At the latter, Daddy Swan started to hiss, so, we made good our departure and continued onwards.

Plantsbrook Local Nature Reserve is a haven.  Nestled between houses and an industrial estate, you would probably never know that it's there.  Indeed, I first heard about it from a fellow dog person, whilst walking Finn at Pype Hayes Park, which is just across the road.   There is a driveway that leads down towards the lakes, and a fair number of parking spaces, along with a small visitors centre which is a dark green portable cabin.  It was declared a nature reserve in 1991, and covers 26.49 acres of land.

To walk around the largest lake took us around 30 minutes (my Dad accompanied me on this one, as I'm recovering from a shoulder injury so can't drive at the moment thus, he is being my chauffeur- thanks Dad!).  The trails were a little muddy, yet that did not in any way (for me) detract from the experience.  Far from it!  It is such a beautiful place, that you could easily forget that you are just a few miles away from Birmingham city centre and the more built up inner city.  In fact, as much as I love Kingsbury Water Park, this has a more magical and intimate quality about it - less built up, less people, less commercial.

At certain points, you are walking along tree lined pathways that meander between lakes, and all you can hear are the cries of birds as they go about their daily business.  A heron took to flight too quickly for me to get to my camera (I could swear they have a sixth sense for these things).  A large white gull perched effortlessly on an old tree stump that protruded from the lake like ancient, withered arms, and wild flowers grew amongst the trees, providing a welcome splash of colour, in contrast to the many shades of green.  

A meadow, scattered with cheerful buttercups, lies between the car parks and one of the smaller lakes, provided an idyllic open area that left me wanting to take a picnic blanket and a bottle of something fizzy, and recline with a good book.  Who knows, maybe on another day, I shall.

Location: Plantsbrook Local Nature Reserve, Eachelhurst Road, Sutton Coldfield.

Parking: Along the side of the driveway, leading to the lakes

Facilities: Visitors centre, but no toilets or café.

By Bus: Route 839 stops along Eachelhurst Road.

Wheelchair Access: there are disabled spaces in the car park, but the site wouldn't be particularly easy for wheelchairs as the paths can be quite muddy and narrow in places.

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website. What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham Nature Lovers: Kingfisher Country Park

After a few weeks of intense work, rainy days off and a holiday, I finally got to visit another place on my list - Kingfisher Country Park.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, and with the trees now in full bloom, it was a stunning place to visit.

Typical of me, I didn't spend any time planning my visit as it was last minute and time restrained.  As a result, I ended up driving around, trying to find somewhere to park.  There are car parks, however, I parked on a side street  just across the road from one of the many entrances in Shard End.

Kingfisher Country Park contains within it Meriden Country Park, which I visited a few weeks back.  It is associated with an 11km stretch of the River Cole running from the Coventry Road (A45) at Small Heath as far as the M6 at Chelmsley Wood.

The area in Shard End was, for me, really pleasurable, as it was more remote and wild. Where I entered the park, there was a  simple pathway, curving off into the distance, with wide open grass areas and trees on either side.  To my right, the River Cole meandered its way through the park.  Birdsong and the flowing river provided the dominant soundtrack.  There is a play area (which was deserted, yet well maintained) and an enclosed court where some older lads were playing basketball. There were a few cyclists who passed us, as the National Cycle network runs through the park too.

Due to the overall size of Kingfisher Country Park, I focused on the local area, as it could be fairly easy to find yourself miles away from where you started!  After walking for approximately 10 minutes, I noticed an opening in the trees towards the river, and headed in that direction.  From there, we ended up doing a fabulous circular walk of around 25 minutes,Beside the river, it really was beautiful and peaceful.  The grass was wild and long, and it truly is a uncultivated area of the city, where nature is allowed to simply do what it does best.

There are plenty of open spaces in the park, and I could certainly imagine enjoying a picnic there in the summer, or having a lazy long walk along the river to explore even more of the park.  As a nature lover, I'd say it really is well worth a visit!

For more information: website Parking :  there are car parks on Glebe Farm Road, Shard End Community Centre, Pithall Road, Gressel Lane, and in Meriden Park.

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.
What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham for Nature Lovers - Fox Hollies Park

When I first arrived on a drizzly and grey Monday morning, I was curious to see the park for myself, as, on the map, it looks pretty huge (indeed, it covers some 40 acres of parkland, which, back in 1929 when it was acquired by Birmingham City Parks Department, was valued at £250) and it sounds lovely on the website. 

From the car park by the leisure centre on Gospel Lane, I admit that it doesn't look particularly impressive.  There is a children's play area just off to the side of the car park, and some open land which goes off into the distance, with a neat grey path leading between equally neatly lined trees.  The path disappears on the horizon, and appears to end abruptly at a clump of trees. 

However, like the magical lamppost that shines it's way to the doorway between our world and Narnia, the clump of trees hides hidden gems!

Behind the trees I mentioned, Round Pool can be found, and apparently, it is home to a wide variety of fish (there was a chap fishing there on my visit).  There are small areas of woodland throughout the park, and plenty of large open spaces, ideal for playing, picnicking, running the dog or simply relaxing with a book in the summer! 

