First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The map of south-east Gloucestershire between Cirencester and Cricklade is spattered all over with blue. It looks as though a flood of biblical proportions has struck this unemphatic, low-lying countryside through which the infant Thames wriggles.
Actually it’s quarrying of sand and gravel that has formed the Cotswold Water Park. As each pit has been abandoned as worked out, underground springs have flooded it. Nature, with a little help from man, has created a patchwork of bird-haunted lakes that are wonderful to walk, binoculars in hand.
We started our walk through this remarkable landscape along the old Thames & Severn Canal, once a boldly conceived thoroughfare connecting England’s east and west coasts, now a quiet green ditch of a waterway choked with waterlilies, yellow flags and reeds.
A field path led to the Cotswold stone village of South Cerney and its Church of All Hallows, whose Romanesque south doorway writhed with carvings. In the nave, corbel heads looked calmly down, and a pair of snarling dragons guarded the inner chancel arch.
The dog roses were out in Ham Lane where a jay hopped in agitation on a bent branch, trying to spy out a blackbird’s nest and eggs concealed in the hedge below. We followed broad tracks that skirted the gravel pit lakes of the Cotswold Water Park. One quarry was still active, roaring and grinding its industrial purposes behind a screen of trees. Four Egyptian geese with eyes as black as kohl waddles across a strip of ploughland, looking for seeds or a tasty worm.
A sudden hatch of damselflies saw the meadow grasses and the pyramidal orchids at the lakeside alive with these electric blue beauties, as slim as needles. Coots were busy reinforcing their floating nests and great crested grebes sailed in pairs, diving every so often with a smooth grace that scarcely raised a ruffle on the water.
A cake and a cuppa in the shady bower at Jennie’s Kitchen teagarden, and we were on the homeward leg along a meadow path among seas of yellow rattle where meadow brown butterflies spiralled round one another, oblivious to everything except their aerial pas de deux.
Start & finish: Gateway Centre car park, Spine Road, South Cerney, Glos GL7 5TL (OS ref SU 072971)
Getting there: Bus 51 (Swindon-Cirencester). Road: Signposted off A419 between Cirencester and Cricklade.
Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 169): Left along canal path. In 1¼ miles, cross road (056977); in ¼ mile, left (052979) to South Cerney church (050973). From churchyard’s south gate, right; left at road; cross High Street (049970); follow Ham Lane. In 450m, right along railings (051966); follow public footpath across Broadway Lane (049965) and on. In 500m cross bridge (046962); left on path past lakes. In nearly 1 mile on sharp right bend, left (051953) along fencing; cross B4696 and on east (bridleway, blue/yellow arrows). In ½ mile bear right parallel to Fridays Ham Lane (058951); in ¼ mile left across lane by Jennie’s Kitchen (060946). Follow lane opposite for ¾ mile. By Wickwater Farm (069952), left; in ¼ mile right (066954, ‘Cerney Wick’ fingerpost) across fields. Left along railway path (068958, ‘South Cerney’); in 300m, right (067959, ‘Gateway Centre’) to Cerney Wick Lane (069963). Right; in 600m, left (073965, ‘South Cerney); in 100m at post, right to canal (076966); left to car park.
Lunch: Jennie’s Kitchen tearoom, Wheatley’s Barn Farm, Fridays Ham Lane (01285-860048, jennieskitchen.co.uk)
Accommodation: Lower Mill Estate, Somerford Keynes GL7 6BG (01285-869489, lowermillestate.com) – superb lakeside rental properties