Chew Valley

Blagdon Lake Chew Valley Somerset by acceleratorhams iStockBlagdon Lake is one of the country's premier fly-fishing venues and draws angling enthusiasts from all over the world © acceleratorhams, iStock

It’s said that during dry periods the old village bridge can be seen poking above the surface of the water of Chew Valley Lake.

Southwest of Bath, Chew Valley and its two artificial lakes – Chew Valley and Blagdon – offer some of the best inland fishing and birding experiences anywhere in the country alongside some enticing waterside trails.

Nearer to Bristol than Bath – it’s just ten miles or so south of the former – Chew Valley Lake opened in 1956 for the purposes of supplying drinking water to the city and its surrounding area, though construction came at a cost, as it necessitated flooding the village of Moreton (listed in the Domesday Book) as well as extensive tracts of farmland; it’s said that during dry periods the old village bridge can be seen poking above the surface of the water. It has since become one of England’s premier fishing and birdwatching centres, with more than 250 species of birdlife catalogued in the lake environs; wintering wildfowl is especially prominent. Among internationally important species to be found on the open water are shovelers, black-headed gulls and the lesser blackbacked gulls, while birds of national importance include gadwalls and great crested grebes. The lake’s extensive reedbeds, meanwhile, support significant numbers of reed warblers and bitterns. It’s little wonder that twitchers are in their element here. Bar one hide on one of the nature trails, permits must be obtained in order to use the other five hides, which are clustered around the southern end of the lake; Herriot’s Pool and Heron’s Green Bay are considered the best spots. These can be purchased at Woodford Lodge, located just outside Chew Stoke on the lake’s western shore, which is also where fishing permits are sold; there’s a very creditable restaurant here too, or you could just swing by for a beverage, a most agreeable option on a warm summer’s evening.

Immediately west of Chew Valley Lake, the smaller Blagdon Lake predates the former by nearly 50 years, having been completed in 1905. It’s also far more low-key than Chew, despite its reputation as one of the country’s great fly-fishing venues, its bountiful stocks of brown and rainbow trout drawing anglers from all over the world. Like Chew Lake, there are few permissible footpaths, so it’s disappointing to learn that it’s not possible to circumnavigate its seven-mile-long perimeter. There is, though, a truncated footpath starting up in the northwestern corner (just beyond where the dam wall ends), which then edges Butcombe Shore and Butcombe Bay.

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