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The Wildlife of Daneshill Lakes

A very easy stroll around a watery nature reserve, reclaimed from old gravel pits near Retford in north Nottinghamshire.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Firm gravel tracks and woodland paths

Landscape Small lakes and pools dotted around mixed woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 279 Doncaster

Start/finish SK 668865

Dog friendliness On lead, except in designated 'dog run' area

Parking Nature reserve car park, Daneshill Road, signed from A638

Public toilets None on route (nearest in Retford)

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1 From the car park go through the main gate and ahead past the notice board on the wide gravel track. At the junction swing right, so that the large lake opens up on your left. Go past the warden's office and sailing club hut along the water's edge.

2 Approaching the railway look for the two large track-side signs which read 'Edinburgh 350 miles'. (Fortunately this walk is a little less ambitious.) The first left turn is a continuation of the lakeside path, and the second left is via the dog-run next to the railway. Both join up 350yds (320m) later and resume the easy tour around the main lake, past large bushes of rose hip. A second, smaller lake opens up on the right.

3 When you meet the fence at the end, with an open field beyond, turn left. As this bears left after 300yds (274m) take the small grassy path into the woods half right, as indicated by a small wooden post bearing the letters 'MM'. This is a wildlife trail created for the millennium and designed in particular for use by local school groups. It wanders happily through the bushes and trees and beside a small stream (look out for the pond-dipping platform), and when it finally emerges from the undergrowth turn right and right again to return to the car park. Continue via the small path through the trees to the left of the road entrance and cross the road.

4 Go through the gateway on the opposite side and turn left on to a wide track, indicated 'Easy Access to Reserve' (ignore the footpath to the right). Follow this track until you reach a wooden footbridge. Go across, then turn right and walk along to reach the notice board by the woodland pond.

5 Continue to follow this easy and obvious track through the reserve, keeping the ditch and stream on your right-hand side and ignoring an inviting turning to the right across a footbridge.

6 Unless you want to make a diversion at this point to visit Ranskill as well, ignore the right turn for the Millennium Pathway, and instead stick to the main path as it completes a giant loop around the entire nature reserve. Look out for the shallow pools and scrapes among the undergrowth, which, unless they've dried out in hot weather, are a focus for creatures such as frogs and beetles. After about a mile (1.6km) or so you arrive back at the wooden footbridge. Turn right here to cross it, go through the gateway to the road and cross over to return to the car park.

Daneshill Lakes Local Nature Reserve was created in the mid-1980s from a collection of shallow gravel extraction pits as part of a major reclamation project by Nottinghamshire County Council. It falls into two distinct parts, separated by Daneshill Road. To the south, leading off from the car park, is the more open and popular section, with benches and picnic tables, where windsurfers ply the main lake and anglers sit patiently by the shore. Coots and moorhens busy themselves among the reeds, and Canada geese, grebes and swans are a common sight. Across the road to the north is a more wooded and secluded area that is specially managed for wildlife. Here, on my first visit, I saw goldcrests and coal tits, and later on in the walk a commotion in the trees ahead was followed by a sparrowhawk shooting out at great speed. This is certainly the place to have your binoculars and identification book handy.

Despite being close to the road and a mainline railway, Daneshill Lakes provide a wonderful oasis for birdlife, partly because of the variety of different habitats - from open water and wetland through to scrub and woodland - so that you are almost as likely to see waders such as redshank and ringed plover as you are wood warblers, blackcaps and any of the three native British woodpeckers. But there is much else besides the birds, since dragonflies and damselflies take to the air when the summer temperatures rise sufficiently, and newts and toads revel in the wet and sheltered thickets.

This innovative route, which encompasses Daneshill Lakes, was designed as part of the local millennium celebrations and links the nearby villages of Scrooby, Ranskill and Torworth. All three are connected by the Great North Road (which used to be part of the A1, but is now reduced in status to the A638) as well as the railway, and historically have shared schools, churches and so on. The 'Star' is the name of the local newsletter produced and distributed among the villages.

Today the small village of Scrooby (3 miles/4.8km north of Daneshill Lakes) seems a very quiet and unassuming sort of place, but its significance in history is confirmed by the name of the pub - the Pilgrim Fathers.

Local man William Brewster, who lived at the manor house, rebelled against the orthodox Church by actively promoting what was called Separatism. But early 17th-century England wasn't exactly tolerant of religious dissenters, and Brewster ended up fleeing to Holland. In the autumn of 1620 he set sail for North America on board the Mayflower, with the other so-called Pilgrim Fathers, to start a new life. The rest, as they say, is history.

Where to eat and drink

Refreshments are to be found at local pubs such as the Pilgrim Fathers at Scrooby (open all day), and the Huntsman at Torworth, plus there's the Village Fish Bar at Ranskill. Another option is to take an easy public footpath from the southern edge of the reserve across the fields to visit the Gate Inn at Sutton Cum Lound, a round trip of just over 2 miles (3.2km).

While you're there

The market town of Retford, 4 miles (6.4km) south of Daneshill Lakes, retains a number of attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings, many bordering the elegant Market Square. Leading off from this is Grove Street where, situated next to the tourist information centre, is Bassetlaw Museum, which has more details on the town's history and the area's historic connection with the English Puritan movement that went on to found the New World.

What to look for

If you visit in the spring or summer, keep your eyes open for butterflies such as the meadow brown, the common blue and the dull-orange/brown gatekeeper, all of which are attracted by the brambles and gorse. The bright yellow of the male brimstone is particularly striking, and as it overwinters as an adult it is often the first butterfly to appear on the wing in spring.

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