This fascinating walk mostly stays within the boundaries of a popular country park, visiting six different lakes along the way.
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Lakeside and riverside paths, some road walking, no stiles
Landscape Extensive lakeland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 159 Reading, Wokingham & Pangbourne
Start/finish SU 784718
Dog friendliness Dogs under control and on lead where requested
Parking Large car park at Dinton Pastures
Public toilets Dinton Pastures
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1 With the Tea Cosy café and Countryside Service office on the right and High Chimneys behind you, cross the car park to the large map of the site. Follow the wide path and keep right at the fork by the 'wildlife trails' sign. Pass an enclosed play area on the left, keep the Emm Brook on the right and enjoy the tantalizing glimpses of Black Swan Lake up ahead.
2 Swing left on reaching the water and follow the path alongside the lake. When it veers right, turn left across a bridge to a sign for Tufty's Corner. Bear right here and keep left at the fork after a few paces. Follow the path beside White Swan Lake to a waymark post by a patch of grass and a flight of steps. Avoid the steps but take the left-hand path and follow it to the lake known as Tufty's Corner. On reaching a junction by a bridge, turn right and keep the River Loddon on your left.
3 Walk along to the next bridge. Don't cross it; instead continue on the riverside path. White Swan Lake lies over to the right, glimpsed at intervals between the trees. Further on, the path curves to the right, in line with the river, before reaching a sign 'private fishing - members only'. Join a track on the right here and bear left. Pass alongside Herons Water to a sign 'Sandford Lake, Black Swan Lake and Lavell's Lake - Conservation Area'. Turn left and keep Sandford Lake on the right. When the path curves right, go out to the road.
4 To visit the Berkshire Museum of Aviation, bear left and pass Sandford Mill. Take the road signposted 'No Through Road' on the left, pass several cottages and continue ahead when the road dwindles to a path. The museum is on the left. Retrace your steps to Sandford Mill and keep walking ahead to a footpath and kissing gate on the left. Keep left at the first fork, then right at the second and head for the Teal hide. Return to the road, cross over and return to the lakeside path.
5 Continue with Sandford Lake on your right. On reaching a sign 'Sandford Lake - wildlife area - dogs under control' veer left over a bridge and turn left. Black Swan Sailing Club can be seen on the left. Continue on the broad path and look out across the lake to Goat Island, noted for its population of goats. On reaching the picnic area overlooking Black Swan Lake, turn left and retrace your steps back to the main car park.
Dinton Pastures Country Park describes itself as a mosaic of rivers, meadows, lakes and woodland. The lakes were once gravel workings that were flooded to form the focal point of this attractive recreational area. Paths and self-guided trails enable visitors to explore this tranquil world of water and wildlife at will and, as you explore the park on foot, spare a thought to work out how it all began.
The park's river meadows were once farmed by Anglo Saxons who called the area Whistley - 'wisc' meaning marshy meadow and 'lei', a wooded glade or clearing. The River Loddon was also used as part of the same process, farmed for its rich supply of eels, caught in willow traps for the monks of Abingdon Abbey. Traps were still in regular use as late as the 1930s.
By the beginning of the 17th century, much of the area formed part of Windsor Forest, where the Monarch and his courtiers indulged in hunting for pleasure. It was the courtiers who built some of the region's grandest houses, including High Chimneys, which was handy for Windsor Castle, the royal powerhouse. High Chimneys' farmhouse, which later became the Tea Cosy café, dates back to 1904. During the mid-1920s it was occupied by a farmer who named the farm after his home village of Dinton, near Aylesbury.
Dinton Pastures forms part of the Loddon's flood plain and is a rich source of gravel, which has been extracted here for more than 100 years. There was an extensive extraction programme here during the late 1960s and right through the 1970s. Much of the material was used to construct the M4 and the A329(M), connecting Reading and Wokingham.
Comprising about 230 acres (93ha) and officially opened to the public in 1979, Dinton Pastures attracts many visitors who come here to walk, fish, picnic and indulge in birdwatching - a welcome green space on Reading's doorstep. The largest of the lakes at Dinton Pastures is Black Swan. The Emm Brook once flowed where the lake is now situated. It was later diverted and the oaks which you can see on the island in the lake were once on the banks of the old stream.
All the lakes draw a variety of wetland birds such as swans, geese, coots and moorhens. The park's rarest birds are bitterns - less than 20 pairs breed in Britain annually. Several fly here in winter and in spring migrants such as nightingales also make the journey from Africa to nest at Dinton Pastures. The park offers all sorts of surprises - you may spot a weasel or a stoat, catch sight of a mink in the Loddon, or identify one of 18 species of dragonfly in the lakes and rivers.
The Tea Cosy café overlooks a pleasant garden with several tables to enable you to enjoy refreshments outside. It serves cream teas and cakes as well as main meals. If you prefer a pub, try the nearby Castle Inn at Hurst, with its historic bowling green, reputedly laid for Charles I. Part of the inn known as the coffin room is said to be haunted!
Visit the Teal Hide at Lavell's Lake, overlooking the wader scrapes. See if you can spot wading birds from here - look out for the green sandpiper and redshank, ducks, swans, kingfishers and the occasional bittern. This site is for serious ornithologists. Not long ago this corner of the park was a meadow grazed by cattle or cut for hay, though the landscape changed dramatically at the time of gravel extraction. Take time to visit the Berkshire Museum of Aviation, just off the main route of the walk. The museum is dedicated to the contribution the county has made to flying. A Second World War hangar has been moved here from Woodley and there are various aircraft representing Berkshire's aviation history from the last 60 years or so.
Sandford Mill, built in 1772, was in use until the mid-1950s and in 1994 it was converted into a private property. A mill was originally recorded on this site in the Domesday Book. With the trees surrounding it and its picturesque white weatherboarded façade, it creates a pretty picture in this corner of the park.