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The other 'Lake District'
All Other Attractions in Shropshire
Member Name: merv
All Other Attractions in Shropshire
Date: 02/01/02, updated on 02/01/02 (221 review reads)
Advantages: Beautiful countryside, Ideal for walking, lovely scenery
A morning walk in the country beckons, the ideal opportunity to blow away the cobwebs from last night’s party and regain some semblance of fitness before my return to work tomorrow.
My wife is the only one brave or foolhardy enough to come with me, so leaving the rest of the family we decide to drive the short distance over the English border to Ellesmere, a pretty little Shropshire market town dating back from Saxon times, with its old streets, mellow Georgian houses and half timbered buildings which is home to Shropshire’s miniature ‘Lake District’, famous for its nine small lakes which are truly rich in bird life.
Parking the car alongside The Mere, the largest of Ellesmere’s lakes, we are surprised how busy it is. You expect it in the spring and summer as its very popular for fishing, boating and picnicking, but having said that, its one of those select places which look beautiful and is popular whatever the weather. The differing light conditions and seasons react with the changing nature of the trees and moods of the lake to provide totally different experiences each time of the year you visit.
Taking it easy first of all, slightly concerned about the effect eight solid days of eating drinking and being merry may have had, we walk along the front of the Mere, the touristy bit, the nice parkland to the left leading to a childrens’ playground and pleasant woodland walk and the boating and fishing landing stages to the right along with well placed benches which allow opportunities to feed the many birds with specialist bird food sold, but not on this bank holiday, at the little kiosk on the roadside. The Mere is partly frozen over, and it i
s amusing to watch the coots skating along the ice and tumbling into the water in search of food – rather like the penguins in the The Blue Planet.
Covering 116 acres The Mere is the largest of the seven lakes formed about 10,000 years ago, when the Ice Age was ending and water collected in the deeper hollows left when the glaciers melted. Like the other lakes, its rich in bird life at all times of the year. A large notice board provides information on the names and description of the birds, which inhabit the lake, including mallards and tufted ducks, great crested grebes and coots, moorhens and dabchicks, black headed gulls, swans, Canada geese, willow warblers, chiff-chaffs, green woodpeckers and jays.
We recalled an earlier visit in the summer months when we saw brilliantly coloured kingfishers swoop over the area just beyond the car park, where a sign warns that the water is 30ft deep, in search of water insects, tadpoles and small fish. We’d looked at the herons through binoculars set up in a bird watching area in the Visitor Centre. Growing to a length of more than 3ft, these beautiful birds nest on an island in the lake quite close to the shore. It was fascinating to see the adult birds feeding their young in the nests with frogs, fish and insects.
I have to admit I’m no bird watcher but I was enthralled and impressed by the winter visitors to the Mere. Talking to a chap who looked like a ‘twitcher’, he told me he’d seen shovellers, wigeon, goldeneye, teal and cormorants already that morning and pointed some of them out to us. He said the Mere was a very important area for this country’s bird life and in previous years he had seen slavonian grebes, pomarine skuas and long-tailed ducks, all of which, it would seem are quite rare visitors to these shores.
He asked us if we had ever seen the Mere ‘breaking’ and went on to explain that during calm settled weather the water
becomes cloudy as countless millions of blue green algae rise towards the surface. This natural phenomenon is seen on very few lakes in Britain, because to attract the algae the water has to be abnormally rich in nutrients. ‘Breaking’ is apparently a local dialect word derived from a brewing process. When the brewers’ wort comes to the surface, during fermentation, the brew is said to be ‘breaking’. This concentration of nutrients is a major reason why the huge populations of birds are attracted to the meres.
The fresh air has already started to work, it was a beautiful day starting to warm up a little and so we decide to extend our walk. Initially we decided to walk around some of the other lakes. There’s a lovely walk, which takes you round the three main lakes, all of which have something different to offer.
We walked along the road to Blake Mere which is my own personal favourite because it has an air of mystery about it which reminds me of my school days when I read Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’ for GCE. For some reason the passage when he crosses the lake in a small boat after dark with the frost twinkling in the trees has always been one of my favourite extracts of poetry. Blake Mere may be nothing like it in reality, but in my mind it fits the bill, particularly today when as Wordsworth wrote, the trees ‘tinkled like iron’. In the summer kestrel can often be seen here, but today the lake was eerily quiet.
So quiet in fact that we never reached Cole Mere, which is the second largest and is home to the local sailing club. Its gradually being colonized by reeds and rushes on the edge of the mere and snipe can usually be seen in the marshy area beyond the club house.
Instead we decided to walk back into the town, window shop in some of the traditional shops, particularly a quaint little delicatessan, which has all manor of unusual and local fare, until we got to
the canal basin. This really is a magnificent part of the Shropshire Union Canal arguably one of the most pleasant and picturesque canals in the country. If we had continued our walk to Colemere we would have used an 87 yard tunnel, which shows the difficulties that faced the canal builders of the early 19th century.
What eventually developed into the Shropshire Union network of canals began as a plan to link Chester and the Mersey to the Severn at Shrewsbury, to provide transport for the flourishing coal and iron industries. Like many other schemes conceived during the heady years of canal mania, this one was soon altered when it became obvious that an economic link with Shrewsbury would serve no useful purpose. As a consequence the canal was diverted to Whitchurch via Ellesmere and the stretch, which starts in Llangollen is incredibly scenic traveling over two huge aqueducts at Chirk and Pontycysyllte. The whole length of the canal including the basin at Ellesmere has been admirably restored to its former glory, and we made a mental note of a canal walk sometime in 2002, preferably in much warmer conditions.
The effects of the previous evening’s celebrations had now worn off so we took the short walk back into town. Having had a pleasant walk and much needed exercise, we returned to the car and headed for home. Normally we would pop into the Bridgewater Arms for lunch but new year’s resolutions still intact we headed for home, a glass of port and the remainder of the Christmas Cake.
A good start to the New Year, Ellesmere is a lovely place to visit. Put it on your list for a day out in 2002.
- Sywell Aerodrome (Northampton)
- Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (England)
- Etal Castle (Northumberland)
- Dunluce Centre (Portrush)
- Norham Castle (Northumberland)
- The Piece Hall (Halifax)
- Kingston Lacy (Dorset)
- Sandal Castle (West Yorkshire)
- Newmillerdam Country Park (West Yorkshire)
- Sheffield Manor (Sheffield)