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
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
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 Lears 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.
Picnic tables and benches are provided at various points around
King Lears 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.
Leicester Sailboarding Club sail on King Lears 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.
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.
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 areas 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 Lears 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 Shakespeares play of King Lear.
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.
Information & map reproduced courtesy of Leicestershire
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.