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Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation

There are currently 1 comments and 5 photos online for this walk.

Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation
Author: Steve Hallam, Published: 19 Apr 2017 Walk Rating:star1 Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation Walking Guide star1 Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation Walking Guide star1 Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation Walking Guide star0 Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation Walking Guide star0 Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation Walking Guide
Essex, Colchester
Walk Type: River or lakeside
Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation
Length: 12 miles,  Difficulty: boot Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation Walking Guide
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This 12.5 mile walk is a special one for birdwatchers, going all the way around Abberton Reservoir in Essex. Abberton has long been considered to be the single best reservoir for birdwatching in the country, due to its location near the East coast fly-way. Over 280 species have been seen here. Recent work has resulted in significant potential improvements for wildlife, which will strengthen over time. The walk starts 5.5 miles southwest of Colchester. It traverses typically pleasant, but unspectacular, Essex rural scenery. Not all of the route is in view of the water, but the habitats seen include open water, reedbed, scrapes and lagoons, rough grassland, wood, scrub, pasture and arable farmland. Most of the walk is good for dogs, with the only livestock being near Layer Church and (possibly) Wigborough Church. However, dogs that are excitedly charging through grassland and scrub will disturb birds and do not really fit with the ethos of a nature reserve.

There is one notable downside to the route, as explained in the next paragraph.

The route makes use of paths, tracks and roads. I would allow six hours for the walk, plus birdwatching and picnic time. There is one stile along the route. Some of it is on bare earth, the condition of which will vary according to the amount of recent rainfall. A total of 2.2 miles is on public roads, including the Layer Breton causeway, which is one of the prime birdwatching locations. However 0.7 mile is along a busy B-road, where the verges are narrow. You will see from the route track that I chose to walk some of this on the 'wrong' side of the road (not facing oncoming traffic), because the verge on the right-hand side was effectively non-existent. There is no getting away from the fact that this stretch is not a pleasant experience. However, at the moment there is no alternative to tackling it, if you want to go right round the reservoir. If you want a shorter route that avoids this stretch there are some options. Sections 1 and 2 could be used to create a shorter, circular walk, returning via the Layer-de-la-Haye causeway. The sections from Peldon onwards could be used as 'out and back' walks - the reservoir can also be accessed at Peldon (Waypoint 4), Abberton Church (Waypoint 5) and Layer Church (Waypoint 7).

This route does not make use of the Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve, which is located next to the start car park (because it is only open 9-5, and non-members are expected to make a donation). But it is well worth visiting, with three hides, a good woodland walk, and a well equipped visitor centre.

I started the walk at the free public car park at the north end of the Layer-de-la-Haye causeway, on the road from Layer-de-la-Haye to Tollesbury, CO2 0EU. Many people may choose to use the car park for the nearby Essex Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre (also free), but as this is only open from 9am to 5pm, I chose the adjacent public one. This location is served by Hedingham Bus route 92, between Colchester and Tollesbury. In addition, Malting Green (which is near to the section of the walk after Waypoint 6) is served by First bus route 50.

Walk Sections

Start to Weir
Start to Weir

Start point: 51.8231 lat, 0.8461 long
End point: 51.8134 lat, 0.8285 long

From the car park turn right, to walk north up the roadside verge. After about 240 yards you will see a fingerpost for a Permissive Bridleway pointing left, across the road. (If you are starting from the Essex Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre, turn right out of the Visitor Centre to walk up the old, now disused, road. You will soon see a fingerpost pointing left, to a path leading to the road. Take this, and when you reach the road turn left to get to the same point.)

Follow this easily visible path as it snakes through some scrub and woodland, and then straightens to run alongside a hedge. The scrub is good for warblers, Nightingales and other song birds, while the hedges are good for Whitethroat, Yellowhammers and Linnets. The path comes to a road by a pair of large metal farm gates, and turns left to access the road via a wooden kissing gate. Turn left to walk down the road towards the Layer Breton causeway across the reservoir.

This causeway is one of the best birdwatching locations around the reservoir, and this part of the reservoir is now managed for the benefit of wildlife. Seven species of raptor are regularly seen here, at the appropriate times of the year. The open water holds large numbers of both diving and dabbling ducks - Smew were present for much of the 2016/17 winter. Nightingales sing at the north end, where the trees are used as a large Heron and Egret roost. The reedbed has wintering Bittern and Water Rail, while the rough grass margins are attractive to Short Eared Owls. An artificial Sand Martin cliff has just been installed, and so has an Osprey nesting platform (don't hold your breath for this last one!). Section 1 of the route ends where there is a weir, at the southern end of the causeway (a particularly good spot for Water Rail.)

