Walk 113: Rushden Lakes Circular (1)…strolls, ski jumps & sculptures

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 1.1 miles (1.73km)

Time to walk: 20 minutes at a brisk pace, however we took our time looking at the sculptures & wildlife so it was about 45 minutes

Difficulty: Flat & all on clear, gravel paths. A couple of gates, but no stiles. This is a really great family walk with plenty to keep young children occupied

Parking: 5 hours free parking at Rushden Lakes Shopping Centre

Public toilets: Public toilets on the Boardwalk at the start & end of this walk

Map of the route:

Rushden Lakes opened in July 2017, as a new £140 million out of town leisure & shopping centre. The development is situated just off the A45, on the site of the former Skew Bridge dry ski slope, also referred to as Rushden Lakes, which had been derelict for some years

The development includes shops, restaurants, a visitor centre & a leisure canoeing business. Opening in 2019 will be a large multiplex cinema

Surrounding the area is the Nene Wetlands, one of many sites looked after by the Wildlife Trust of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire. The long-distance path, the Nene Way runs through the area, but it also contains several self-contained walks, which includes this short one

So…it’s a cold January 2019, late afternoon & the light’s fading so we’d better get going…

Let’s Walk!

1. This walk starts outside the Wildlife Trust shop on the Boardwalk which gives a good insight into what the organisation covers…

2. The Boardwalk is where many of the the complex’s restaurants & cafes are located &, in the summer, some have outdoor seating areas overlooking the lake. Follow the Boardwalk past the restaurants

3. What we were impressed with was the number of signs informing us about the area. The first one we across tells us the lake we’re walking round’s called Skew Bridge Lake. The name ‘Skew Bridge’ comes from the railway bridge close by. It was at a ‘skewed’ angle

The Ski Club was started by John Wills in 1952, after he had been extracting sand & gravel from land next to the skew bridge, on the Northampton Road. At first the club was for water skiing on a lake formed where the gravel extraction had been finished. The National Water Skiing Championship was held here in 1964. In 1965, he built a dry ski slope, at a cost af around £12,000, where skiers could practice before taking their holidays in the snow. The slope was 3000 foot long, had a lift & was floodlit. There’s some pictures near the lake showing it in action

4. At the end of the Boardwalk’s another sign telling you, you’re now entering the Nene Wetlands…

The Wildlife for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire website tells us “The Nene Wetlands includes the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits Site of Special Scientific Interest & Special Protection Area. Four Wildlife Trust nature reserves – Irthlingborough Lakes & Meadows, Ditchford Lakes & Meadows, Higham Ferrers Pits & Wilson’s Pits are now linked up with Skew Bridge Lake, Delta Pit & Higham Lake – flooded gravel pits, wet meadow, wet woodland & reedbed at the heart of the Wildlife Trust’s Nene Valley Living Landscape

This extensive series of shallow & deep open waters are surrounded with a wide range of marginal features, such as sparsely vegetated islands, gravel bars & shorelines, & habitats including reed swamp, marsh, wet ditches, rush pasture, rough grassland & scattered scrub. This range of habitat & the varied topography of the lagoons provide valuable nesting, resting & feeding conditions to sustain nationally important numbers & assemblages of breeding & wintering birds

Twenty thousand waterbirds use the wetlands every year, for breeding, for their winter quarters or as vital stopping points on their long migration routes, from as far away as Arctic Russia & southern Africa”

5. All around Skew Bridge Lake, as we’ll see shortly, are wildlife sculptures created by outdoor play specialists, ‘Flights of Fantasy’. However, before we continue around the lake, it’s worth turning immediately left, following the sign to the ‘Wildlife Discovery & Education’ area

The first thing we come across is a mound, depicting an otter holt, containing tunnels & slides with some lovely carvings…

Next door to that’s an abandoned barge amongst the bullrushes…

6. None of those, however, prepares you for the incredible spider & it’s web…

Retrace your steps back to the lake path. In front of you now’s a giant bird’s nest &, if you look at it close up, you’ll see it has two wire birds nesting within

7. Walk past the nest & start to follow the lake-side circular path proper. The weather had not been good, but the surface was still good…

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the lake with all its visiting birds

8. So here’s the challenge for you & the kids…or just you, if you want to be a “big kid”. How many different kinds of carvings can you spot along the trail? It’s not as easy as you might think & you have to look up as well as down, or into the bushes!

The first that we spotted comes up fairly quickly on the left & you really can’t miss this magnificently coloured kingfisher…

The next couple of statues are a fine example of what we’ve just mentioned. Look down on the ground to spot the otter…

…& up above in the trees, the bat!

9. Continue to follow the path. What was great is that the area has lots of small tracks leading off into small clearings, that small kids were having a great time exploring…

The far end of the lake runs close to the River Nene – the Nene Way passes on the other side. There was a shoot taking place in the fields when we were there

10. Mind that snake!

The snake sits beside a purpose built viewing platform that looks straight down the lake back towards the Boardwalk. A sign tells us that the view point is in honour of local man, Bernard Vann, a hero of World War I. He was born on 9 July 1887 in Rushden, where his parents, Alfred George Collins Vann & Hannah Elizabeth Vann were teachers. He attended Chichele College in nearby Higham Ferrers, where his father was headmaster

Vann was a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest & most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British & Commonwealth forces. Also an ordained priest, he was the only cleric of the Church of England to be awarded the VC in the First World War for his actions

11. The viewpoint is approximately halfway round the lake & access & a channel to the river have been purposely built into the banks to allow access for canoeists. Someone forgot to cut that last bullrush tough!

12. The path now bends right back towards the Boardwalk again where there’s more statues to be spotted

13. Halfway along this stretch is another viewing point & this area seemed to attract most of the swan population of the lake…

It’s whilst you’re looking at the lake from the viewpoint, you get a feeling that someone, or something is watching you from behind!

There’s one more sculpture (although we probably missed some) & it’s one of the best – a lovely pike

14. Walk towards the gate & re-enter the Boardwalk area…

So that’s the end of the formal part of this short walk, but it’s worth spending some time exploring as there are some huge, but very different kinds of statues here. The photos don’t really give an indication of their size

So, that’s our first look at what Rushden Lakes offers in terms of walking. We will be looking at one of the longer trails on a future walk

However for a short stroll, that’s ideal for all ages, & in all types of weather, you can’t really beat this one. It will also change throughout the seasons & we were also impressed with the outdoor feel of the Boardwalk restaurants which would be great on balmy, summer’s evening

The sculptures speak for themselves & are very impressive & a great addition to the area. It’s well worth a visit so…

Go Walk!