By Julian Hadley
On Saturday 28th June, four daring members of the OWG, namely Angela, Dave, Julian (me) and Nicole, undertook a scouting mission into Sandwell Valley, encompassing the Priory ruins, the Swan Pool, and concluding with the RSPB reserve. And a great day it was, too.
One of the first things that struck me was the rich greenery. The walkways are well maintained, but to a greater extent, the surrounding woodland has been allowed to revert to its natural state. Tall leafy trees line the main trail, but off track, patches of dense, thorny undergrowth help to ensure that people are kept away from the valley’s delicate wildlife; just as it should be.
A short way along the trail, our collective eye was drawn to a metalwork sculpture of a clump of flowers. It was nothing fancy, but novel, despite the graffiti, so delicately sprayed on the dull grey leaves.
Further on, we found what I think is a small stream (Google maps doesn’t say), roughly five feet wide and quite literally carpeted with Jade green algae. The water’s canopy was so still and perfect, it looked like a road, leading off into the distance. Here and there, decaying logs and fallen branches raised their heads above the surface, rather like hungry crocodiles in a scene, more reminiscent of an Australian swamp than a tiny stretch of water in the West Midlands.
Next, we reached the ruins of Sandwell Priory, and wandered round, trying to guess which foundation was which (little realising that just a few feet away, was a site map). I found myself trying to mentally reconstruct the site, wondering if the original builders had used mortar, etc. The excavation work had been carried out by volunteers, between 1982 and 1988. They certainly did a good job.
Back on the trail, we soon reached the Park Lane waypoint and continued towards the Swan Pool. The last time I was there (obviously a very long time ago) the trail leading to the pool didn’t exist. I think there was a simple stile on the main path, allowing hikers access to the field. These days, thick green bushes, trees and shrubs line the path, effectively hiding the pylons, which once dominated the view. It was here that Angela spotted a pair of Damsel Flies, such fragile little things, a beautiful shade of blue. At first, I was surprised to see them. It was quite open at that point, and the wind was strong. But of course, with the land having been allowed to go a little wild, there was plenty of shelter for them.
We skirted the inner edge of the Swan Pool. There were a few Canadian geese here and there, and perhaps one or two other species, but for the most part, the waterfowl were concentrated on the opposite side.
So, after a quick stop for lunch, we headed for the RSPB reserve.
I knew that Forge Mill Lake was popular with ornithologists, but I had no idea there was a dedicated RSPB site there. Just in case you’re thinking of going (which I would recommend), parking is £3, and the drinks are quite pricey, but the site itself is free entry. Not being a bird watcher myself, I was pleasantly surprised. The visitor centre is really nice, and inside is an observation deck, with a great view of the pool; perfect for anyone with mobility issues.
We followed the track and found that once again, the surrounding landscape (while well maintained) was quite wild. Rarely have I seen so much dense greenery in one place. Much better for wildlife and it stops people straying too close to the water.
Soon, we came to a hide. Again, I was impressed because it was deceptively large. Inside, seating was basic, but the view was fantastic. Ok, it was only a pool in Sandwell, but that’s hardly the point. I was surprised to find that the RSPB had provided a telescope and some binoculars for people to use. Most of the enthusiasts had their own of course, but I found them handy. Luckily, Angela was very clued up on the different species and quickly spotted a couple of lapwings (apparently rare) and a moorhen. I heard one of the enthusiasts saying that he’d been watching a heron, though I didn’t see it myself. I’m not sure I will ever be a “twitcher”, but it was lovely to see the birds, just doing what they do, unthreatened and unafraid.
We left the hide after about fifteen minutes and carried on around the lake and back to the visitor centre. It was a lovely walk, but there wasn’t a great deal more to see. As usual, one of the best things about the group outings is spending a little time with kindred intellects and simply enjoying the day.
There were, of course, a couple of comical moments.
Inevitably, at one point, it started raining. Dave, Nicole and myself, were suitably covered up, but our Angela hadn’t brought a coat or umbrella. Never fear; I sorted her out with a German army poncho, in a very fetching olive green. Not everyone could get away with it, but she carried it off nicely. It wasn’t long before the rain got heavier and I was forced to put my poncho on too. Naturally, Nicole snapped a few discreet photos (I’m negotiating with her for the negatives).
So, that’s another mission completed. I’m not sure if it will inspire any great literary works, but time will tell.
While I think about it, Angela suggested that we should have a special name for our touring group. So, I applied my keen mind to the task for a few minutes and came up with “OWG Reconnaissance and Expeditionary Squad.” I quite like it, but my son reckons its closest acronym would be “Ogres.” I welcome any thoughts on the matter.