They often remark that good things come in small packages, so when browsing maps trying to find my next adventure I will often stumble upon little nature reserves that I don't believe are given a fair chance; it is all too easy to look at these tiny blotches of green, surrounded by sprawling urban grey and write them off as little more than a glorified park. Spoilers for what comes next: Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve is so much more than that. Given its location so close to the industrial heartlands of the West Midlands, you may be forgiven for not expecting a whole lot from a little nature reserve nestled on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. But what we found on our visit was a spectacular hidden gem, teeming with life and full of colour. Every nook and cranny had wildlife roaming and the natural muddy trails shrowded by dense foliage make this an incredible spot to escape the urban sprawl and get back to nature. Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve is far more than a little green spot amongst buildings, but a wonderful haven for wildlife that is to be cherished and appreciated in its own right. At around 60-acres this modest section of countryside holds a disproportionate amount of astonishing sights that make a perfect day out in nature.
Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve is easily accessible, not far from the M54 junction 2 and sitting between the suburbs of Wolverhampton and the villages of Codsall and Coven. The easiest route by car would be via Wobaston Road, which links at one end to the Stafford Road A449 and the other connects through to Codsall. The nature reserve itself has a surprisingly spacious dedicated car park open 7 days a week - you can check opening times on your way in, with a sandwich board usually on display just inside the main gate. Cyclists and walkers can easily connect through to here, as the Monarch's Way route passes down Lawn Lane, very close to the entrance of the reserve. Even public transport can get you out to the reserve, as the local i54 developments mean regular bus services run to the area from the city centre. You can even make a day of exploring the countryside out on the Staffordshire side of this reserve, either by navigating the country lanes or exploring the Shropshire Union Canal Main Line that connects to the Wobaston Road near here.
As you step through the gate at Pendeford Mill the love of all things natural is inescapable! Park up by the busy beehives and watch them work away (assuming you aren't allergic of course - if you are then maybe park on the other side of the car park, there's plenty of room) and then make your way to the wonderfully carved wooden map. This may give the impression that the walk is a simple loop around the lake, but there is so much more to the nature reserve to explore - paths splinter off from the main route, zigzagging all through the trees and along the streams all the way to the River Penk and back around again. For now, enjoy the scenic approach to the reserve itself, under a beautiful tree canopy with horses in the paddock to your left and the idyllic farm cottage to your right. Straight ahead, cows roam the wide-open fields and the woodland path snakes around towards the main lake. As you make your way down the lane there is a small tree of great pedigree - a cutting from a Yew tree estimated to be over 2000 years old was planted in the year 2000 as part of a project to plant a tree in every parish. It is currently only about chest high, but it is awe-inspiring to think this little cutting could still be alive in the year 4000.
The lake is littered with piers and viewpoints, with the first being just to the right as you approach - a spacious wooden pier, fenced all around with picture-perfect views straight up the length of the lake. The first thing that hits you is just how alive this space is, while we were watching we could see swans, geese (with gosling), ducks (with ducklings), moorhen, gulls, heron and more birds than I could possibly hope to identify skimming the surface of the lake and around the tree-tops. Within 30 seconds of arrival, the wow-factor had hit and we were so excited to adventure and see what else we could find. The other thing that immediately hits you is how well developed the trees are here, this area has been managed to develop the woodland into grand behemoths towering over the lake's edge.
After having our fill of circling around the lake and letting our curiosity get the better of us, we picked one of the paths branching out and took a walk amongst the bluebells and into the denser woods. Things got a little muddy, but nothing a decent set of shoes couldn't handle. Eventually, our route came out to the river Penk, maybe not a river you are especially familiar with (its short course running from Penk Rise in Tettenhall Wood to its confluence with the River Sow, a respectable 22 miles), but it is a serene space where the shade of the woodlands give way to sun-soaked reeds gently swaying in the breeze. The luckiest of visitors may even spot an otter swimming in the river's waters or a badger exploring around the undergrowth.
Continue navigating the paths around until you eventually return to the lake where you can make your exit where you came in. Of course, you can always dive back into the woods down a different path or spend some time exploring the edge of the lake - the real reward at Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve is just how much wildlife there is to see, so your best bet is to pick a spot somewhere quiet and just watch for what comes into view. If you are lucky enough to cross paths with Paul, the ranger and groundskeeper who can provide a wealth of information on just about anything you could want to know about the local flora and fauna. We lost track of time learning about all of the things to see within the grounds and immediately began planning our return visit!
Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve was such a wonderful surprise, it is a small mark on most maps but it shocked with just how much it had to offer. What started as a quick walk somewhere in the country turned into a half-days out, wandering in wonderment amongst towering trees full of birdsong and life. This is one of those stunning little hideaways that often go overlooked, but give it a chance as your next trip and I promise you will be impressed. It is safe to say that we were blown away and as mentioned previously, we had such a great time birdwatching in tranquil surroundings that we are planning a return trip to catalogue all of the amazing creatures we spot - maybe we will bump into you exploring too!