Sutton Park is a miraculous survival – 2,400 acres of wild country just six miles north of the bustling heart of the UK’s Second City – and spring is a lovely time to explore it.
The ancient oak and birch woodlands are alive with the song of nesting birds, and in the vast holly understory, one of the park’s great specialities, the delicate little azure-winged holly blue butterfly, takes to the wing. On the largest of the seven lakes, great crested grebes, goldeneyes and tufted ducks are setting up home, and on the extensive areas of heather heathland that make up about half the park, small heath and meadow brown butterflies are also emerging from their winter chrysalises.
Lung for the city
Sutton Park, in the town of Sutton Coldfield, is one of the largest urban parks in Europe, and is designated as a national nature reserve. This former hunting forest was granted to the town in perpetuity by Henry VIII in 1528 through his friend and confidant Bishop John Vesey of Sutton Coldfield. Today, it serves as a vital lung and breathing space for the citizens of the town and the neighbouring conurbations of Birmingham and the West Midlands.
To get a taste of Sutton Park in spring, take the 2.5-mile Bridges Walk around Bracebridge and Little Bracebridge Pools. The 20-acre main pool was created as a fish pond by the 15th-century feudal overlord Sir Ralph Bracebridge to breed bream for his banqueting table.
Picnic on the beach
There are many trails in the park, but one of the best routes starts at the car park next to the Boathouse Restaurant. Walking through the glorious mixed woodland of Pool Hollies, you soon come across the first of an allegedly uncountable (but the kids will love trying) series of wooden plank bridges that cross the drainage channels feeding the lake to your left.
Emerging from the trees near the head of the lake, there is a lovely little beach – an ideal spot for a picnic. Follow the path to the right around some boggy ground to the charming Little Bracebridge Pool, favourably compared to a mountain tarn.
A tunnel then a bridge takes you first under, then over, the railway – built in 1879 to link Birmingham and Walsall, the tracks bisect the park. Walk round the southern edge of Bracebridge Pool through the glorious beech and oak woodland of Darnel Hurst to get back to your starting point.
Great crested grebe
These extravagantly headdressed divers are famous for their spectacular walking-on-water mating displays. The breeding season runs from February through to May.