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Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation

This 12.5 mile walk is a special one for birdwatchers, going all the way around Abberton Reservoir in Essex. Abberton has long been considered to be the single best reservoir for birdwatching in the country, due to its location near the East coast fly-way. Over 280 species have been seen here. Recent work has resulted in significant potential improvements for wildlife, which will strengthen over time. The walk starts 5.5 miles southwest of Colchester. It traverses typically pleasant, but unspectacular, Essex rural scenery. Not all of the route is in view of the water, but the habitats seen include open water, reedbed, scrapes and lagoons, rough grassland, wood, scrub, pasture and arable farmland. Most of the walk is good for dogs, with the only livestock being near Layer Church and (possibly) Wigborough Church. However, dogs that are excitedly charging through grassland and scrub will disturb birds and do not really fit with the ethos of a nature reserve.

There is one notable downside to the route, as explained in the next paragraph.

The route makes use of paths, tracks and roads. I would allow six hours for the walk, plus birdwatching and picnic time. There is one stile along the route. Some of it is on bare earth, the condition of which will vary according to the amount of recent rainfall. A total of 2.2 miles is on public roads, including the Layer Breton causeway, which is one of the prime birdwatching locations. However 0.7 mile is along a busy B-road, where the verges are narrow. You will see from the route track that I chose to walk some of this on the 'wrong' side of the road (not facing oncoming traffic), because the verge on the right-hand side was effectively non-existent. There is no getting away from the fact that this stretch is not a pleasant experience. However, at the moment there is no alternative to tackling it, if you want to go right round the reservoir. If you want a shorter route that avoids this stretch there are some options. Sections 1 and 2 could be used to create a shorter, circular walk, returning via the Layer-de-la-Haye causeway. The sections from Peldon onwards could be used as 'out and back' walks - the reservoir can also be accessed at Peldon (Waypoint 4), Abberton Church (Waypoint 5) and Layer Church (Waypoint 7).

This route does not make use of the Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve, which is located next to the start car park (because it is only open 9-5, and non-members are expected to make a donation). But it is well worth visiting, with three hides, a good woodland walk, and a well equipped visitor centre.

I started the walk at the free public car park at the north end of the Layer-de-la-Haye causeway, on the road from Layer-de-la-Haye to Tollesbury, CO2 0EU. Many people may choose to use the car park for the nearby Essex Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre (also free), but as this is only open from 9am to 5pm, I chose the adjacent public one. This location is served by Hedingham Bus route 92, between Colchester and Tollesbury. In addition, Malting Green (which is near to the section of the walk after Waypoint 6) is served by First bus route 50.

The full walk can be viewed and printed via the iFootpath website - Birdwatching: Abberton Reservoir Circumnavigation This walk is also available on the iFootpath App.

To book discount train tickets to this location please visit Train Genius

Location (Map)

Wivenhoe and the Colne Estuary
Marks Hall and Bunsgate Woods