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Around Carsington Reservoir

Derbyshire's most controversial modern reservoir is now a magnet for wildlife.

Distance 8 miles (12.9km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Surfaced and unsurfaced waymarked paths, a few stiles

Landscape Reservoir and low pastured hillsides

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 24 White Peak

Start/finish SK 241516

Dog friendliness Severn Trent Water ask that dogs be kept on leads

Parking Carsington Reservoir visitor centre car park

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the visitor centre follow the signposted bridleway southwards past the sailing club and across the huge dam, which holds back 7.8 billion gallons (35.5 billion litres) of water. When full the reservoir is 100ft (30m) deep covering an area the size of 700 football pitches. At the far end of the dam the tarmac path reaches Millfields, where there is a refreshment kiosk (seasonal). From here a path with yellow markers continues close to the reservoir shoreline, passing the car park and reacquainting itself with the bridleway on several occasions. After crossing a footbridge over wetlands the path comes to a narrow tarmac lane by Upperfields Farm.

2 Turn left along the lane, then right at a gate, following a track, signposted to Hopton. The winding track dips and climbs high above the sinuous lakeshore, passing through pastureland and into the shade of woodland. The track turns left at the northern end of the lake, then left again parallel to the main road. Cross the road, before continuing along the track on the other side. This leads northwards into Hopton village, where you turn left into neighbouring Carsington.

3 The Miners Arms doesn't look much from the road, but you walk through the car park and find that the front is at the back and it's a good looking pub with a pleasant beer garden. The walk continues south on a track just beyond the pub's car park. Turn left along the lane behind the pub, then right past Wash Farm and back to the main road. Across the road, follow the left fork path, which leads to Sheepwash car park.

4 Take the waymarked path between the metalled car park loop roads and continue south west, by-passing the conservation area. Beyond the second of the waterside birdwatching hides here, the path meets and then joins the bridleway, but gives it the slip again to cut a corner round one of the inlets. The ways continue to flirt with each other like this until you reach the wildlife centre, where you should opt for the the bridleway to take you back to the visitor centre.

Planned in the 1960s and argued about well into the 1970s, Carsington Reservoir was finally inaugurated by the Queen in 1992. Built in a shallow valley with a poor catchment area, the reservoir's main supply is pumped from the River Derwent at Ambergate and conveyed 6½ miles (10.4km) down a pipeline. When the Derwent's water levels are low, water is pumped in the opposite direction.

Severn Trent Water has built a state-of-the-art visitor centre, a sports and activity centre, a restaurant, some shops and a sailing club. They boast about good conservation policies and pure clean water. But somehow you get that sinking feeling as you cross the vast car park in search of a walk.

The gloom's short-lived however, for once you're past Millbank at the southern end of the lake, you will leave the tarmac behind and you start to see the wildlife - a swan, a moorhen, a grebe. And soon after that you're walking among wetlands and through woods, looking across a very pleasant blue to verdant hillslopes.

If you fancy doing some bird watching while you're here, there are a couple of signposted detours to waterside hides. The reservoir is quickly establishing itself as a haven for wildfowl. Widgeon, the pochard and tufted ducks regularly winter here, while in the summer you will probably see great crested grebes. There are also many waders, including incongruous-seeming cormorants and elegant grey herons. The watchtower, which provides a good place for viewing the bird life, was built as an observation post during the Second World War.

While you're there

The visitor centre has a fascinating exhibition demonstrating the value of water and the reliability of its quality. There's a water feature, the Kugel, where a 3ft (90cm) sphere of Bavarian granite revolves mysteriously on a socket. Water pumped from the socket, lubricates the sphere, allowing it to revolve on the slightest touch. On Stones Island there's a monument, cut from Derbyshire gritstone. It was designed by the landscape architect, Lewis Knight and erected in 1992.

Where to eat and drink

The Miners Arms is a pleasant 400 year-old pub with a large beer garden. It serves good sandwiches and bar meals. You can gaze across Carsington Water while you eat at the visitor centre's Barrowdale Restaurant. It is licensed and serves morning coffee, pleasant lunches and afternoon teas.

What to look for

The American ruddy duck, which has a reddish back, white cheeks and large blue bill, is a regular on Carsington Water. The little duck escaped from the Wildlife Trust and is now threatening to overrun native species, such as the European white-headed duck.

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