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Rudyard Reservoir

An exploration of the Victorian tourist spot that gave Kipling his name.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 180ft (55m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Gravel bridleways, footpaths and roads, 2 stiles

Landscape Lakeside and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow

Start/finish SJ 939611

Dog friendliness Good, but care should be taken near wildfowl

Parking Ample parking at north east corner of reservoir

Public toilets Opposite visitors' centre at south west corner

1 Access to the car park is along a pot-holed, gravel bridleway about ¼ mile (400m) long. From the car park, take the left fork underneath the obvious bridge. Follow the wide, gravel bridleway until it becomes a footpath, with a narrow-gauge railway just to the left. Continue to the end of the reservoir. Just before you reach the end, just past an impressive white house and a row of boathouses opposite, is a picnic site up a short track to the right of the main path.

2 Cross the head of the reservoir (there's a pay telescope here). From the visitors' centre head away from the reservoir up the footpath on to the narrow metalled road. (If you have to go through a gate, you've gone too far left - this will bring you out in the car park of the Hotel Rudyard.) Turn right and then fork left at The Crescent, after which the road becomes a gravel track.

3 At the next open space, take the narrow footpath straight ahead (avoiding the private road into the caravan park to the right). Just after the brow of the rise is a junction of two paths; take the more obvious of these down to a metalled road and turn right. At the bottom of a short hill follow the road round to the left. Continue parallel to the shore until it becomes a gravel bridleway at Rudyard Sailing Club.

4 After 400yds (366m) along the wooded path cross the stile into a clearing with views over the water. The path eases gently uphill to a gate with a chain, which signals your arrival at Cliffe Park, a vast Victorian pile complete with crenellations. Another open stretch becomes a gentle downhill run to a small, surfaced road which should be followed right, back towards the reservoir. There's a small stile just before the road reaches the shore. Continue around the end of the reservoir to the car park.

Rudyard Reservoir was built in 1800 to provide an adequate water supply to the region's canals. It wasn't until the second half of the century, however, that it was commercially exploited as a major tourist attraction, thanks to the fast-growing popularity of boating and picnicking among the Victorian middle classes.

In its heyday, the waterfront would have been awash with holiday-makers escaping from the smoggy industrial towns at weekends, with a fun-fair, bandstand and dance floor for the adults, and carousels, slides and swings for the children. Ice skating was very popular in the winter, when fairy lights were hung from trees and great fires on the shore enabled night skating and dancing. The reservoir was also the scene of some amazing spectacles. In June 1861, the memorably-named African Blondin walked over the reservoir on a tightrope. (He was a pupil of the great Charles Blondin, renowned for crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope.) And in June 1877 a poster records that a Captain Webb gave a 'representation in miniature of his cross-Channel feat,' after he became the first person to swim from England to France two years earlier.

But it was at a Victorian picnic in April 1863 that the reservoir's name was assured its place in literary history, when renowned pottery designer John Lockwood Kipling met his bride-to-be Alice Macdonald. History has it that the courting couple spent much of their time here and were so fond of the memories that they named their first son after the reservoir.

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on 30 December 1865 and spent his first five years in India, before being sent to England to stay with a foster family. After finishing his schooling he returned to India to work as a journalist on the Civil and Military Gazette, but it was during his spare time that he wrote the first of the poems and stories that would later make him famous. He went on to write many more, including his most famous poem, If.

Despite his popular and critical success, Kipling declined many of the honours that were offered to him, including a knighthood, Poet Laureateship, and the Order of Merit, but in 1907 he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, aged 42.

Where to eat and drink

The café, opposite the visitors' centre, does snacks such as bacon rolls, crisps, cakes and chocolate, as well as hot and cold drinks. For those after something more substantial, the bar at the Hotel Rudyard is open to non-residents and offers a selection of classic pub fare 12-2pm and 7-9pm daily and a carvery every evening and at weekends.

While you're there

At weekends during the summer rowing boats can be hired for £5 per hour, with four people allowed per boat. Alternatively, the Rudyard Lake Railway offers a 3-mile (4.8km) round trip along the side of the reservoir on a mini-gauge railway about half the size of a standard narrow-gauge railway. Trips are run every weekend, roughly every 40 minutes, from Easter to late October, and are normally steam driven.

What to look for

The visitors' centre, situated in an old boathouse, is home to migrating swallows, which have built their nests in the roof space above the water for years. In 2000 it was feared that building work would scare the birds off permanently, but they returned the following year to produce two broods of chicks.

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