Places To Visit In Essex: Hanningfield Reservoir

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Last week I wrote about how I would like to visit all of the counties in England, until we organise our first weekend away for that, we’ve taken to hitting the road around our home county of Essex, to discover places that we’ve not been to before. Sometimes we check out the local tourist board website and other times we just dig the map out of the glovebox and drive!

My son went off to his dad’s for the weekend, so hubs and I got into our car and drove out to Hanningfield Reservoir, which, according to Wiki is the 11th largest reservoir in England with an area of 3.5 square kilometres!  When we drove past we were taken aback but the sheer volume of water. It is VAST!

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

We drove into the carpark near the visitors centre and wandered in. It’s always great discovering somewhere new, and the first thing we reached was the Wind in the Willows Wildlife Garden. Despite it now being autumn, there was plenty of flowers and plants to look at, as well as information about wildlife. I really loved this area and it would be fab for children.

Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre

Hanningfield Reservoir - Flowers

Hanningfield Reservoir - Flowers

The visitors centre is big, with a great selection of products to buy, including books, binoculars, toys and gardening products; a seating area where you can enjoy a cuppa and a slice of cake, binoculars so you can look out onto the reservoir, toilets, including disabled, baby changing facilites and lots of information about the wildlife in the area. Entry is by a nominal donation, and maps of the nature trails are 40p. (correct at time of writing this blog post)

Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

We have a really bad habit of forgetting to take cash out with us, but we paid our donation on a debit card, so they do have facilities for that. We did want to pay for a map, but the lady got confused when Steve said he’d include extra with our donation, so we didn’t get on…we managed fine though without it! We then stepped out onto the nature trails. There are a couple of miles of trails, so put your walking shoes on!

Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Trails (2)

Dogs are not allowed on the trails, and there was not many people around, so it made for a really peaceful walk amongst the woodland. We decided to just follow the path and see where we would end up. We reached the Lyster Bird Hide first, which is a short walk from the centre and is wheelchair accessible.

Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Trails - Bird Hide

As we rounded the corner to the hide, I saw this…and said to Steve – they’ve got broomsticks >_< they are fire beaters…

Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Trails Fire Beaters

This hide was empty, and we lifted up one of the hatches so that we could look out onto the reservoir. Each hide had a poster up of the various birds that you can see out on the water, which was really handy, and there is also a log book in the visitors centre where you can jot down what birds you saw.

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Trails (6)

We definitely saw mallard ducks and coots, and the zoom on my camera wasn’t so great as I’m telling you, this place is HUGE, but we think the island of birds may have included cormorants.

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

We carried on through the nature trail, and spotting nature along the way, including this grey squirrel and a furry little caterpillar.

Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Trails - Grey Squirrel

Hanningfield Reservoir Nature Trails Caterpillar

We eventually reached the next hide, where some people were birdwatching, as well as a couple of photographers, with lenses so big I had lens envy! It was here that we saw several grey herons and egrets, as well as seagulls, Canada geese,

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex - Grey Heron

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex - Egret

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

Looking at the bird identification poster, we weren’t sure if these birds were female mallards, female teals or gadwells.

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

Back to the nature trail, and it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t find some fungi along the way!

Hanningfield Reservoir - Fungi

We eventually came to a bit of a fork in the road, and spotted lots of Canada and greylag geese grazing on a field, so we walked past to take a look. It looks like I didn’t take a photo of the whole field, but believe me when I say that there must have easily been a couple of hundred geese!

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

We approached another fork – luckily there are signposts, so you can’t really get lost, unless you go off the beaten track – to the right was the fishing lodge, and to the left, a couple more hides. We went towards the hides. Next time, we’ll go over to the fishing lodge, which you can see from the hides.

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

We saw a very large bird – I’m assuming a heron, amongst all the coots, and could also see some swans in the distance. What was really lovely about sitting in the hides was the peace and quiet. It was so serene on the water, and it was awesome to see so many birds out there.

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex

By now, we’d been wandering around on the trail for a couple of hours, so we decided to head back to the visitor’s centre, and here are a few more things we saw along the way.

On the drive home, we stopped on the road next to the reservoir because I spotted another bird on the water that we hadn’t yet seen – a great crested grebe!

Hanningfield Reservoir Essex Hanningfield Reservoir Essex (32)

We both had a lovely few hours walking on the nature trails and spotting the birds from the hides. The whole place felt very calm and tranquil, and we will certainly be coming back here again to see what other birds we can see.

It’s a great place to bring children, to introduce them to the wildlife – you can borrow binoculars at the visitors centre, so if you don’t have your own, you don’t have to worry. There are a few picnic tables outside the centre as well, so if you wanted to bring your own lunch you can enjoy it in these lovely surroundings. You could easily spend most of the day here just walking around the trails, and sitting in the hides bird watching.

Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre

Hawkswood Road, Downham
CM11 1WT

  • Open daily from 9am to 5pm. Closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day
  • Free parking on site
  • Suggested entrance donation: £2 adults, £1 children, £5 family
  • Gift shop, visitor centre, picnic facilities, toilets, disabled access, baby changing facilities
  • No dogs allowed, except guide dogs
  • Workshops and events run throughout the year

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