Birmingham is known mostly for its industrial landscape and bustling economy — let’s face it, it’s not really the nicest of places. But Birmingham also has its well-kept secrets, especially for nature lovers.
We set out from the quiet Harborne to explore the Sandwell Valley RSPB, keeping our path as green as possible, and walking on foot. It was long and tiring walk, but it was definitely worth it. Even just parts of this walk are lovely and rewarding — I can’t recommend it enough.
All the places described here have parking spaces, so you can drive there, and are also supported by public transportation in the form of buses. Cycling is also possible.
Part I: Harborne Walkway and Edgbaston Reservoir
I found the Harborne Walkway almost by accident. It’s certainly one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets: a narrow, maintained path, surrounded by lush green vegetation. You’ll walk by some allotments, a small creek, and probably, lots of adorable dogs. The birds seem to always be chirping on the Harborne Walkway.
You can either walk it all the way and end up in Summerfield Park, which is also a green, wide open area, or turn right about one mile into the walkway (by a bridge). The latter option is a bit shorter, but if you’re on a clock, it can be worth walking all the way to the park. After a short walk, you should find yourself at the Edgbaston Reservoir.
Established in the early 1830s, Edgbaston Reservoir is a pleasant lake, surrounded by woodland and grassland, supporting a lively biodiversity.
The reservoir is a nice destination in itself. You can walk around it entirely, have a picnic, or just relax by the shore. Depending on the time of year, you can find a wide variety of birds — Edgbaston reservoir is a good place for bird watching. You’re quite likely to see Canada Geese, a variety of ducks and mallards, and coots. If you’re lucky, you might also spot a cormorant or a crested grebe, as well as plenty of smaller chirping birds.
The lake is a good destination in itself, guaranteed to be a nice day out, but we wanted to move forward.
Part II: Smethwick, Sandwell, and the ruins
The first half of this part can definitely be a bit monotonous, but the second part is certainly the most exciting, so choose wisely. To avoid walking through grey, dull neighborhoods, we decided to follow the canal route, which is absolutely charming. There’s a bit which is a bit too industrial for my liking, but overall, it’s quite lovely. We walked by a few geese and mallards, and really, if you want to explore Birmingham, canals are a must. Notably, there are a few graffiti’s which are really good.
We left leave the canals as you’re about to enter West Bromwich. If you ask me, this is the bit I wish I could skip. There’s about 20-30 minutes of walking by the stadium, then just an industrial area. So fast forward for a bit, and you’ll reach Sandwell (you could also take a detour and visit the very few attractions in West Bromwich, but we decided to skip them).
Entering the Sandwell park, the Sandwell priory ruins are definitely a sight to behold. Not much is left except for the foundation, but with the help of an information panel, it’s easy to imagine how life might have went by in the day. It’s a great place for a picnic or just lying down in the grass. There are two springs around, and one of them is actually the original one from the priory. However, don’t drink the water! It’s not safe. This is a great place to have lunch or a snack and if it’s sunny, the view is simply charming.
Right next to the ruins, there are two lakes, riddled with ruins and leftover bits from ancient times. This is definitely my favorite part! I’m talking wild vegetation, giant pine trees, wild birds, it all really makes you feel like an explorer. The fact that one of the lakes features a fortress-like island makes it even better. It shouldn’t take too long to go around the lakes. I did it twice, just because it was so impressive.
If you look carefully around the lakes, you’re bound to see some impressive Grey Herons, either flying around or, more likely, in the massive pine trees. It’s not often you get to see such magnificent birds in trees, so it’s definitely worth a small stop.
Finally, I managed to get myself to move on — it wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.
Part III: Swanhurst Lake, Mill Lake, and Sandwell RSPB
To the West you have Dartmouth park which is also a lovely place, but we decided to move on towards the Sandwell Valley RSPB.
Have you had enough of nature and beautiful lakes? I really hope not, because guess what’s coming next?
Swanhurst lake is your classic British landscape. It’s quite big, and typically populated by swans, geese, tufted ducks, this kind of birds. Expect to see lots of families, couples, maybe some windsurfing. Last time I was there, firemen were filling up on water from the lake, so that was also a sight.
Thankfully, you don’t need to walk around the entire lake. Walk on the path that goes above the dreaded M5, and you’ll arrive at Mill Lake. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of construction work going on, as it’s so often the case in and around Birmingham. But it shouldn’t take long to get past it, and you’ll get to the Mill Pond, where there should be about a million and a half birds. Seriously, there’s a *lot* of them. They’re quite harmless, but I just felt weird surrounded by so many birds, so I took a few photos and moved on.
By now, you should probably see the RSPB lake. Constructions are often taking place in the area, so that might be an inconvenience, but it’s nothing serious. You’ll probably see a lovely path, between the river and the lake, and it doesn’t really matter which way you go — you’ll end up at the RSPB either way. We took a right, because that was shorter.
You should see the island on your left, and several delightful bird species. Walk all the way around to the shop, where you can reward yourself with some juice or a cake. This is our final stop for now, so take your time. Well, almost our final stop, we’re still going one more place: the watching house.
The bird watching is a great place to relax and observe the birds in their environment. There are usually experts around you can ask, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to borrow a good lens. There are also plenty of books lying around to help you identify the birds.
So, there you have it! This is a very full day of adventure in and around Birmingham, and if you want to take it more slowly, you can definitely break it up into two or even three days, and you’d still have plenty to do and see. Enjoy!