A Walk Around Fewston and Swinsty Reservoirs
Otley’s Lost Lakes
by Matt Callard
Course, they’re not lakes, they’re reservoirs. And they’re not lost, if the clogged and crammed car parks are anything to go by. But why deny us our literary license. And anyway, these glinting jewels have mysteriously been lost to me, this being my first ever walking visit here. There is something of the real Lakes about the place too, with the tall, elegant pines and a sudden sense of isolation, just 10-15 minutes from bustling Otley centre.
So, it’s away with the lung-busting hill climbing for once: This is a fabulous family excursion, a pleasant circular, sure underfoot, well marked, with good parking and easy access.
The largest of three impressive Victorian constructions, Swinsty reservoir is just off the A59 and the best of the trio for facilities, although all three offer ample parking and similar, well looked-after routes. The oldest, Lindley Wood is nearest to Otley and famed for its use in the swooping opening sequence of Emmerdale (the other, Fewston, is furthest out).
“Big, open sky”
Park in Swinsty Reservoir car park and take the picturesque road bridge over the reservoir‘s corner. Need for directions here is minimal – the route is obvious and black-arrowed. Simply keep Swinsty reservoir on your right and you will wind up (2-3 hrs) back at your set-off point. Note: this well-kept path is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs and is very flat.
An officially designated area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this relaxed walk is a nature-lover’s treat. The flourishing and magnificent red kites, already our region’s big re-introduction success story, are in the area and sightings are commonplace. Buzzards too nest nearby and the elusive nightjar has recently made a return to the area. So, yes twitchers, keep an eye on the sky, but, out across the water you’re just about guaranteed a windfall of wildfowl. My trusty binoculars picked out grebes, swans, even a pair of cormorants out on the water. Not to mention the ubiquitous mallards, Canada geese, coots and greylag geese.
Views of the surrounding area are frequently wonderful and there’s a big, open sky which affords some spectacular sunsets. I was lucky enough to be treated to a rare red sky.
This is an amble, not a gamble. Hardened walkers might balk at its flat, family-friendly firmness. If you insist on being tested, try the triple-reservoir full-whammy. Park at Lindley Wood and head upwards past Swinsty to Fewston. But bear in mind this is a long-haul (4-5 hours). With multiple picnic areas and several well-placed benches, Swinsty is ideal for families.
There are even a few designated duck feeding points, so remember that bread and seed. Shelter is limited, so watch the weather if you’re bringing the kids. But this is a perfect quick escape for the whole family.
Turn left after you leave the car park and travel for 5 minutes. On your right you’ll see The Sun Inn. It’s child-friendly and there’s decent home-cooked food and a Sunday carvery available.
Head a little further north to see one of the great industrial and architectural feats of our region. Completed in 1966, Thurcross reservoir boasts a spectacular slow dam-release. It cascades over the reservoir edge and plummets hundreds of feet below. It’s a terrific sight, especially for those brave enough to peer over the edge from the bridge. Occasionally, especially in summer, canoeists can be spotted in the white waters below. There’s another circular walk around the reservoir if you fancy it. This one is slightly more hilly and certainly unsuitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. But even if you don’t, it’s worth a quick car stop-off to witness this incredible feat of engineering.