Family Day Out Review: College Lake Nature Reserve, Tring
College Lake Nature Reserve, Tring
Value For Money10.0/10
Variety Of Activities6.0/10
Things We Like
- Safe place for kids to explore outside
- Great to learn about nature / wildlife
- Hands-on, interactive exhibits
- Free entry
Things We Dislike
- Some trails not pushchair accessible
- Small cafe
- No dogs allowed
- No kid's scooters / bikes allowed
What’s It All About?
College Lake is a flagship nature reserve offering a great place for the family to get outside and explore nature. Enjoy a wildlife walk around the lake and through the grasslands, watch out for rare water birds from one of 11 bird hides and explore the hands-on exhibitions covering everything from geology to agriculture to wildlife.
What Do We Think?
College Lake is a really nice place to spend a few hours exploring and adventuring in the great outdoors. A former chalk quarry, College Lake is now a thriving nature reserve operated by Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. With a 65 hectare footprint and over 1,000 different wildlife species, there’s plenty for the family to see and do all year round.
There are a number of habitats at the nature reserve, including the lake, marshland, chalk grassland and rough grassland. Each of these look different, and as such, provide varied homes for the animal and plant life that call it home. Expect to see the likes of lapwings, redshanks, wigeons and teals around the lake, rare butterflies like the small blue in the chalk grasslands and skylarks and squirrels in the rough grassland.
The best way of exploring College Lake is by following one of the three trails around the site. The Wild Trail (2 miles) does a full circuit around the reserve so that you can see it all – this is also fully accessible, so great for pushchairs, albeit still can be a bit muddy at times. The Time Trail (1 3/4 miles) takes you up and down the right side of the site to explore the geology and history of the area, whilst the Bird Trail (3/4 miles) sees you explore the bottom left of the reserve and incorporates five of the 11 bird hides where you can do some bird watching.
If we have time, we enjoy doing the full Wild Trail – although, with a walking preschooler who wants to explore everything, it takes us about two hours. If time is tight or we’re not up for a big walk, then we’ll walk part of the Time / Wild Trails which lead to the Environmental Education Centre buildings. These are wooden barns / huts which provide hands-on, themed learning.
For example, Outlook Inn is made to look like the den of a naturalist, with loads of things for kids to explore inside. This includes microscopes for studying dead insects, different animal skulls to investigate and binoculars for looking over the reserve. There’s also The Barn, which houses a second hand bookshop and a window overlooking a garden with bird feeders so that you can do a bit of birdwatching – there’s also various cameras and a screen which can be used for closer detail.
Other areas to note include the Bat Roost, Window In The Woods and the Farming And Wildlife Exhibition – the latter showing a range of old farm machinery and information boards to help with understanding agriculture and the environment. One of the most recent learning exhibits is Geology Rocks in the Visitor Centre, which provides information and hands-on exhibits about things like the fossils that were uncovered during the quarry excavation.
In addition to this exhibit in the Visitor Centre, it also houses a shop, toilets, a cafe and panoramic views across the reserve. It’s worth noting that the cafe is pretty small – around eight tables inside, with a few additional outside. This is fine when you’re there on a random Wednesday afternoon, but makes it pretty impossible to grab a drink or some food on a busy weekend.
There’s plenty of onsite parking, although it has been known to fill up on nice days, so get there earlier rather than later if you can. Parking is free, however there is a suggested donation at the ticket machine of £3 – hardly extortionate and every little counts for organisations such as the Wildlife Trust. It’s also worth mentioning that dogs aren’t allowed which is a shame (but understandable) and things like scooters or bikes are prohibited too.
Finally, keep an eye out for special events as there’s something on each week. This can range from guided walks to the fun Nature Tots sessions designed for preschoolers and include the likes of games, stories and wildlife exploration.
If you’ve not been, then we’d definitely say College Lake Nature Reserve is worth a family visit for a little bit of everything wildlife-related. Be it simply a walk around a beautiful area, a picnic in the grassland, birdwatching, minibeast hunting or puddle jumping.
What Does It Look Like?
What Do I Need To Know?
Address: Upper Icknield Way, Bulbourne, Tring, HP23 5QG.
Opening Times: 7 days per week, 9.30am-4pm (29th Oct-12th Feb), 9.30am-5pm (13th Feb-28th Oct).
Price: Free (donations welcome).
Toilets: Yes. Male, Female and Disabled toilets in Visitor Centre and by Outlook Inn. Baby change facilities also available.
Cafe / Restaurant: Yes. Providing drinks, snacks, hot and cold food. Seating inside and outside.
Parking: Large, free onside car park (donations welcome).
Public Transport: Tring Train Station 1.8 miles away.
Duration: 1 to 3 hours.
Age Range: Babies and Toddlers (0-3), Young Children (4-8), Older Children (9-12).
Have you visited before? What do you and the kids think? Let us know in the comments!
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