Westley Brook meanders its way through the park too.  I found Fox Hollies Park to be very quiet, meeting only man with his Doberman and Greyhound, and a couple with two soppy waggly tailed Chocolate Labradors.   I was warned to watch out for vicious Staffordshire Bull Terriors in the park, who have allegedly attacked and killed smaller dogs, like my dog Finn - thankfully only when it's sunny?! 

I will admit that it did cast a bit of a dampener on my visit, as I felt I had to be on extra high alert, however, we didn't meet any unfriendly dogs at all, and in fact, Finn had a great time playing with a very friendly Doberman! My verdict - a pleasant park with plenty of open space and a descent path which makes for a good circular route. 

Definitely quiet during the day time when the sun isn't out, and like anywhere in the city, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on your dog at all times, just in case there are less well behaved canines out there!

Address: Fox Hollies Park, Gospel Lane, Acocks Green, Birmingham, B27 7EG
Getting there - car parking is at the address above Bus - The number 31 stops on Pollard Road, approximately 3 minutes’ walk away
There is now a Rangers Service, and so many more improvements are planned for the park.
Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.
What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham for Nature Lovers - Meriden Park (in Kingfisher Country Park)

On Monday, I arrived at number 3 on my alphabetical Birmingham for Nature Lovers list, to find it was a disappointing green splat in the middle of a housing estate and truth be told, I just couldn't bring myself to get out of the car and explore!  I drove around it from the outside (it took me less than a minute) and there's really not much to tell. 

So, not wanting to waste a sunny day, and with an eager Finn dog anticipating his walk, I whizzed off towards Chelmsley Wood, where I thought (logically, as it's a 'C') I would find my next park.  However, when I arrived at the location I had in my mind's eye, I discovered that it was Meriden Park, and so my fancy alphabeticalised notions were crushed!

All the same, I was glad that I made the visit.  Whilst not perfect by any means, Meriden Park provided a pleasant late Monday morning venue for a walk.  There was a small area of woodland to wander through, and as the park runs alongside the River Cole, there were nice green areas to walk along, plenty of trees, ducks and benches to enable you to sit and enjoy the view. 

Meriden Park belongs to a collection of parks which come under the banner of Kingfisher Country Park, Formerly project Kingfisher.  It covers an 11km stretch of the River Cole, which runs from the M6 in Chelmsley Wood through to Coventry Road (A45) at Small Heath.

Due to the rather confusing (or is that just me?) borders between Birmingham and Solihull, Meriden Park actually comes under Solihull BC and there's plenty of details on their website about the park.

As a walk, I found it peaceful and fairly pleasing on the eye.  Whilst you are aware that it's near a busy road, and there are houses and flats that you can see from some parts, it was still a pleasant enough place.  It's nice and flat and is wheelchair accessible (details here), dog and children friendly.  It was fairly quiet when we were there, with just a few other dog walkers strolling beside the river, so the main soundtrack was one of birds, and distant traffic.

There is free car parking off Moorend Avenue, and the 14, 59A and 72 bus all stop near the park.  On the website, it says that Marston Green Train Station is a short walk away, but I think it's actually about 30 minutes walk - so 'short' really depends on your perspective!

Address: Meriden Park, Moorend Avenue, Chelmsley Wood, B37 5SH

Words and photos by Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.

What parks do you visit? Please add your recommendations below of tweets us on @BrumFaves

Birmingham for Nature Lovers: Brookvale Park

When I arrived at Brookvale Park, the second inner city area of 'nature' for these articles, I realised that I'd driven past it a few times over the years.

Apparently, it is a former drinking reservoir, created to provide clean water to Birmingham residents - at the time, it was located in the countryside, so was ideal.  It has also been used as an open air swimming pool in the early part of the 19th century, so has had varied uses.

It has a very sizeable car park and there is one disabled space, before you actually get to the car park.  As parking is up a slope, this makes sense, so it's well thought out and very suitable for wheelchair users to enjoy. Whilst now surrounded by houses on both sides, the reservoir is huge, tree lined, and enjoys plenty of grass all the way around. 

There are also numerous benches, so plenty of space to sit and enjoy the wildlife.  Despite a main road running alongside Brookvale Park, I found it to be very peaceful, with the sounds of birds dominating my time there.

A few squirrels raced around playing chase (and tormenting my dog, as squirrels always seem inclined to do!).  There is a flat, wide pavement that runs the full circuit of the lake, and a bridge that passes over the water at the far end, where you cross over the brook that feeds the lake.

There are tennis courts, and a children's play area there, so something for everyone!

As for access, aside from parking, it can be accessed by the number 11 bus passes the far end of the park on Marsh Lane (A4040). Alternatively, the number 65 travels along Slade Road, both less than 10 minutes’ walk from the park.  The car park is accessed via Park Road, Erdington B23.  

Overall, it was a lovely park, very peaceful, and makes for a lovely and leisurely dog walk.  I will go again!

By Debra Jane who can be contacted on @debracreates  or read more on her website.