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Watermead
Country Park

Map

On the edge of Leicester, just five miles from the City centre, Watermead Country Park is a green oasis. It is a haven for wildlife and a peaceful stretch of countryside, easily accessible for many people.
As its name suggests it is a wetland area with lakes and smaller ponds. Running through the Park are the River Soar and Grand Union Canal which provide an essential corridor for wildlife as well as a route for pleasure boating and walking.

Getting to the Park

The Country Park has two main car parks. Access to the northern one is from the A46 Leicester Western Bypass and the Wanlip Road near Syston. Toilets are available at this car park. The second serves the southern end of the Country Park and can be reached by the A46 and Alderton Close in Thurmaston about 300 metres north of the crossroads with Watermead Way. There are also small car parks at Mill Lane, off Main Street, Thurmaston and Meadow Lane, Birstall.
There are several access points for pedestrians and cyclists from Birstall, Thurmaston and Wanlip villages and via the canal towing path from the centre of Leicester.
The southern end of the Country Park links with the extensive cycle-way network into and around Leicester. Work is under way to extend the cycle path northwards through the Park and where cyclists will be able to continue along country lanes.
Buses run from Leicester to Thurmaston, Birstall and Wanlip. For details telephone Busline on 0116 251 1411.

What to see and do

Watermead Country Park stretches from the edge of Leicester northwards for nearly two miles along the valley of the River Soar. It is an ideal spot for walking cycling, bird watching, fishing or more active water sports.

Walking, Cycling and Horse Riding

The map shows the network of surfaced tracks around the Country Park. A bridge has been built over the River Soar next to King Lear’s Lake which enables visitors to follow a variety of circular walks and rides. The network of paths also links the northern and southern parts of Watermead and into the countryside beyond the Country Park. For the more adventurous the Dover to Inverness cycle-way passes through the Country Park. This well signed route will also link with other cycle paths in the country to enable shorter, circular rides.

Picnicking

Picnic tables and benches are provided at various points around the Park.

Fishing

King Lear’s Lake is popular for fishing and day tickets are available from the Warden on the lake side. Charges are displayed on the notice board by the lake. Several of the other lakes are let to local fishing clubs and details of these can be obtained from the Country Park Warden on 0116 267 1944. The clubs also have facilities for disabled fishermen. The fishing season runs from June 15 to March 15 inclusive.

Sailboarding

Leicester Sailboarding Club sail on King Lear’s lake and details of membership and daily sail boarding arrangements can be obtained from the Secretary whose telephone number is given on the Notice Board.

Sailing

Unfortunately, there are no facilities for day sailing in the Country Park. The sailing lake at the northern end by the Grand Union Canal is however available for schools and organised youth groups. For more information tel: 0116 267 1944.

Watching Wildlife

All of the Country Park is managed with wildlife in mind.
The Vertebrates of the Birstall Lakes, by Finch
Water birds are the most obvious wildlife feature of the Lakes. Some species, such as great crested grebe, mallard, mute swan and Canada goose, are present all the year. One of THE sights of Birstall at harvest time is of 50 plus Canada geese winging their way from the Lakes to the surrounding farmland. Other species, like gadwall, shoveler, goosander and grey-lag goose, visit only in the winter. A few appear only occasionally - for example, garganey visit irregularly, a pintail turned up once, and a pair of black swans stayed for a few weeks at the end of one summer. Rarer grebes are seen occasionally. Coots are plentiful, moorhens require a little more searching out, and for the patient, there is always the chance of a water rail on a cold winter's afternoon.
No less obvious are herons, which inhabit the water's edge and breed in a small heronry. Every summer a small breeding colony of common terns makes itself heard by its screeching, and every winter large flocks of black-headed and mew gulls together with a scattering of their larger relatives are present. Wading birds are less obvious and less abundant. Lapwings and migrating common sandpipers frequent small islands in the lakes; in the dead of winter the house-martin patterned green sandpiper may appear. Oystercatchers and redshank are not unknown, though less common that they once were. A few years ago any winter's day would be marked by dozens of snipe - now it is rare to see one.
Hunters are unusual, but keep an eye open for kestrels, hobbys (in the summer), sparrowhawk, short-eared owls and the odd buzzard. One winter there was a roost of long-eared owls, but they seem to have been disturbed and have not returned.
The very nature of the Lakes tends to preclude land birds in any numbers. However, on a good day in May all three species of swallow, plus swifts, blackcap, whitethroat, willow warbler, reed and sedge warblers and even a chiffchaff may be found. Recently a female pied flycatcher was seen briefly. Resident land birds include wrens, blackbirds and various pigeons. Look out especially for turtle doves in the summer - this rare visitor was quite common a few years ago. One year, long ago, two stonechats were seen. Such visitors may well turn up in future; it just needs someone in the right place at the right time.
Mammals are more secretive, and it is rare to see any during days when many people are about. The occasional urban fox is the most obvious sighting. Rabbits and hares do not frequent the Lakes in any numbers, though they may turn up occasionally. Mink, stoats and weasels are difficult to see at the best of times, as are the mice and voles on which they feed, but both groups are present locally.
Finally, frogs are common and breed, and (with luck) the odd grass snake can be found.

The History of Watermead

Sand and gravel have been extracted from the valley of the River Soar for many years. In the early 1980s the County, City and Charnwood Borough Councils joined forces to begin to reclaim the area’s derelict pits for recreation and nature conservation. Over the last 15 years much work has been done to create footpaths, bridges, car parks, access roads, cycleways, bird hides and so on. Hundreds of thousands of trees have also been planted. The park is looked after by a full time warden service.
King Lear’s Lake has been named after the legend of King Lear, who ruled Britain in the 8th century. On his death he was buried in a chamber under the River Soar - possibly close to this lake! The statues, built on a platform in the lake, show the final scene from Shakespeare’s play of King Lear.

Further Information

Watermead Country park is open every day during daylight hours. Entrance is free. There is a car parking charge at the King Lears lake car park.
Guided Walks are organised around the park looking at its natural history and development. A leaflet giving the programme is published annually and details advertised in the car parks.
School groups, and other organisations are welcome to use the Country Park for educational or recreational purposes. The wardens are always happy to assist. Please telephone 0116 267 1944 to make arrangements for a visit.
Watermead Country Park is managed jointly by Leicestershire County Council and Leicester City Council. The southern end forms part of the Riverside Park which runs through the centre of the city. (Contact Leicester City Council Tel: 0116 252 7297 for leaflets and further details).
The County Council also manages several other country parks in the County and details of these can be obtained from the Country Park Warden on 0116 267 1944. The map in the centre of the leaflet shows the areas which are managed by the City and County Councils.
The Environment Agency - responsible for water quality, flood prevention and conserving the water environment has a free 24 hour emergency Hotline - Telephone 0800 80 70 60.

Information & map reproduced courtesy of Leicestershire County Council.