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Front cover of brochure

The Sowe Valley Footpath 

Transcript from Coventry City Council 2002 brochure PSI158250 . 


This page is a transcript from the City Council 2002 brochure titled "The Sowe Valley Footpath".  It describes the footpath and Local Nature Areas through which the walk passes.  The paper version has a better layout, and the pictures are of higher definition - get one in preference to printing this.  In particular, it includes a map covering the whole footpath on one sheet of A3 paper.


Hot links to main sections of this page:

Overview - Sowe Valley Footpath
1.  Wyken Slough Local Nature Reserve
2.  Wyken Croft Nature Park
3.  Stoke Floods Local Nature Reserve
4.  Stonebridge Meadows Local Nature Reserve

Overview - Sowe Valley Footpath

A Park ..

The Sowe Valley is a continuous riverside park stretching for 8.5 miles from Hawkesbury Junction Conservation Area (Longford) in the north to Stonebridge Meadows Local Nature Reserve in the south.  It links the countryside with the city and passes near to Aldermans Green, Wood End, Bell Green, Henley Green, Walsgrave, Clifford Park, Wyken, Ernesford Grange, Binley, Stoke, Willenhall and Whitley.  Its character is constantly changing, some parts are green and rural, others are more built up, but all provide a place of escape from the noise and pressures of the City.

.. For You ..

The Sowe Valley is an area of Green Belt, important for its landscape, for quiet recreation, its history, educational and nature conservation value.  It is there for you to use, enjoy and treat with respect.

.. To Discover

There is plenty to discover in the Sowe Valley.  A riverside footpath runs along the length of the Valley to help you enjoy it and there are information panels at key sites.

The Sowe Valley has a long history of farming, with crops such as wheat, rye, peas and oats being grown.  As industries such as coal mining increased, the working farm became a thing of the past.  Today Henley Mill Farm is one of only two traditional working farms now remaining in Sowe Valley.

At Hawkesbury Junction the footpath links into The Centenary Way, the Oxford Canal Walk and the Coventry Canal Art Trail, which gives an opportunity for future interesting walks.

The Country Code Says:

1.  Wyken Slough Local Nature Reserve

In the nineteenth century this area was rich in coal.  There were several mines and associated buildings and a network of railways, roads and canals, and Wyken Pool is believed to have formed in about 1860 as result of mining subsidence.

Construction of the canal system accelerated the growth of industry in nearby areas and The Coventry Canal, completed in 1769, and the Oxford Canal, which opened ten years later, were part of a network which revolutionised the transport of raw materials.  Much of the money to build the canals came from the local mine owners, and an arm to Wyken Old Main Pit, is now the fully restored Canal Basin.

Today, Wyken Slough supports a rich variety of wildlife and is an area of natural beauty.  Managed by Coventry City Council with the help of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, the abundant wildlife on the site led to its designation as a Local Nature Reserve in 1991.

Marshes, floodland and reedbeds are vital for a wide range of birds, amphibians, insects and plants, but land drainage has greatly reduced the number of wetlands in Britain.  This reedbed is dominated by reed sweetgrass which provides an excellent habitat for insects such as dragonflies and the brown hawker dragonfly with its yellowish wings.

Mayflies are a common sight at the water's edge but they have a very short life span.  At the most they will live for four days during which time they do not feed.  Like the dragonfly, mating occurs in mid air and the female lays her eggs either underneath the water or on the water's surface.

Wyken  Pool is the largest expanse of water in Coventry.  The rough grassland, scrub and marsh near the Pool also support a rich variety of wildlife.  From Wyken Slough, you can walk under the motorway to the banks of the Oxford Canal and Hawkesbury Junction Conservation Area.

2.  Wyken Croft Nature Park

This previously derelict area, which was once a coal mining area, was reclaimed and landscaped in the 1980's to provide a nature park and habitat for wildlife.

If you keep a watchful eye on the riverbank you might be lucky enough to see a kingfisher.  Their bright turquoise plumage is unmistakable as they dart down to the water plunging for fish, but they are surprisingly small - not much bigger than a sparrow.

Hawthorn has been specially planted because it attracts wildlife and is a food source for many birds and mammals.  Common birds such as the robin and blackbird feed on the red berries which ripen in the autumn.  Birds are important agents for plant dispersal as the seed of the berry will pass through their gut undamaged.  Small mammals such as the woodmouse and bank vole will also feed on the ripe berries, along with insects like the colourful hawthorn shield bug.

The woodmouse is a common sight, building its nest underneath hedgerows and in woodlands and eating hawthorn berries and nuts.

If you live near Wyken Croft Nature Park you may hear tawny owls at night.  They nest in large holes in trees which they use for roosting during the daytime.  They catch their prey at night, can turn their heads 360 degrees and have binocular vision and silent flight.


3.  Stoke Floods Local Nature Reserve

Stoke Floods is the second largest expanse of water in Coventry and is an extremely valuable habitat.  Managed by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and Coventry City Council it supports a wide variety of water birds and pondlife.

The Lake

The lake at Stoke Floods was formed in similar conditions as Wyken Slough by mining subsidence due to the workings at the former Binley Colliery.  Wetland areas such as this are one of the most threatened natural features of the British countryside so it is important that they are taken care of and protected.

Stoke Floods acts as a focal point for birdlife, and attracts a variety of species throughout the year including swans, ducks and several species of geese.

The Reedbed

On the edge of the lake is a marginal reedbed comprising mainly of reed sweetgrass, common reedmace and reed canary grass.  The reeds thrive in the swampy area of the lake, growing from a creeping underground rhizome that regularly sends up new leafy shoots.  The reeds can reach heights of between one and four metres, and if left unmanaged cause the gradual silting up of the lake as mud and plant debris collects around the stems.  However, they also offer important shelter and spawning grounds for fish and amphibians as well as a nesting site for birds such as the reed warbler.

