Winter Walks

With Covid 19 restrictions in place across our region, for many of us, the festive period is going to be very different this year. But why not take advantage of the great outdoors where risk is lower than indoors and head to one of our stunning nature reserves for a festive walk to burn off that Christmas dinner…

The NHS recommends 5 steps to mental wellbeing and we can certainly help you achieve these steps!

  1. Connect with people
    • This has been incredibly difficult with lockdowns and tier restrictions but remember, even in tier 3 you can meet with up to 6 people in selected outdoor public place as long as you observe social distancing and do not travel in and out of tier 3 areas. These outdoor public places include: parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests. Public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them) and allotments. The grounds of a heritage site, outdoor sports courts and facilities, and playgrounds so our reserves are included.
  2. Be physically active
    • Walking is an ideal way to get active as it is accessible for all abilities and all you need is a comfortable pair of shoes! Several of our reserves have waymarked trails so it is easy to find your way. We are growing the number of walking trails to follow here.
  3. Learn new skills
    • Take photos of what you see on our reserves and then use our website to help you identify them. Or perhaps you would like to take things further and join us as a volunteer when restrictions ease. Our member magazine is also full of knowledge about our natural world.
  4. Give to others
    • We are a charity and receive no government funding. We care for 65 reserves across Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull as well as working in the wider area. Membership or even a one off donation can make a huge difference to what we are able to do for wildlife and people. Find out more about our work here.
  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
    • Stopping and listening on a nature reserve is one of the best ways to practice mindfulness. Go on, get absorbed in nature…
Exploring Piles Coppice by Jo Hands

Walkies time!

All of our reserves are listed on our website and there is a section of the site dedicated to recommended walks and a new section on exploring with your dog but here I’m going to share with you some of my family’s winter favourites!

Remember, if you are a member you can take advantage of the free member only car parks at some of our reserves (the code for the padlocks is on the back of your membership card). These reserves also tend to be quieter and so social distancing will be much easier. Not a member? – click here to find out more about the types of membership we offer.

Whitacre Heath

This is a true hidden gem of a reserve in North Warwickshire and my current favourite. It has a member only car park and it is a very quiet reserve because it is prone to being wet but in recent years it has not been too bad and it is easy to walk around in wellies or walking boots. Due to the large number of biting insects in summer, I prefer to explore here in winter! We also have a brass rubbing trail here and newly updated walk information on our website. At this time of year it is great for seeing small woodland/garden birds from the woodland hide and this year there were still good displays of fungi in December. This is one of the few reserves where my dog has to stay at home as this site is very important for ground nesting birds, but it gives me the opportunity to focus on wildlife spotting and practice a bit of mindfulness!

Waymarker at Whitacre Heath Jo Hands

Trails at Whitacre Heath

Resting little legs at Crackley Wood  Jo Hands

Resting little legs at Crackley Wood

Crackley Wood

This is my dog’s favourite reserve! Although it is not a surfaced path like the Greenway which is great for a run; the path is good and doesn’t turn into a bog! We love doing a circuit as a cool down after a run along the Greenway but it is also a family favourite on a Saturday afternoon, why not have a look at our Crackley Family Adventure.

Brandon Marsh and Brandon Reach

My Parents’ favourite as you can spend a full day exploring over these two reserves and there are facilities! Maps are available from the Brandon Marsh Visitor Centre during opening hours or download a copy from our website (members have free 24 hour access). I love the variety of habitats that exist over this large area and Badgers Tea Room at Brandon Marsh is the perfect place for refreshments. Over the festive period Brandon Marsh Visitor Centre and toilets are open every day 9:30am – 3:30pm except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, so remember your face coverings for when inside. Badgers Tea Room is open for takeaway 10am – 2.30pm. There are picnic benches in the courtyard, some under the shelter so even if it is wet you can warm up with a hot drink outside and maybe reward your efforts with a slice of cake!

