Into the woods: Shearwater Lake
Seen that National Trust list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 and ¾ ? Well you can tick most of them off during a single afternoon at Shearwater Lake, a large freshwater lake close to the village of Crockerton set amongst the woodlands on the Longleat Estate. Squeeze out the few last drops of summer sun and have a rollicking, good old-fashioned, out-doorsy, free day out on me.
The lake’s just over the border in Wiltshire (no passport required) but with those tall conifers, you could easily be fooled into thinking you’re in Scandinavia. It was built at the end of the 18th century to a design by Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgwater, fed by streams dammed by the then Marquis of Bath and fed by ponds apparently used by sheep farmers to wash sheep before shearing, which gives the lake its name.
People fish for massive carp around the edge of the lake – we saw a couple of prime specimens being caught, admired and then gently put back into the water – but the Muddies found some equally impressive freshwater crayfish when they were paddling in the shallows (in their best trainers).
A little tarmac road winds around the edge of the lake, past a small private sailing club, with sustainable woodlands stretching off to the side. With the sunlight filtering down through the tall, tall conifers onto the mossy floor – it could have been straight out of The Hobbit. To see the scale: spot the Muddlets…
There some impressively large log dens in the clearings; one of the kid’s instincts was to destroy but most wanted build their own, add on an extension or just play house inside. Elsewhere,there are clear running streams and a ponds and ropes hung from branches to swing on.
The road around the edge of the lake becomes a path through the woodlands – this would be a good place to bring a bike.
It’s about a 3 km (1.75 mile) walk to Heaven’s Gate, where are some Millennium project granite sculptures by Paul Norris and a fab viewpoint over the Longleat Estate.
There’s a cafe set back from the lake not far from the entrance where you can buy a cuppa, ice creams and cooked food (open 10am-5pm, Thurs to Saturdays; closed in the winter) but I’d say this is a place to come with a picnic – someone nearby had a portable barbie – and sit by the lake or on a log under shady trees. If you manage a few hours here without the kids getting totally wet and filthy (I challenge you to try) and fancy a decent pub lunch, I’ve heard good things about two places not far away, both serving AA-rosetted food and light lunches, and confusingly, with the same name: The Bath Arms in Crockerton and The Bath Arms in Horningsham.
Shearwater Lake, Crockerton, nr Warminster, Wiltshire, BA12 8AE.