If you’re looking for beautiful landscapes, nature and outdoor activities, the Cotswold Water Park is the ideal place. There are many opportunities for hiking, biking, wildlife and of course, fun on the water.
When we decided we would go on a mini break with the extended family, it seemed the obvious choice. This travel guide will help you discover some of the best things to do and see in the Cotswold Water Park. We share how we spent 3 days in at the Lower Mill Estate and the highlights of our trip to the Cotswolds. Find out travel tips on how to get there, where to stay and what to do on a visit to the Cotswold Water Park. Hopefully, it will help you plan your itinerary for a visit of your own.
What is the Cotswold Water Park?
With more than 170 lakes, the Cotswold Water Park is the largest marl lake system in the UK. It covers an area of 40 square miles, which straddle the Wiltshire-Gloucestershire border and West-Oxfordshire.
The focus of the water park is the conservation and protection of wildlife. It is thought that there are over 20 000 water birds here, from over 40 different species.
Getting to the Cotswold Water Park
The Cotswold Water Park is in South-East England and is easily accessible from either the M4 or M5.
As we wanted to make the most of our visit, we met early at the Neigh Bridge Country Park (off Spine Road West).
This is a convenient rendezvous if you are are meeting people coming from different directions. There is a car park located off Spine Road West, with adjacent picnic area and small play area. You could take a leisurely walk around the very picturesque lake there, where you can see water birds such as the great crested grebe.
However, we took a longer Rivers, brooks & lakes” walk in the Swillbrook Lakes Nature Reserve. This took us in the other direction round the Swillbrook Lakes, Howells Mere and Bittern Reeds. Eventually, we cut through the Lower Mill Estate, where we were staying.
We stopped for refreshments at the Ballihoo Club and had a sneak preview of the facilities at Lower Mill Estate, before heading back to the cars.
Accommodation in the Cotswold Water Park
The area of the Cotswold Water Park covers 14 villages, so there’s always a wide choice of places to stay. You can find a variety of available accommodation from campsites and self-catering to luxury lakeside residences and hotels, such as the De Vere Cotswold Water Park Hotel .
We chose to stay in one of the sustainable lakeside holiday homes on the Lower Mill Estate in Somerford Keynes. This was a modern, well-equipped town house, set over 3 levels, with room for 10 and panoramic views of a lake. Our house was big enough for 3 families, but you can find accommodation of all sizes at Habitat Escapes.
Lower Mill Estate
The Lower Mill Estate is an award-winning 500-acre nature reserve sat in the heart of the Cotswold Water Park and offers a vast array of accommodation and facilities.
The ecologically-friendly residences have all been designed, using sustainable materials and finishes. The location is idyllic, with lakes and woodland and provides a perfect base for exploring the local countryside and nature.
As well as access to the lakes and natural environment, the Lower Mill Estate has spa facilities, tennis courts and an activity hub for water sports. It also has lots of outside areas, including a volley ball court, tennis courts and a playground.
However, the highlight for our families was the two pools.
Things to do at the Cotswold Water Park
Stop at the Gateway Information Centre
If you haven’t already planned your itinerary, your first stop should be the Gateway Information Centre.
The Gateway Centre is open to visitors 7 days a week from 9am – 5pm. Here you will be able to find information about the many things to do at the Cotswold Water Park.
Location: Spine Road, South Cerney GL7 5TL
The Visitors’ Centre is easily accessible from the main road, and has plenty of free parking. It would be another great place to meet, as it has a café and toilets.
Go on a treasure hunt
If you are visiting the Cotwolds Water Park with kids, the Lower Mill Estate has loads to offer. However, one of our best things to do was its own treasure hunt, the Miss Mouse Trail.
The Miss Mouse Trail starts at the Miss Mouse Meeting Hut on the estate. Children have to collect their map, follow the trail and solve riddles to open the treasure chests. Even better the chests contain real treasure for them to take.
The trail takes you past a dipping pond, where there are nets to stop and look for pond life. You can then follow on through a cow field and past a tree house. It was great fun, and not just for the kids!
Mess about on the water
As its name suggests, the Cotswold Water Park is abundant in activities on the water.
We hired a canoe and two paddle boards from the Activity Hut at the Lower Mill Estate. This set us up for a perfect afternoon of water fun on the Somerford Lagoon.
We also went swimming every day in Lower Mill’s heated spa, which has 2 pools and a natural, outdoor eco-pool.
Hit the beach
If the weather is good, you should head to Cotswold Country Park & Beach. This is an inland beach and swimming area on South Lake. There are plenty of things for children to do here. As well as paddling and playing in sand, you can hire pedalos or boats to take them on the water.
Take a hike
Set in stunning countryside, there are plenty of places to walk around the Cotswold Water Park.
We took a family riverside hike on the Thames Path Walk, which took us round several lakes and along the River Thames to the pretty village of Ashton Keynes. Here, we stopped for lunch in the garden of the White Hart Inn and took shelter from the rain. It was a fairly soggy experience, but still very beautiful.
There are plenty more walks, which make the most of the many waterways in the Cotswold Water Park. Whether you are looking for rivers, lakes or canals, there is a walk for everyone.
Click here for 6 of the most popular circular walks in the Cotswold Water Park.
Hire a bike
As you would imagine in an area with so many lakes, the Cotswold Water Park is very flat. Of course, if you’re like me and don’t like hills, this makes it ideal for cycling.
There are a number of circular cycle routes along the country lanes. Alternatively, you could follow the National Cycle Route 45 on its way from Salisbury to Cirencester.
If you are staying at the Lower Mill, you can hire bikes from their activity hub. Alternatively, you could hire them from Go-By-Cycle or Bainton Bikes. Families can hire bikes for just one hour or the whole day, depending on how energetic you are feeling.
We dabbled with pond dipping, but if you’re serious about fishing, the Cotswold Water Park is the ideal angling location. You can go fishing in more than 70 of the lakes.
A visit to the Cotswold Wildlife Park
On our last day we took a detour via the Cotswold Wildlife Park, which is in Burford on the edge of Oxford. This is a first-class animal park with over 260 different animals, set in 160 acres of landscaped gardens.
The Cotswold Wildlife Park is a perfect day out with kids. It’s easy to see the animals in their spacious enclosures and it is all set in a stunning natural environment. One of the best parts for younger children is the children’s farmyard. Kids love it as you can actually go in the enclosure to pet the pygmy goats and pigs.
After that, head for a play in the adventure playground. This is a great outdoor space, with a big tree slide, climbing frames and a rope course. Alternatively, you take a trip around the grounds on the miniature train.
One of the biggest attraction for the adults was behind the walls of the walled garden. Here you will discover aviaries, a tropical house and spectacular exotic plants and flowers.
Cotswold Wildlife Park is a fantastic family attraction and was the perfect end to our Cotswold Water Park visit.
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