Needingworth Nature Reserve to Barleycroft Lake

It's hard to beat this walk for the variety of insect-filled leafy lanes and great riverside views. Throw in a hidden picnic site with observation seats over a peaceful lake and one the best sites for observing birds and it's a winner.

Here's a chance to wander through the Ouse Fen, an attractive RSPB Nature Reserve nominated for the BBC's Countryfile Magazine 2013 'Britain's best nature reserve'. There's a high count of insect life, especially dragonflies and butterflies, plus wild grasses and flowers.


This 3.5 miles (7,700 steps) walk takes you through an award winning wetland RSPB nature reserve, field edges and riverside. Quiet places to sit and rest, with a great picnic spot. Plenty of wildlife, grasses and wildflowers. Can be very muddy from Start to Point 2 in winter. Cattle may be present at some points, but are safe to pass. The route is shown below on the Ordnance Survey map. You can also zoom in on a satellite view of the walk at Google Maps.


Starting point
Park in the reserve car park. The main part of the walk goes through land prepared by the Hanson-RSPB Wetland Project, converting sand and gravel quarries into a vast wetland nature reserve. This walk follows some of the reserve's paths. Walking maps available as you leave the car park or you can download one by clicking here.

Walk away from the car park along the path between two fields. In summer the field edges are filled with a variety of wild grasses. After 200 yards the route turns right and is lined by trees. On the right is a bank full of wild flowers. When thistles are in flower, masses of bees and butterflies feed on their nectar. Through the trees to the left is the first of the reserve's reed beds.

Point 1
After 400 yards take the path on the left. There's a stream on your right and lake on your left. Another 450 yards and you come to a crossroads in paths. Continue straight on for 100 yards.

On your left you'll find an open area with a reserve noticeboard at the far end. Walk towards the noticeboard, and then around a copse of trees to the picnic area.

Needingworth RSPB Nature Reserve

Point 2
In addition to two picnic benches, there are observation seats to watch birdlife in the adjacent lake. The nearest point of the lake is a marshy area as shown above, where wading birds can occasionally be seen. If you're accompanied by children, the picnic site is great for a game of hide and seek amongst the trees. Too early to stop and snack? You pass by the picnic site on your way back if you'd rather eat later.

To continue the route walk out of the picnic area and turn left to walk further along the path, with the stream on your right. After 300 yards take the path to the right going over the stream, then turn left to walk along a leafy lane.

Point 3
A further 450 yards brings you to a small turnstile, beyond which is a bank and the River Great Ouse. Turn left to walk along the flood bank with beautiful views of the river on your right. There are some great spots to rest and have a picnic, cabin cruisers drifting along the river. You may find cattle grazing around the flood bank, but there is plenty of room to skirt around them.

You reach Brownshill Staunch after just over half a mile. The original staunch, built almost 200 years ago, was constructed to maintain river levels. This point marks the normal tidal limit on the Great Ouse. Seals occasionally travel up the river from The Wash.

Continue walking along the bank. You may find cattle grazing on top of the bank, or congregating around the stile you'll arrive at after a further third of a mile. They'll normally move away at their own pace or can be skirted around.


Point 4
Pass through the turnstile and follow the path with a small wooded area on your left for about 100 yards. Take the left hand fork to keep the hedge to your left, heading away from the river towards Bluntisham. A further 150 yards brings you to another turnstile on the left. Pass through the turnstile and follow the path for 300 yards through grassland as it heads towards and then left around Barleycroft Lake. You arrive at what must be the best location to observe nesting birds.

Immediately before you is a small island, home to nesting seagulls and other species. In the island diagonally to the far left are cormorants nesting in trees, their excrement colouring the trunks and branches white. Look out for nervous terns, who might attempt to dive bomb.

Point 5
Continue walking with the lake on your right. As you reach the lake's bottom left hand corner, follow the track through grass heading away from the lake. On reaching a track, turn right and after just under 50 yards left through a turnstile. There may be more cattle in this small field.

You reach another turnstile at the far end of the field. Turn right on the track beyond to skirt around the Hanson aggregate site. Keep to the footpath along the verge that passes a weighing station, since near the entrance to the site trucks come and go. About 125 yards past the weighing station, cross the road to take the track opposite that continues to skirt around the site.


Point 6
Just under 250 yards along the track you reach a turnstile on your right. Pass through and follow the track across another field which occasionally has cattle present. At the far end of the field is another turnstile. Beyond this the route passes though a wooded area. In August the grass edges are filled with baby toads, the air full of dragonflies and butterflies.

The route turns right and within a few yards you're back on the path heading towards the picnic area. Retrace your steps to return to the start point.

Click the 'Print Friendly' button below to print out this walk to take with you. Or for more walks click the 'Return Home' button at the foot of this page. Did you enjoy the walk? Notice anything unusual? Why not add a comment below to tell fellow amblers what you liked about it?

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