Herts’ watery wonder: fabulous wildlife, sports and family days out at Rickmansworth Aquadrome
PUBLISHED: 17:30 03 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:20 13 July 2017
A summer’s day out at the watery world of Rickmansworth Aquadrome will make your spirit sing, writes Keri Jordan
It’s been said that the earth has music for those who listen, and every time I wander around the enchanting lakes and waterways of Rickmansworth Aquadrome, a different kind of melody fills my ears. Sometimes it’s the whispering of the towering willow trees bordering Bury Lake. At others it’s the cacophony of the moorhens in breeding season or the gentle putt-putt of narrowboats traversing Batchworth Lock.
On my most recent visit, it was the cheerful sounds of a local jazz band kicking off the second day of the annual Rickmansworth Festival that lured me seductively along the towpath. Now in its 24th year, the two-day event celebrating canals, community and the environment is a highlight of the area’s social calendar and attracts more than 20,000 people. The waterways were buzzing with an array of live music and entertainment including a pop-up theatre company, dog show, canal boat tug of war, fun fair, and a range of food and craft stalls selling locally produced goods.
For the other 363 days a year, the site is a great deal more tranquil, but no less teaming with life.
Rickmansworth Aquadrome is part of the Colne Valley Regional Park and covers 101 acres of woodland, lakes and natural open space in the south-west of the county. Originally part of a chain of gravel pits running from Rickmansworth to Staines, the lakes were formed after extraction ceased in the late 1920s. Gravel from the site was used to build Wembley Stadium in 1923.
In 1928, a group of businessmen purchased the site and it was used for recreational activities such as picnicking, swimming and other water sports. From 1941 to 1959, it was occupied by the War Department and used for military exercises until Rickmansworth District Council bought it in 1960, enabling the general public to enjoy it once more.
Today, the aquadrome is owned and managed by Three Rivers District Council. Over the years, it has become an important conservation area due to its diverse landscape of woodland and wetland and the array of wildlife that call the site home. With an abundance of mature trees, assorted vegetation and open, running water, it is a significant site for at least eight bat species including pipistrelle, brown long-eared and Daubenton’s.
Wintering waterfowl are also frequent visitors to the lakes, alongside a host of other birdlife from the common tern to kingfishers, Canada geese, goosander and mute swans. Neighbouring Stocker’s Lake, owned by Affinity Water and managed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, houses the largest heronry in the country, and these majestic birds can often be seen wading in the shallow waters across the aquadrome. Stocker’s Lake is also an important butterfly site with 24 species recorded here. It is a Protected Species Site and also on the Invertebrate Site Register.
Several important beetle species have been documented throughout the aquadrome, along with adders, grass snakes, dragonflies and damselflies. Small mammals such as rats, mice and rabbits attract a variety of birds of prey including sparrowhawks, barn owls and kestrels.
The aquadrome was officially designated a Local Nature Reserve in 2007. It was granted its first Green Flag award – the international benchmark for recreational outdoor space management – in 2009 and has received the accolade every year since.
Throughout the year, the site is host to all sorts of outdoor activities, from bat walks to bike rides and running events to water-based pursuits. In the 1960s, the British Water Ski team, including European water ski slalom champion Jeanette Stewart-Wood (right), trained on Batchworth Lake and members of Rickmansworth Water Ski Club continue the tradition today.
Bury Lake Young Mariners take more than 6,000 people sailing on the waters here each year, and Colne Valley Special Sailors also runs regular sailing sessions for people with disabilities. A kayak club and a group that build and race radio-controlled model yachts are also based on the site – all demonstrating what a valued resource it is to the local community.
Batchworth Lake and the adjacent river Colne are consistently popular fishing spots. Uxbridge Rovers, one of the oldest angling societies in the UK, operates out of the aquadrome and prides itself on offering its members opportunities to catch carp weighing more than 30lb, as well as barbel, tench, bream, chub and pike.
I’ve spent countless hours wandering in the locality and I am yet to do the same walk twice. A circular trip around Bury Lake is approximately a mile, while there’s a slightly shorter route around Batchworth Lake. Both routes offer picturesque views and abundant opportunities to enjoy the seasonal changes of flora and fauna.
Another just-under-one-mile easy access trail winds through some important wet woodland habitat, which is sadly in decline across the county. Keep an eye out for plants such as marsh marigold and marsh fern, which thrive in this delicate ecosystem. The trail is also suitable for those with limited mobility.
Part of a National Cycle Route runs straight through the aquadrome and there are plenty of opportunities for exhilarating bike rides with the family on all kinds of terrain. If the kids still have some energy to burn after all that peddling, there’s a large children’s play area next to Batchworth Lake with grassy mounds to roll down and an array of exciting recreational equipment including a jungle swing, tube slides, swings and a trampoline. An outdoor gym in the playground allows adults to cram in some extra cardio too.
Café in the Park serves quality homemade food all year round and is the ideal place to replenish those energy levels. Built with traditional timber and powered by energy generated from a ground source heat pump, its sustainable construction sits in harmony with the surrounding natural environment.
The reserve has its own park ranger who can provide guidance and learning opportunities about the wildlife and surrounding natural habitat for adults, children, schools and special groups. There are regular bug, butterfly and ‘welly walks’ held on site, as well as targeted biodiversity activities such as building bird boxes and bug hotels.
If you’re an early starter, the Dawn Chorus sessions offer a great opportunity to learn how to identify birds by their songs and hear the sanguine sounds of a new day beginning.
‘There’s so much to enjoy at Rickmansworth Aquadrome,’ says Chris Lloyd, lead member for leisure, community and wellbeing at Three Rivers District Council. ‘We are dedicated to conserving and enhancing the unique natural landscape, biodiversity and habitat of the site while ensuring it remains accessible for everyone. With free admission, a large car park and a short walking distance from the town centre and station, it’s an ideal place for walks, picnics or just some quiet reflection. It’s a great day out for the whole family.’
As a famous composer once said, the music is not in the notes but in the silence between. And wandering the peaceful haven of Rickmansworth Aquadrome is music to my ears every time.
Aquadrome summer events
Wildlife Safari July 23 10am-midday
Buggy Bugs August 9 10am-midday
Bat Walk September 17 6.45pm-8.15pm
For more information, visit threerivers.gov.uk