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Birds, Beasts and Butterflies at Tittesworth

Reservoir biodiversity provides drinking water for the Potteries and a valuable habitat for lots of wildlife.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Good well-made footpaths, forest tracks and roads

Landscape Reservoir and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL24 White Peak

Start/finish SK 999603

Dog friendliness Suitable for dogs

Parking Near Middle Hulme Farm

Public toilets At reservoir visitor centre

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1 Go through a gate on to a footpath and turn right. Cross the first bridge, turn left then cross a second bridge and follow the Long Trail/Short Trail direction signs along a well-surfaced path. At a junction beside a picnic table turn left on to a forest trail.

2 Follow the waymarked Long Trail through the wood crossing a bridge and some duckboarding then turn left at a T-junction again following the Long Trail. Follow the path as it leaves the wood and on to a grassy area where it is less well defined but still visible.

3 Continue along the bank of the reservoir then re-enter woodland, cross some duckboards and continue once more on a well-defined footpath. Cross a bridge by a picnic table, ascend some steps and continue along duckboards. Skirt the edge of a wood, keeping the fence on your left, then go downhill through a wood and along the reservoir bank.

4 Go through some more woodland, cross a bridge, walk up some steps then leave the wood and continue on a gravel path. Cross a stile then follow the path downhill towards the dam. Go over a stile and cross the dam head. Cross a stile at the far end, go uphill on a series of steps and turn right on to a footpath.

5 Cross a stile and turn right at a T-junction on to a metalled lane. Continue on this through a farm, following the signs for Meerbrook, straight ahead. At the road junction cross a stile and turn right at the Long Trail sign. Turn right again following the road to Tittesworth Reservoir. When this turns to the right, bear left on a footpath beside the reservoir.

6 Cross another stile on to the road then turn right into the public entrance to the reservoir. Turn left at the entrance to the visitor centre, cross the car park then go left at the Nature Trail sign. Continue across the grass then turn right on to a concrete path. Follow this to the first bridge then turn left to return to the car park.

Tittesworth Reservoir and dam were built in 1858 to collect water from the River Churnet and provide a reliable water supply to Leek's thriving textile and cloth dying industry. By 1963 work to increase its size had been completed and local farmland was flooded to create a reservoir capable of supplying drinking water to Stoke-on-Trent and surrounding areas. With a capacity of 6½ billion gallons (29½ billion litres), when full it can supply 10 million gallons (45 million litres) of water every day.

The land around the reservoir provides a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and many creatures can be seen in the course of this walk. Look out for brown hares in the fields near the car park. You can tell them from rabbits by their very long legs, black-tipped ears and a triangular black and light brown tail.

Otters were once hunted almost to extinction by dogs and although the sport is now illegal their numbers remain low. They are nocturnal creatures and not often seen, but look out for their droppings by the water's edge and the tell-tale prints of their webbed feet and wavy line tail prints in the sand and soft mud. Look also for holes in the banks along the River Churnet, where it enters the reservoir. Although he's a difficult little creature to spot, a hole may just be the entrance to a vole burrow and home to a water vole like Ratty from The Wind in the Willows.

Europe's smallest bat, the pipistrelle, suffered a severe decline in numbers in the last decades of the 20th century due to loss of hunting habitats like hedges, ponds and grassland. Pond restoration near Churnet Bay is encouraging their return and they can best be seen here near dusk, flying at an incredible speed, twisting and turning as they dive to gobble caddisflies, moths and gnats.

Bird life around the reservoir is also abundant and there are two bird hides from which visitors can observe in comfort. Look out particularly for skylarks, small birds with a high-pitched continuous warble, that nest in the meadows around Tittesworth. The song thrush, another bird that has been in decline, also finds a home here, as does the linnet. Look especially for the male of the species in spring and summer when it has a bright blood-red breast and forehead. You'll find them in the trees and bushes near the visitor centre and at the hide near the conservation pool.

At various times of the year you might spot barnacle geese, great crested grebe, pied flycatchers, spectacular kingfishers, cormorants and even a rare osprey that has visited here several times in recent years.

While you're there

A visit to the Churnet Valley Railway will invoke memories of steam travel on a rural railway of the mid-20th century. Starting from the Victorian station at Cheddleton, it meanders along beside the River Churnet and the Cauldon Canal. There are several stops including the picturesque hamlet of Consall with some fine local walks and the Black Lion public house.

What to look for

Towards the end of the walk look out for Butterfly Beach an experimental area designed to encourage breeding butterflies. This 'luxury hotel' for these delightful insects has a sandy beach for a spot of sunbathing on a warm summer day and thistles, nettles and a host of wild flowers to provide egg laying sites and food.

Where to eat and drink

Stop at the Tittesworth Visitor Centre which is on the walk. This light and airy restaurant has great views over the water and a good selection of food options ranging from a full breakfast through tasty soups and rolls to afternoon teas with delicious scones and pastries.

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