A won­der­ful round trip

Mike Trip­pitt, wife Clare and Clum­ber spaniel Far­ley head to Al­ton Wa­ter on the Shot­ley penin­sula

EADT Suffolk - - Suffolk Dog Walk - Mike Trip­pitt is a jour­nal­ist who en­joys ex­plor­ing the county, espe­cially with his clum­ber spaniel, Far­ley

IT is Au­gust bank hol­i­day week­end, and de­spite the wet weather of the pre­vi­ous few weeks we’re ex­pect­ing a bright, warm late sum­mer day. There is am­ple space in the car park when we ar­rive at the visi­tors’ cen­tre just out­side Stut­ton. Cy­clists re­move cy­cles from racks, walk­ers put on boots, dogs leap from hatch­backs and are at­tached to their leads. Peo­ple and ca­nines alike share ex­cite­ment and an­tic­i­pa­tion – keen to be on their way.

Al­ton Wa­ter is en­tirely man-made. The Tat­ting­stone val­ley was dammed in 1974 to meet in­creas­ing de­mand for wa­ter in the Ip­swich and Felixs­towe ar­eas. Twelve years later wa­ter from the reser­voir be­gan be­ing pumped into the sup­ply. To­day 200,000 users re­ceive close to 7 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter from it.

We de­cide to do the 8.2-mile cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion in a clockwise di­rec­tion. Be­gin­ning our walk due east to­wards Tat­ting­stone we see a con­spic­u­ous sign. It re­minds us that the area is a shared space for pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists, and that dogs are to be kept on leads. With Far­ley hap­pily on his ex­ten­der lead – in­vented for this very pur­pose – we set out along the foot­path closer to the wa­ter’s edge.

Rose­hips, dan­de­lions, ferns and black­berry bushes line our route, while to our right Al­ton Wa­ter peeps at us through Rab­bets Wood. For those want­ing a walk of only a mile or two, this first sec­tion, called Al­ton Wa­ter Na­ture Trail, is ideal, a well-man­aged con­ser­va­tion area for ground nest­ing birds and small mam­mals, wa­ter­fowl, grebe and terns. There are bird hides, in­for­ma­tion boards and wa­ter­fowl rafts.

Af­ter 1.5 miles we ar­rive at a small in­let called The Won­der. A short sec­tion of our walk is shared with the cy­cle path. There is an in­for­ma­tion board and a car park – an­other pos­si­ble start­ing place – and just across the road, Tat­ting­stone Won­der is a cu­ri­ous sight. Built in 1790 by Thomas White the owner of nearby Tat­ting­stone Place, the Won­der con­sists of three cot­tages that ap­pear like a flint-clad parish church. It is said White had the folly built be­cause his didn’t like the view of the two ex­ist­ing cot­tages from his house, a quar­ter of a mile away.

At Lemons Hill we reach the road bridge across the wa­ter. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, if not ge­o­graph­i­cally, it marks the mid-point of our day, so it’s time for lunch. The White Horse at Tat­ting­stone serves Far­ley, Clare and I well, al­though The Wheat­sheaf in the same vil­lage also takes dogs. Both in­volve a walk along a road and add a mile, and with so many places to pic­nic around the park, a pub lunch is not a ne­ces­sity.

The sec­ond half of the cir­cuit is com­fort­able walk­ing, and a con­trast to the first. The path skirts an es­tate, of­fer­ing open views across farm­land, through wood­land and across the wa­ter, and the land­scape is more un­du­lat­ing.

At Birch­wood House, Crag Hall Covert and Old Al­ton Hall Farm there are sev­eral pub­lic foot­paths to choose from. Be­gin­ning from the car park on the north bank of Lemons Hill bridge, walk­ers have op­tions for a stroll of two or three miles. The foot­path and cy­cle path merge for much of the way to the dam, but it couldn’t be de­scribed as busy, even on a bank hol­i­day week­end.

As you ap­proach the east­ern edge of Al­ton Wa­ter struc­tures ap­pear – the draw-off tower reaches out into the lake, and the dam de­fines a clin­i­cal, straight edge be­tween wa­ter and val­ley be­low. Here, the wooded banks, na­ture re­serve and bracken-lined tracks are no more. The area is open, grassed and dis­tinctly man­u­fac­tured. Yet it is im­pres­sive. Not only are the views of Suf­folk’s coun­try­side all around, the con­crete spill­way chan­nel and treat­ment plant are tes­ta­ment to the pro­cesses go­ing on un­der the sur­face.

Anglian Wa­ter ap­pears to strike a bal­ance in its pol­icy of al­low­ing ac­cess to the site and keep­ing users safe. Ap­pro­pri­ate warn­ing no­tices re­mind visi­tors of what lies be­low the wa­ter and make it clear that swim­ming is prohibited. But the ‘dogs on leads’ pol­icy will not suit all dog walk­ers. Mike Ewart, an Al­ton Wa­ter Vol­un­teer since they were founded 20 years ago, is trained in wildlife mon­i­tor­ing and con­ser­va­tion. He says out of con­trol dogs can be a haz­ard to wildlife and can un­der­mine con­ser­va­tion work.

“If they go into ar­eas away from the paths where there are ground nest­ing birds and small mam­mals, ev­ery­thing gets dis­turbed. Ground nest­ing birds will not come back gain. Small mam­mals will dis­ap­pear. We are not against dogs, but we need to keep some ar­eas for the wildlife.”

Ar­riv­ing back at the visi­tors’ cen­tre we’re ex­hausted. We we’ve walked over 10 miles, Far­ley is con­tent. Af­ter quench­ing his thirst, he looks like a dog that will fall asleep rather quickly, and sleep rather well.

Al­ton Wa­ter

Far­ley, a happy spaniel

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