IN 1218 St Mary’s Abbey was established by Premonstratensian canons on the banks of the river Stour at Halesowen, near Stourbridge, West Midlands.

Parts of the abbey still stand, next to Manor Abbey Farm, which incorporates the former cloisters into its structure.

The canons’ fish ponds survive, too, in the form of substantial earthworks, dry hollows and breached dams which suggest a flight of five major ponds. You’ll pass the former ponds on this walk and you can see the abbey ruins too if you continue a little further along the path towards Halesowen before turning round to follow the Monarch’s Way back to Waseley Hills.

The abbey is open to visitors on midsummer weekends only but there is a reasonable view from the footpath at any time.

Ruins of a different sort may be seen in Twiland Wood, where there are sections of Dowry Dell viaduct, which was built in 1881 to carry the Halesowen Railway. Pick up a leaflet about the Illey Way at Waseley Hills to discover more about the abbey, the railway and other points of interest along the way.


Start: Waseley Hills Country Park, Rubery, grid ref SO978768.

Length: 10½ miles/17km.

Maps: OS Explorer 219, OS Landranger 139.

Terrain: Pasture, paddocks, woodland and arable, undulating but not steep.

Footpaths: Mostly excellent, except around Lower Illey, but no real problems even there.

Stiles: 36.

Parking: South Car Park, Holywell Lane, Rubery.

Buses: First 144 – alight when the bus turns off the A38 onto Gannow Road, Rubery, walk a few paces back towards the A38 then turn right along Holywell Lane to South Car Park; for the bus back to Worcester walk along Whetty Bridge Road; timetables or 01905 765765.

Refreshments: Windmill Café at Waseley Hills and the Black Horse at Illey.


1 Join North Worcestershire Path (NWP) and follow it through the country park, crossing Windmill Hill then descending to the visitor centre, where you can join the combined Monarch’s Way/Illey Way (MW). Leaving the country park for Gannow Green Lane, cross the M5 and turn right on Newtown Lane.

2 Leaving the lane, follow the MW northwards through fields and woods. Keep straight on at a junction by a footbridge but turn right at the next junction, leaving the MW and following a track to Oxwood Lane. Turn left, then left on a footpath after 400m, just before Brookhouse Farm.

3 After passing the farm a stile gives access to a field. Head for the far right corner – the right of way goes diagonally across but has not been reinstated after ploughing and the farmer has placed his own waymarks in an effort to persuade walkers to use the left edge. Go diagonally right across the next field corner then follow a welltrodden path across another field to the far right corner. In the next field, a damp rushy meadow, again go to the far right corner and enter another rushy meadow. Go diagonally right across it to the far side. Proceed along the right-hand edge of the next two fields, above a brook, then walk through woodland to meet a track.

4 Turn right, passing to the left of Illey House Farm before looking for access to a lane. Turn left, then left again at Illey Lane before crossing to a footpath opposite the Black Horse. Ignore another path branching left and continue along a tree-lined track. When it leads into a field go diagonally left to a stile and then straight across the next field. Proceed along a field edge towards the M5 until a stile gives access to woodland.

5 Walk through the wood and straight on along a track. Ignore a path branching left at a junction, but go left at the next junction, where the track forks. Ignore the next path on the left and proceed to a cross-path. Turn left into a field and turn right along the edge, then left in the corner. Continue along the edge of a second field, then along the edge of a third for a short distance until a stile gives access to a field on your right. Keep to the edge on an embankment above the former fish ponds.

6 Join the MW again at a stile.

Follow it south, mostly alongside a brook, to Illey Lane and turn right. After 300m the MW takes to the fields again and is easily followed back to the track near Illey House Farm (see point three). Turn right along the track, soon returning to fields.

Eventually, you will return to the junction by the footbridge (see point two).

7 Turn right across the footbridge, leaving the MW. Walk along field edges, soon crossing to the other side of the hedge at a fallen stile. Turn right through woodland when you come to a gap by the remains of another stile, then walk along the right-hand edge of a field to reach a waymarked junction.

Take the left-hand path, crossing the next field to the far left corner.

Go through a gap into another field then turn left to Ell Wood and walk along the woodland edge to the far corner.

8 Walk across a pasture and keep to the right-hand edge through another pasture, then pass through a fence gap where a gate once hung. There is no waymarking here but go diagonally to the far corner of this field and the path becomes clear again. Follow it back to the MW and turn right, retracing your steps to Gannow Green Lane.

Cross the motorway bridge and turn right on Chapman’s Hill to Chapman’s Hill Farm. Turn left to join a bridleway to Waseley Hills then turn right on the NWP to South Car Park and Holywell Lane.