Reed Warbler

A summer visitor, arriving in mid-April and leaving in September for North Africa, the reed warbler is a small olive brown bird.  You may hear its distinctive chattering song, or see it perched on a reed stem by the lake edge.

Tall Herb/Shrub

A lot of the site is dominated by areas of tall herb consisting of grassland species such as meadowsweet, willowherb and cranesbill.  These plants provide a colourful flowering display in summer, attracting many types of insects including thirteen known species of butterfly.

Meadowsweet, a member of the Rose family, is used as an ingredient in potpourri, and in Elizabethan times it was used as a strewing herb on floors, as the action of crushing its flowers and leaves releases a sweet fragrance.  It blossoms from June to September and is common at Stoke Floods.

Water Rail

A mainly nocturnal bird, the water rail is most often heard at dusk, when its piglet-like squealing reveals its presence.  It lives near ponds and its strangely flattened body is well adapted to rapid, furtive movements in reed stems.  It is a difficult bird to see as it 'skulks' amongst the reedbeds, but it is distinguished by its long red bill, bluish-grey head, neck and breast.

Other Birds

The small wood on this site and hedgerows are vital in attracting wildlife to the site.  They provide cover for many plants and also for birds such as woodpeckers, chiffchaffs and goldfinches.

Woodpeckers feed mainly on insects and larvae, their strong beaks are well suited to tapping out areas of dead wood which they excavate to expose what is underneath.  The chiffchaff is one of our earliest summer visitors, arriving in March from Africa or the Mediterranean with its distinctive 'chiff, chaff, chiff, chaff' song.  The goldfinch is easily recognised by its scarlet face, black and white head, and black and yellow wings.

Great Crested Grebe

In spring, the great crested grebe's courtship display provides one of the most spectacular sights on the lake.  Unmistakable, with prominent chestnut and black frills around its head, the ceremony involves distinct movements including headshaking. diving and both birds dancing out of the water.


4.  Stonebridge Meadows Local Nature Reserve

A short circular walk around Stonebridge Meadows will take you through flower rich grassland and shady woodland by the River Sowe.  The abundant wildlife led to its designation as a Local Nature Reserve in 1987.

The mainly hawthorn scrub is an excellent habitat for wildlife, providing nectar and pollen For insects.  Later, the berries are food for resident birds such as the thrush, migrant redwing and fieldfare.

As you climb the hill, known as Pickecliff Hill, past delicate harebells, watch out for butterflies such as the meadow brown and skipper, visiting the flowers for nectar and a place to lay their eggs.  Tormentil, Betony and Lady's Bedstraw also grow in this dry semi-acidic grassland.

Follow the banks of the River Sowe downstream past the patches of great hairy willow herb, food plant for the spectacular elephant hawk moth caterpillar.  The deciduous wood to the left contains a variety of species such as field maple, ash and alder.

Although the riverbank has been raised, the original floodplain remains as a marsh and contains wetland plants, such as yellow flag. marsh marigold and the locally rare marsh speedwell.

The wood is dominated by alders which are relatively uncommon in this area, and willows still grow at the western end of the wood, which was an osier bed in 1841 providing canes for basket weaving.

The reserve is owned by Coventry City Council and managed Jointly by the City Council and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to maintain its diverse wildlife.

End of transcript


Notes re Maps and route

The map from the paper brochure is not reproduced here since it would not be very useful as an Internet document.  Either get a copy of the paper brochure, or use the maps on this site.  Map13 U3, Map23, Map33 and Map43 S20 cover the route - these maps are at a larger scale than in the brochure, and can therefore show more details.

An updated version of the map from the paper brochure can be downloaded sowe valley map.pdf (PDF 1.79 MB).  This is suitable for reading on the screen (assuming you zoom and pan). Most users only have A4 printers, and printing as a borderless print in high quality gives a print which can be read with good eyesight or a magnifying glass. Clever users can split it into 2 A4 sheets, or if you prefer download SVP-map-N.jpg (JPG 0.60 MB) and SVP-map-S.jpg (JPG 0.65 MB).

Note that the route has been slightly changed from the earlier version of the brochure.  Key points to note are:

  • The route to the east of Wyken Slough is now shown close to the lake rather than going diagonally across the grass.
  • The route just south of River Walk (Map 23 U8) is shown crossing the grass to the east of the river.  This is often very wet, and a good diversion is to cross to the west of the river, and back again at the next bridge.  This latter route is the way signed when travelling in a southerly direction.
  • The route now follows Henley Mill Lane (Map23 U9) - rather than the impractical route crossing the sports field shown on the earlier brochure
  • The alternative route following the Northern end of Allard way (Map33 V16) has been dropped in favour of the route following the east bank of the river
  • At the southern end, the route through Whitley Grove (Map43 S20) is shown keeping near the north-eastern edge of the grove.  This is due to construction of a new fence down the south-western edge.
    Update Apr-2008 - A new path (see photo right, taken from near the river) through the wood has recently been constructed fairly near the north-eastern edge.  This new route has no steps and is solid surface suitable for wheels BUT rather steep in parts and only fit for people/wheeled chairs who/which can handle the steep slopes.  The original route is still available, and is a well graded path BUT a bit muddy in parts near the river & does involve being near the new (and not very attractive!) fence for some distance. The original north-eastern edge route is shorter and interesting, but very steep and partly muddy.  All three, plus a few short-cuts are shown on Map 43 S20.

Good for Dogs rating: 2 dogs

Many parts of this route are worth exploring by dogs and their owners.  In particular try the areas around:

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