Weir to Billets Farm car park
Weir to Billets Farm car park

Start point: 51.8134 lat, 0.8285 long
End point: 51.8148 lat, 0.848 long

When you eventually tear yourself away from the causeway, continue on along the road southwards. You will shortly see a wooden kissing gate on the left side of the road, with a Permissive Bridleway fingerpost. This leads to a clearly visible path that runs alongside a hedge back to the road you started on.

When you reach the road, cross straight over to join a Permissive Bridleway on the other side and turn right. Pass Billets Farm and keep going along the road.

Billets Farm car park to Wigborough Church
Billets Farm car park to Wigborough Church

Start point: 51.8148 lat, 0.848 long
End point: 51.8049 lat, 0.8528 long

As you walk along the road away from Billets Farm, be sure to have a quick look over the hedge on the right side of the road. The low lying land on the other side can be good for waders when it is wet, and is a particularly good spot for Little Ringed Plovers.

About 300 yards after the car park, go through the wooden kissing gate on the left side of the road and continue along the path. There is a small viewing shelter on the bank to your left. This provides an excellent view over the Wigborough bay part of the reservoir, which rivals the Layer Breton causeway for being the best location. The bay's specialties are waders and dabbling ducks. It holds some Bewick Swans most winters, and if Spoonbills are about they tend to turn up here.

The path continues straight, and then turns left. It ends where a tarmac lane bends right. Ignore the lane and carry straight on, along a yard or two of verge, to pick up a public footpath. After a few yards running alongside a fence, the path runs straight across an arable field, heading for the left-hand side of the farm visible in front of you. It continues straight, but ducks inside (to the right of) a hedge, then back out into the field, and then (through a gap on your right) back into a fenced-in narrow path. (If you walk down the field there is no way out at the end.) The path ends at a stile (with a gap by it that you walk through) where you turn left to walk up a tarmac lane to reach Wigborough Church. As you approach, be sure to look to your right for a fine view down to, and across, salt marshes and the Blackwater estuary.

Wigborough Church to Peldon Church
Wigborough Church to Peldon Church

Start point: 51.8049 lat, 0.8528 long
End point: 51.8138 lat, 0.8853 long

Walk past the church and down the track in front of you. Immediately past the wooden gate, turn right down the visible grass path. Follow this path down the slope through a grass field, keeping to the left of the hedge. Pass through a gap in the hedge at the bottom, to access a paddock. Admire the house and garden to your left (and, if you are like me, weep a little, inside, at the contrast with your own home). Carry on straight, down the right side of this paddock, and go through the gateway in the hedge at the far side. Walk down the hedge on the right side of this second grass field. At the end of the field a small (and easy to miss) gap in this hedge leads to the arable field on the other side. Cross this field, heading at about 2 o'clock, to where you can see the hedge ends in the middle of the field. When you reach the end of this hedge, walk alongside it (keeping it on your left), past some stables to reach the road.

Turn left to walk along the road. NOTE: As explained in the introduction, this road is busy and has narrow to absent verges, so take good care. There are two right bends where you may decide to cross to the other side of the road. This is definitely necessary for the second bend.

When the road reaches the village of Peldon, take the side road that forks left, up the side of a triangular green. Follow this road through the pleasant but unspectacular village to pass the church.

Peldon Church to Abberton Church car park
Peldon Church to Abberton Church car park

Start point: 51.8138 lat, 0.8853 long
End point: 51.8368 lat, 0.8987 long

Continue to follow the one road of Peldon village, carrying straight on and ignoring the road that comes in from the right. Where the road swings right, at the end of the village (and by the national speed limit signs), take the road that branches off on the left to continue straight on. At the end of this dead-end lane, having passed through a pedestrian metal gate, turn right, as directed by the Permissive Bridleway wooden fingerpost.

Follow this fenced bridleway all the way to Abberton Church, and beyond. Ignore the one Permissive Bridleway that goes off to the right, and keep straight on. Where the route climbs up a short rise, look back and to the south for a nice view over the Blackwater estuary.

Not all of this section is in view of the water, due to the contours of the land. This section provides three habitats - farmland on your right, open water on your left (this side of the reservoir will hold winter grebes, diving ducks and sea ducks) and rough grassland in between. As a result of the project to enlarge the reservoir, around 500 aces of rough grassland has been created around the reservoir. This is already good for seed eaters (large flocks of Corn bunting, Yellowhammers and Linnet can be seen) and raptors.

Abberton Church car park to River Bridge

Start point: 51.8368 lat, 0.8987 long
End point: 51.8428 lat, 0.8891 long

By the church car park, a fingerpost pointing left indicates a short optional detour to a viewing point. In winter this is worth taking, for good views of open water birds and flocks of seed eaters on the rough grassland. The main route goes straight on, down the side of the graveyard. As in the previous section, navigation consists of following the fenced bridleway. This dips down to run underneath the main dam, and ends at a road. Turn left, onto the wide verge, to cross the bridge.

