Grafham Water reservoir in Cambridgeshire was filled with water in 1964, and has been designated as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) for over 30 years. The reservoir is England's third largest, and the park surrounding it has a total area of 1500 acres.
Only once, many years ago, did I try the circular walk around Grafham Water's nine mile track. Massive fail! I ended up dropping to the ground in exhaustion. Hubby completed the walk on his own, then brought the car back as close as possible to where I was waiting with our two young children.
The sheltered creeks, forming a 280 acre nature reserve on the western side, are what draw my husband and I to Grafham Water.
Now we are older, we are happy to leave the larger open water to the families, and those that enjoy fishing and sailing, while we appreciate the wildlife on offer in the quieter areas. If you are more energetic than us, you can hire a cycle and revel in the countryside that way.
In addition to the water itself, the area includes mudflats, deciduous woodland, plantations, rough grassland, reed beds, farmland, hedgerows and wetland habitats. This means that whatever the season, there is always something to see, either as you walk round the shoreline or stop and check out one of the 8 bird hides.
The Cambridgeshire Bird Club site will list any rare or unusual bird sightings, although it doesn’t tend to mention which area of the reserve they were seen in.
The nature reserve walk starts for us from the Mander car park near west Perry, where the Fishing Lodge, café and toilets are to be found. (There are more toilets near the dam at Marlow car park.)
Two of the five hides in this section are a short walk away - Mander Hide and Valley Creek Hide. From the latter, you can nearly always see wildfowl on the water, along with a row of Cormorants on the fence near the water's edge.
The third, Dudney Hide involves following the nature trail through woodland and across a grassy field, which can be quite wet and soggy. Waterproof boots are a good idea! The hide is positioned at the beginning of Dudney Creek, separated from the open water of the reservoir. In winter this area is often favoured by shy Goldeneye (one of my favourite duck species) in addition to many other types of wildfowl.
After visiting the hide you will find need to double back as access to the Nature Conservation Area beyond is not permitted. Upon reaching the field turn right and skirt the edge until you join up with the hard surfaced cycle track.
Follow the track down the incline, round the corner and through a short tunnel formed by trees. Here you can turn left for the Littless Creek Nature Trail, where you will find the Dragonfly Pond along with pond dipping platform.
The walk from here, along a narrow path through the woods, can be quite muddy at certain times of year. It ends up at a wide grassy ride, that eventually crosses the cycle track near the Wildlife Trust information barn.
Go straight across and continue down the ride to a right-hand bend, and around the corner you will find Littless Hide, overlooking Littless Creek. This hide is reached by a set of steps, giving an impressive view over the creek. In November, we found it to be full of Coot and Great crested grebe.
This is the point where we normally begin to retrace our steps, resulting in a 5 mile walk by the time we get back to the car.
However, on the return journey, there is one more hide, (that we have not yet visited). A path leads left from the cycle track, taking you to Lymage Hide positioned at the end of Dudney Creek. This area is known for Nightingales in the spring.
The hard surfaced path along the top of the Grafham Water dam is accessible to everyone, although it is difficult to see over the wall from a seated position.
It can be walked from either end, by parking in either Plummer or Marlow car parks. We normally chose the latter, which has a Visitor Center and conveniences, along with a Pet and Wild Bird Food shop. The Visitor information web site: https://anglianwaterparks.co.uk/grafham-water-park/visitor-information will provide details regarding parking charges and times when the car parks are open. Recently an area for water sports has been added for the energetic!
After passing the Visitor Centre, there is an area of scrub and thistles before you reach the water, often frequented by small birds, such as Goldfinch, Linnet, Garden Warbler and Whitethroat. The dam wall serves as a ready made tripod, which can lighten the load for photographers with long, heavy lenses.
It is also worth checking out the steep, grassy bank on the other side of the path. Depending on the season, we have seen Grey and Yellow Wagtails, Meadow Pipits, House Martins and Swallows feeding here.
Birds we have seen along the water's edge include Ringed Plover, Redshank, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, Little Egret, and various ducks and gulls. I also spotted a Channel Wagtail on one occasion.
Further out, we have seen various gulls, Mute Swan, Teal, Pochard, Mallard and large flocks of Tufted duck. During the winter months there are occasionally juvenile Great northern divers about.
After walking along to the end of the dam we like to head down the bank and head back to the car along the footpath at the bottom. We find it's always worth checking out the fence posts and bushes along the bottom of the bank for small birds.
The new solar panels beside the dam were attracting a lot of attention last time we visited. We saw pied wagtails, yellowhammers, meadow pipits, magpies and crows perched on them!
On the southern side of Grafham Water, between the dam and the village of Perry, you will find the settlement lagoons. Plummer car park is the nearest place to leave your vehicle.
The Lagoon Hide overlooks this area of mudflats and islands, popular with waders such as Redshank, Green Sandpiper and Snipe.
There are also reed beds which are ideal nesting areas for Reed and Cetti's warblers along with Reed Buntings. If you are lucky you could even spot Bitterns in the winter or Avocet in the spring.
The two farthest hides, overlooking Savages Creek, are best reached from Hill Farm car park in the village of Grafham itself.
These two, we personally still haven't explored. When we do, I will be sure to update this page. In the meantime I hope you have enjoyed your virtual walk with us, and will consider visiting Grafham Water when looking for nature in Cambridgeshire.