From Neigh Bridge car park turn right, cross the main road and continue straight down the lane ahead. You’ll reach a stile to your right and a gate to your left.
The main route continues through the gate, but for a short and unmissable diversion, climb over the stile and take a close look in the meadows of Clattinger Farm Nature Reserve. Here you’ll see an abundance of rare and beautiful wildflowers, including southern marsh, green-winged and burnt tip orchids.
Back at the stile, cross the lane and go through the gate opposite into Swillbrook Lakes Nature Reserve, and continue along the footpath. It’s here in the early evenings during May that you’ll hear the unmistakably beautiful song of nightingales. Also listen for reed, sedge and willow warblers.
Follow the path around these lakes, with Lower Mill Estate on your left, until you reach a dirt road. Turn right with Flagham Fen now to your left. European beavers were introduced here in 2005 and are now breeding, though they are surrounded by fencing on the private land of the estate. They’re difficult to spot but it’s worth stopping for a while, especially around dusk, to scan the lake for beavers.
Follow the grassy path that veers off to the right and continue along the field boundary, keeping an eye out for otters and water voles in Swill Brook to your right.
Keep to the path by the fence, going through a gap in the hedge, again following the field boundary until you reach a small bridge crossing a brook. Continue straight ahead until you reach Pike Corner. This is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is an important habitat for many rare plants, such as the wonderfully named bog pimpernel and adder’s tongue fern. There are also plans to create an artificial otter holt, a kingfisher bank and a hide in this area.
Turn left, walking on until you reach Freeth Mere (also an SSSI). Like most of the lakes here, this is another good place to see waterfowl, including great crested grebes. At dusk the pipistrelle and Daubenton’s bats flit back and forth, feeding over the lake, and also watch out for hobbys that speed through, feasting on common blue damselflies and ruddy darter dragonflies.
Cross the stile and turn left to join the Thames Path. With the stream-like River Thames to your right, look and listen for wrens, bullfinches and long-tailed tits.
Follow the waymarked path straight ahead until you reach a metal footbridge. Cross over and continue on, passing more houses of Lower Mill Estate. On reaching the main road, cross and go left, following the road until the next right, which takes you back to the car park.
Flat, grass and mud footpaths and some lanes.
How to get there
By car: From the M4, take J17 on to the A419 towards Swindon and Cirencester. Turn left on the B4696 (Spine Road East), immediately passing the Cotswold Water Park Gateway Centre on your left. Continue straight over the crossroads on to Spine Road West. Neigh Bridge Country Park is signposted
on your right and the car
park is immediately left.
From the M5 take J11a follow A417 for Cirencester. Join the A419 and turn right on to the B4696 and continue as above.
Take Andybus 93 Malmesbury/Cirencester. Alight at Somerford Keynes. 01666 825655 www.andybus.co.uk. The train from Stroud or Swindon stops at Kemble, which is 3 miles from Somerford Keynes.
The Bakers Arms
Somerford Keynes GL7 6DN
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 169.
Grid ref: SU 017 945
Cotswold Water Park
Gateway Centre, Spine Road, South Cerney GL7 5TL