You may notice a yellow sign on the other side of the road, citing several reasons to avoid the land beyond. This is the edge of the Army training area, part of the large garrison at Colchester, home of the 16th Air Assault Brigade. Probably best to give them a decently wide birth!

River Bridge to Layer Church
River Bridge to Layer Church

Start point: 51.8428 lat, 0.8891 long
End point: 51.8365 lat, 0.8503 long

For the first part of this section you are out of sight of the reservoir.

A few yards after the bridge, turn left onto a gravel track, and then almost immediately right, through a wooden pedestrian gate, as indicated by a fingerpost for a Permissive Bridleway. At the next fingerpost turn left, through a wooden kissing gate and onto a Permissive Footpath (leaving the bridleway). Follow this path to come out onto a track. Turn right to cross a concrete bridge over a stream and walk up the track. After 20 yards turn left onto the signed footpath, going through a wooden gate.

Walk straight across the arable field to the wooden gate you can see in front. Follow the path as it jinks to the right, through a gap in the hedge, and then continues straight on, along the right side of a ditch. This path ends at a T-junction with another path. Turn left, and then almost immediately right, to cross the arable field. Your 'bearing' is at between 10 and 11 o'clock. Head for the left-hand of the two large trees in the middle of the field, and then for the right-hand end of a low black building you can see in the property on the other side of the field boundary in front. When you get there, follow the fenced path that runs down the side of this property to come out on a roughly paved lane.

Turn right to follow this lane. It climbs a little and swings to the left. You will come to a cream-coloured house called Thatch Cottage. A narrow, fenced path runs down the far side of this house, with Elm Tree Cottage on the other side. Follow this path as it crosses a small area fenced with large green metal fencing and gates, and goes through a little area of scrub to open out into a track. Follow the track up a slope to come out onto a roughly paved lane.

Turn right to follow this lane past some large houses. Where the lane enters a large, private garden, take the footpath that forks right, past an area planted with trees, to go round this property. There is a small stile here. Follow the path past this property, and go through a metal kissing gate to enter a grass field in which saplings have recently been planted. You are now back in sight of the reservoir and its birds. This section is good for both diving and dabbling ducks, hunting harriers and, in summer, Common Terns.

The path continues straight on, all the way to Layer Church. There are several metal kissing gates to vanquish, but the path is easy to follow throughout. The last few fields contain sheep - which are protected by anti-dog warning signs, complete with a spelling mistake. At the end of the last field, the path enters the graveyard and crosses it to come out onto the road via a gap in the hedge. Turn left to walk down the pavement in front of the church.

Layer Church to End
Layer Church to End

Start point: 51.8365 lat, 0.8503 long
End point: 51.8233 lat, 0.846 long

Walk past the church and enter the car park just beyond it. At the end of the car park, take the signposted Permissive Footpath and Cycleway. This takes you all the way back to the start of the walk.

This part of the reservoir was carefully landscaped as part of the recent enlargement project. A combination of scrapes, lagoons and bunds ensures that there is habitat here for dabbling ducks and waders, no matter how the height of the main reservoir varies. Augmented by water margins, scrub, rough grassland and trees, this area should mature into an excellent area for wildlife.

At the lowest part of this section, you will see that the embankment that carries the road to your right has been strengthened with a hard black material. This is to protect the road in the event that the reservoir floods. You will note that it is well over your head!

Once past the bay, and where a wooded area is on your left (good for Nightingales and Lesser Whitethroats), a fingerpost points to the left. Follow this path and then turn right to walk down the old road past the entrance of the Visitor Centre. A few yards further on, pass through two large wooden gates to reach the starting car park. If these gates are shut, there is a wooden pedestrian gate on the left-hand side.

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Text and images for this walk are Copyright © 2017 by iFootpath and the author SteveHallam and may not be reproduced without permission.


1 comments for "Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation"

nice walk but not really alongside reservoir - did not see many birds as could not see water for most of the route

By junipergulf on 26 Aug 2017

The information in this guide has been provided in good faith and is intended only as a guide, not a statement of fact. You are advised to check the accuracy of the information provided and should not use this guide for navigational directions nor should you rely on the accuracy of the weather forecast. You are advised to take appropriate clothing, footwear, equipment and navigational materials with you according to the current and possible weather and nature of the terrain. Always follow the country code and follow any additional warnings or instructions that may be available. Some walks may be very strenuous and you are advised to seek medical advice if you have any doubts as to your capability to complete the walk.

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