I actually find it much easier to see wildlife in winter as much of the foliage has naturally died back, leaving more exposed areas. Many people say that the best time of year to see a kingfisher is Dec-Jan, and I must say I agree, as that is the only time I have seen them at Brandon Marsh. Parts of Brandon Marsh can get very wet or even flooded in very wet weather so check on our social media pages for updates before visiting. The Woodpecker and Kingfisher trails are semi-surfaced; it is possible to get a mobility scooter around them. My favourite route around Brandon Marsh is to head out through the Sensory Garden, follow the Kingfisher trail but instead of heading back to the visitor centre at the end, I continue back to the junction at the top of Goose Pool and Grebe Pool. I turn right instead of straight on around the trail again or slight right to East Marsh Pool. Turning right I take the narrow path (wellies essential) between Goose Pool and Central Marsh. After a few metres I turn right into Horsetail Glade and it feels like I’ve been transported into another, very green world! This path brings me out onto the track where I can either explore the meadow or the Mouse Maze before heading back to the Orchard and Visitor Centre to admire the Geology Wall. Brandon Marsh is too sensitive to allow dogs, so if she is with me I head over to Brandon Reach to explore. At the time of writing we are installing trails at Brandon Reach so keep an eye out for updates.

From Monday 28th December Brandon Marsh Visitor Centre will return to being open 7 days a week, 9.30am – 4pm weekdays and 10am – 4pm weekends.

Winter Sunshine at Brandon Marsh by Jo Hands

Winter Sunshine at Brandon Marsh

The Parkridge Centre in Brueton Park

This is the favourite reserve of my toddler who has spent many hours there for Nature Families which sadly still is not allowed under the current restrictions but the adventure play is open for her to enjoy. The council car park off Warwick Road is free for 3 hours but you must get a ticket, if you don’t drive you can also access this reserve by getting the bus into Solihull, it is then a 20 minute walk through Malvern Park. We enjoy a relatively dry walk around Brueton Park on hard surfaces with the dog before we head to the Café at Parkridge (yes, dogs on leads are now allowed in the café but not the reserve as it is small and there are often lots of children). We then take it in turns to enjoy sitting outside with the dog (takeaway only due to tier 3) overlooking the wildlife garden and pond (and a coffee) or taking the toddler around the reserve which has a hard path around the lake and to the adventure play area. At the moment the Arboretum is a mud bath so we are only heading up there when we feel like being very wild!

Winter opening times: Monday-Sunday 9am – 3:30pm (Nature Reserve, picnic area and play area close 30 minutes before centre). Christmas Eve 3pm close, closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Parkridge play area Dec 20 credit Jo Hands

Exploring in the play area at Parkridge

Bubbenhall Wood and beyond!

This is my husband’s favourite due to his love of fungi spotting and the longer walks in the wider landscape accessible from here! The semi hard path around Bubbenhall Wood is great given the wet weather we have been having this year! We don’t get too muddy but there are still some great puddles to splash in! The meadow then has some very well placed benches to have a picnic with a stunning view and maybe some sunshine if we are lucky. The hide screen is great for a bit of wildlife spotting but we often prefer to extend our walk after our picnic. For ease and less mud we walk back to the entry road and when we reach Paget’s Lane turn right towards the Rytons Pools Country Park pedestrian entrance, where sometimes we go for an explore or through to Ryton Wood, but our favourite is to take the bridleway to Wappenbury Wood. From here we explore in Wappenbury Wood, and then take the public footpath from the south west corner of Wappenbury Wood back to Bubbenhall Wood (OS 221 strongly recommended). You can also carry on along the bridleway, joining the network of public footpaths but you will need the OS 221 map to explore! If you would rather stay at Bubbenhall Wood our Wildlife Engagement Officer has more information in this short film. Bubbenhall Wood car park is for members only and can be accessed using the padlock code on the back of your membership card. There is a council car park at Ryton Pools Country Park which charges. You can then walk through to Bubbenhall Wood and Meadow or join us to use Bubbenhall car park!

Bubbenhall Meadow Nov 2020 Jo Hands

Bubbenhall Meadow

Do you have a favourite walk at or involving our reserves? If so let us know!