The Cotswold Water Park: A break for nature lovers and thrill seekers alike, with the rest of the Cotswolds on the doorstep

The Cotswold Water Park might not be what springs to mind when thinking of the archetypal Cotswolds escape, but it makes a delighful spot for a weekend away, as Toby Keel found out.

The are things that make us worry about the future of the world, but there are also things that give us hope that things will all come out okay in the end. Mankind’s ceaseless ingenuity, for example; the generosity of those who give their time and energy to help others, with no thought of reward; and the marvellous adaptability of nature.

A fine example of this is the Cotswold Water Park, a man-made area of lakes just off the M4 and not far from Swindon. Any sentence that contains the words ‘man-made’, ‘M4 and Swindon’ may not fill you with images of serenity, peace and nature, but they should do. The lakes were created by the excavation of the limestone gravel in the area which began at the turn of the 1970s; what was once farmland has become a watery landscape that stretches for miles.

There are now more than 150 lakes in the park, boasting an abundance of open space and pleasant views, with endless stretches of glittering water dissected by tree-lined paths beneatht the open skies of this spot on the Wiltshire/Gloucestershire border.

It’s a haven for wildlife, particularly birds, with dozens of different species nesting and wintering across the 40 square miles of the park — that’s roughly the size of Jersey. It’s all managed by the Cotswold Water Park Trust, and split into various areas: some parts are all about the walking paths and the peace (not to mention hides for birdwatching) while other areas are ideal for active types.

There is horse riding, bike hire, watersports (of course), play areas (including a new Go Ape-style climbing centre called ‘Vertigo’) and even a beach. The Trust produces a number of maps to help you not just get around, but also figure out what you’d like to do and where you’d like to do it.

Where to stay

This being the Cotswolds, there are all manner of picturesque villages within striking distance that offer B&Bs, hotels and camp sites, but if you’re staying in the heart of the park then the De Vere Cotswolds Water Park Hotel is recommended. It’s situated on the north-eastern corner of the park, just a few moments off the A419.

It’s not what you might imagine of a weekend in this part of the country: there is no olde worlde charm, but instead a large, well-equipped and modern hotel that’s clean and comfortable. It’s a busy place — you’ll quite likely see weddings in summer and conferences out of season, and where sharp elbows will come in handy at the breakfast buffet — but has a wonderful location where it seems that almost every room points towards the water.

While the building’s exterior won’t win any design awards, the rooms are very nicely put together inside, and a number of rooms in some parts of the hotel are connected together as suites. This is a godsend for families with younger children: you won’t get the charm of golden stone buildings with oak beamed ceilings, but being able to keep your little ones with you without having to have them on pull-out beds in the same room is a huge bonus.

Another bonus for families is playground areas, games room — with table tennis and vintage arcade games — and pool complex, the latter featuring a range of ‘hydrotherapy’ gizmos.

Among the usual massage jets and aromatherapy showers is a contraption that more resembles medieval torture than 21st century spa treatment: a wooden bucket suspended 7 or 8ft high and attached to a chain, which you can use to pull a whole bucket of freezing cold water over yourself after exiting the sauna.
Rooms at the De Vere Cotswold Water Park start at £120 per night for B&B for two people; family suites from £265, with a two-night minimum stay. See www.devere.co.uk/cotswold-water-park-hotel for more details.

Food and drink

The Cotswold Water Park has three separate places to eat: the Muddy Duck café, the Brasserie and The Old Boathouse restaurant and bar. We were particularly taken with the latter with its beach shack vibe and unfussy and inexpensive menu of guilty pleasures. This is the sort of place where you can follow steak or fish and chips with sticky toffee pudding, all enjoyed on the decking area while soaking up the views.

For something quirkier, Jennie’s Kitchen a little further into the Water Park is charming little café in a renovated farm building where you can have a bite to eat while marvelling at the alpacas roaming in the adjacent paddock.

More things to do

Beyond the park itself, the towns and villages of the south side of the Cotswolds are all easily accessible from the Water Park. Cricklade and Cirencester are both within a few minutes, while the pretty village of Fairford isn’t much further away. Our guide to things to do in the Cotswolds has plenty of suggestions.

One great suggestion, however, is the Cotswold Wildlife Park near Burford, where you can come face to face with a giraffe or rhino against the backdrop of a Victorian country house and garden.