Day out: Stanwick Lakes, Northamptonshire

This former gravel quarry in the Nene Valley is a marvellous location for a family outing, where fascinating history, pleasant walks and delightful wildlife converge

Visitor centre at nature reserve

With 300 hectares to explore, there’s more to Stanwick Lakes than may at first meet the eye. The site of thousands of years of human history, shaped by industrial activity, it’s now a beautiful, tranquil home for a wonderful array of wildlife.  

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After gravel extraction came to an end here in 2004, the pits were shaped into lakes and trees were planted, creating a site with a range of habitats, including reedbeds and meadows. It soon became important for a huge variety of birdlife and was designated a Wetland of International Importance and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Lakes in sunshine
Stanwick Lakes/Credit: Getty

Delicate and rare

More than 18 species of dragonfly and damselfly have been recorded at the lakes, from the large and impressive emperor and hairy dragonflies to the delicate and dainty banded demoiselle, and over 150 species of moths. While you’re searching for these, or birds such as sand martins or reed warblers, look for mammals, too. Elusive otters can be spotted on quiet days, and if you stay until dusk you may see bats swooping over the river and lakes searching for invertebrate prey. 

Birding highlights from Stanwick Lakes and local reserves in the last year or so include glossy ibis, black-necked grebe, and even a flyover by a white-tailed eagle from the Isle of Wight reintroduction programme.

Otter on grass
Elusive otters can be spotted on quiet days/Credit:Getty

Hunt for heritage 

Archaeological digs carried out here prior to quarrying, which started in 1985, uncovered thousands of years of human activity stretching back to the Neolithic period. Findings included barrows, Iron Age roundhouses, a deserted medieval hamlet called West Cotton and a Roman villa with mosaic floors. Walk along the Heritage Trail to visit a replica Iron Age roundhouse, and seek out the six stones around the trail that mark out the sites of historic settlements. You can have a go at brass rubbing on the plaques in the stones. 

Some of the fascinating  archaeological finds are on display in the visitor centre, and a Heritage Pack for children is available to buy. 

Find sculptures of local wildlife, explore the Adventure Trail, or cycle along the old railway line. There’s even an outdoor assault course (for children and adults) with monkey bars, tunnels and rope swings. Refuel at Café Solar in the award-winning visitor centre. 

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Words: Megan Shersby