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The Banks of Bewl Water

Birdwatchers should enjoy this walk to the South's largest reservoir.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 427ft (130m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Woodland paths, field edges and farm tracks, 17 stiles

Landscape Fields, woods and an enormous stretch of water

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 136 The Weald, Royal Tunbridge Wells

Start/finish TQ 711322

Dog friendliness Good, can run free in places

Parking Car park on A21, north of Flimwell - charges can apply

Public toilets At car park

1 Park at the car park on the A21 north of Flimwell, by the junction with the B2079. Turn right and walk along the slip road to reach a large green barn. Turn left on to the public footpath, go through the gap in the fence and walk along the back of the cottages. Pass through a gate into a field and follow the hedgerow on your left. When the hedgerow ends, carry straight on across the field in front, heading for the row of single trees and follow these down to the woods at the bottom. Cross a stile, go over a small wooden footbridge, nip over another stile and follow the obvious track into the woods.

2 The footpath bears slightly right and slopes uphill. At a crossing of paths go to your right, continue to a small clearing and then go back into the woods. As you walk you'll pass conifer trees. Cross over a stile and sleeper bridge, then continue along the track with a wooden fence on your left. Nip over a stile, cross the road and go through the gate on the other side. You can now see Bewl Water. Follow the track with the water on your right, go through the trees and up to a grassy area that would make a good picnic spot.

3 Continue following the track, go through a gate and walk up the bridleway into an open field. The route now goes across another field and on to a farm track - you'll see a radio mast on the hill. Follow this track to join the road, turn right, walk up the road, then hop over a stile on your left. Turn right and walk towards the fence line to another stile. Now your way takes you over two small bridges and two more stiles to a white house. Go up a few steps, cut into the bank, and cross a stile on to the road. Turn right and walk down the road. At the sign for Dale Hill Hotel and Golf Club turn left, walk past the hotel and continue until you come to a track on your left. Walk down this, then clamber over a stile and turn right. Now follow the hedgerow round to your right, around one of the greens, then go straight ahead into the trees and cross another stile. Walk diagonally across the field, nip over the stile and follow the hedgerow on your right before walking between two copses and over a stile on to the road, where you turn left.

4 Continue to Birchenwood Oast, turn left and follow the track, going over a stile, past a conifer plantation and over another stile. Turn left and walk down the edge of the wood, continue straight ahead to a signpost with three directional arrows. Go immediately left, descend a steep slope and walk through the woods, following the Sussex Border Path until it meets the B2087. Cross over and continue to follow this waymarked walk until you come to a junction of paths. Turn right and walk back to the car park and your starting point.

There's always something relaxing about walking near water, so this is a walk not to be rushed. It takes you right down to the banks of Bewl Water, a huge reservoir that forms the largest expanse of freshwater in southern England.

Bewl Water was created between 1973 and 1975 to supply the growing demand for water in the south east. Its construction meant that a large area of woodland was cleared and several historic houses dismantled - and apparently rebuilt elsewhere. The Bewl was dammed and the surrounding valleys flooded. When it was finished 6,886 million gallons (31,300 million litres) of water were needed to fill the reservoir. Like all large areas of water, Bewl attracts a wide variety of bird life. Local birdwatchers come here to see great crested grebes, herons, Canada geese, wigeon, gadwall, tufted ducks, moorhens, coots and pochards. Pochards are winter visitors to Britain, many of them coming here from northern Scandinavia and Russia. Flocks of several thousand of them can gather on large areas of water. If you're wondering how on earth you recognise a pochard, the male has a glossy chestnut head, black chest and light grey wings.

By way of contrast, the approach to Bewl Water includes a stretch of conifer woods. This type of woodland isn't as attractive to wildlife as deciduous woods, as the trees form such a thick canopy the light can't penetrate. In turn, wild flowers can't grow on the forest floor and as there are no plants to attract insects - and in turn birds - there is a rather sterile environment.

Where to eat and drink

In Ticehurst try the Cherry Tree Inn which has loads of sandwiches and other bar snacks. They also have an extensive blackboard menu and serve real ales.

While you're there

Bewl Water is a great place to bring children as there are plenty of activities around the lake. There's a woodland playground and you can also go windsurfing or mountain biking. The Outdoor Centre offers courses, covering everything from sailing and canoeing to climbing. You can also take trips on the Frances Mary passenger ferry. Cruises operate from Easter to September.

What to look for

The woods around Bewl Water support a variety of birdlife and, if you're lucky, you might see a nuthatch. These perky little birds look rather like small woodpeckers. They have a cinnamon coloured chest, dove grey wings and a thick black line across their eyes. They can perform the rather nifty trick of walking down trees head first, and like to eat nuts such as acorns, hazel cobs and chestnuts.

Kent

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