Woodchester Park boathouse walk
Nestled in the Cotswolds, the secluded valley of Woodchester Park is home to the remains of an 18th- and 19th-century landscape park, a Victorian mansion, a chain of five lakes fringed by woodland and pasture, and an abundance of wildlife.
Car park, grid ref: SO797012
From the car park turn right, down the hill, following the pink waymarkers of the Boathouse Walk into the woods.
As you emerge from the woods, take a look at the pasture to your right, restored from conifer plantation in 1997. It's now grazed by traditional Welsh black cattle.
Bear left at the waymarked junction. You'll see the remains of the coach house and stables that were associated with the Georgian mansion to your left. Property details prepared for the sale of the Woodchester in 1846, describe these buildings as everything the most fastidious Gentleman can desire - a coach house for eight carriages and stables with twelve stalls and harness rooms...
Greater Horseshoe bats have a breeding roost in the mansion where they live during the summer months. Pasture is being restored within the valley to increase the feeding area for these rare bats. Greater Horseshoe bats are not the only bats to be found in the valley. Common Pipistrelle, Lesser Horseshoe, Daubentons and Long-eared bats have also settled here.
Continue onwards to the Temple Site (now a small ruin). The wooded valley enclosed by the curve of the track contains the remains of terraced gardens, which were created in the early 1800s. Historic records describe a temple overlooking Italian-style gardens with fountains playing in ornamental ponds.
Insects and butterflies
On sunny days in spring and summer the wildflowers in the valley teem with colourful insects, including Scarlet Tiger moths and Peacock, Painted Lady and Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies.
Entering the pasture, continue downhill to where you'll see Brick Kiln Pond. Brick Kiln, Old and Middle ponds are the first three of a chain of lakes created by the middle of the 18th century. Keep your eyes open for birds, such as kingfishers and herons, as well as mandarin and tufted ducks. The dam was breached in the 1940s and there's now a plan to restore the lake. Larch plantations have been removed so that the historic views can be enjoyed once again.
Having walked the length of Middle Pond, turn right onto the dam. These deep lakes were created through the damming of a small stream.
Old alder trees fringe the banks of Middle Pond and white water lilies grow in the lakes, providing shelter for fish such as carp, roach and tench. Look out for dragonflies and damselflies in warm weather.
From a series of boardwalks the Boathouse comes into view. Continue to follow the pink waymarkers.
Built in the late 18th century, the Boathouse was used by the Leigh and Ducie families and their guests for outings. It was restored in 1998 when the roof, windows and floor timbers were replaced. Bats use the roof space as a stop-off on their nightly feeding forays.
Passing Woodchester Mansion on your right, continue up the hill to the car park.
Woodchester Mansion (not National Trust)
William Leigh, a wealthy ship owner from Liverpool, bought the Woodchester Estate in 1845. He demolished the old house and began work to replace it with a Victorian mansion. However, work was abandoned for unknown reasons after 16 years, leaving the unique, unfinished Victorian Gothic building that you see today.
Car park, grid ref: SO797012
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