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Mines and Monasteries in Sandwell Valley Park

An easy walk around an RSPB nature reserve and a fine country park reveals a legacy of agriculture and industry.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 66ft (20m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Lakeside paths and tracks, no stiles

Landscape Country park with many lakes

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 220 Birmingham

Start/finish SP 035927

Dog friendliness Off lead in park

Parking RSPB visitor centre

Public toilets None on route

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1 Leave the RSPB car park by going left of the visitor centre building on to a footpath. This leads down to a strip of land between the River Tame and Forge Mill Lake. Continue along the footpath which arcs gently right and look out for the many birds on the lake, as well as Canada geese and ducks on the river. As you work your way around the lake you will come to a gateway where you go left over a bridge across the River Tame and continue on a tarmac path/cycleway that leads down to Forge Lane.

2 Cross the busy lane with great care and walk to the right of the Sandwell Sailing Club premises, then bear left until you come to Swan Pool.

3 Head left and stroll around the side of the pool for 150yds (137m), then bear left again on to a footpath that leads across meadowland away from the water's edge. Soon you will enter a hedged footpath heading generally south west. At a junction of paths go left and proceed through the trees, then go right to follow the path to the north of Cypress and Ice House pools. You will emerge on to a tarmac lane by the side of the noisy M5. (If you had continued ahead at the junction of paths instead of going left you would have arrived at the same position.) Go left and stroll along this wide lane. At a junction, bear right and take the footbridge over the M5.

4 Follow the tarmac path up to Sandwell Park Farm where there are toilet facilities and you can get light refreshments.

5 Go right, opposite to the farm buildings and walk along the signed public footpath heading north-eastwards into the trees. (To the left you will see a golf practice area.) When you reach the end of the hedged area bear left and proceed along a tarmac path until you reach a junction.

6 Go right here along Salters Lane and return over the M5 via a second footbridge. Take the tarmac path that goes to the left of Swan Pool and continue past the sailing cub premises to busy Forge Lane. Cross the lane and take the footbridge back over the River Tame to reach the junction of footpaths by the edge of Forge Mill Lake.

7 Go left and walk around the lake back to the visitor centre.

Once upon a time there was a 12th-century Benedictine monastery on the site of an earlier hermitage in the area now called Sandwell Valley Country Park, situated at the north eastern edge of West Bromwich. The monastery was closed down in 1525 on the directions of Cardinal Wolsey, then in 1705 Sandwell Hall was erected on the site for the Earl of Dartmouth, incorporating some of the old priory buildings. The hall was demolished in 1928 with the development of Hamstead Colliery, which came to dominate the whole area. When the pit was nationalised in the 1940s it was one of the largest in South Staffordshire, outside Cannock Chase, with nearly 1,000 men working underground here and at the nearby Sandwell Park Colliery.

The collieries closed in the early 1960s, since when the land has been transformed into an urban oasis. The earthworks became a series of artificial lakes and spoil from the site was landscaped to produce an amazingly different scene. Sandwell Valley Country Park is now a fascinating area of lakes and 2,000 acres (810ha) of parkland developed from the old colliery sites and the remains of the Sandwell Hall Estate. The park has become a major leisure facility, with three golf courses, walking routes, a Millennium Cycle Route and two off-road cycle paths which have been specially designed for mountain bikes. Around 20,000 people visit the park each year.

Wildfowl flock to the area in large numbers and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has established a nature reserve here. The reserve covers some 25 acres (10ha) of the reclaimed Hamstead Colliery site and attracts around 150 species of bird each year. Throughout the year there are lapwings, grey herons, kingfishers, skylarks and goldfinches, while, in the summer months, yellow wagtails, spotted flycatchers, tree pipits and even yellow-tip butterflies may put in an appearance. The RSPB work hard to promote public interest in the reserve, offering three free hides and maintaining a list of daily bird sightings. The River Tame meanders around Forge Mill Lake and attracts the large flocks of Canada geese out of the main reserve.

Forge Mill visitor centre can be found on the other side of Forge Lane, and Swan Pool leads to footbridges over the noisy M5 motorway. Sandwell Park Farm was also part of the Earl of Dartmouth's estate and was extensively restored in 1981 to show the traditional Victorian methods of farming. The farm has a walled kitchen garden, craft shops, a rare breeds area and a heritage centre where you can see the findings of a 1980s archaeological dig at Sandwell Priory. There are also toilets and tea rooms (PWhere to Eat and Drink).

While you're there

Take the opportunity to travel into West Bromwich. It is the centre of the new Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell and is a clean, attractive town, with a fine modern centre, far removed from the smoky and dirty 'boom' town it was in the 19th century. Situated in the old historic part of town is the superb timber-framed Old Manor House, which is now a restaurant.

What to look for

The RSPB Visitor Centre in Sandwell Valley Country Park is an important West Midlands home to a wide variety of birds. There are leaflets describing the birds you might see in the park. Can you spot a tufted duck, a little ringed plover, a whitethroat, a snipe, a reed warbler or perhaps a wader? Also look out for sheep-shearing demonstrations and rare and common livestock at Sandwell Park Farm.

Where to eat and drink

Children are welcomed in the tea rooms of Sandwell Park Farm, but not dogs. A Sandwell Valley full English breakfast will sustain even the hungriest walker and is available until 2:30pm every day, or perhaps you would prefer a jacket potato, pasty, pie or a salad. To quench your thirst you could visit one of the many pubs in West Bromwich, 3 miles (4.8km) west.

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