Don't know about you, but sometimes we crave escaping London for the day — and being near the water. The seaside is an option, but when that's too far (or too busy) try one of these lakeside walks instead. Put your walking boots on, clear your head, and return to London feeling refreshed. That's better!
Bewl Water, Kent
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This tri-pronged reservoir on the Kent-East Sussex border is the largest stretch of open water in the south-east of England, and offers myriad options for a day out in the fresh air.
To do a whole lap of the reservoir is a sturdy undertaking — it's a 12.5 mile route, taking around six hours to walk, or three to cycle (bring your own bike, or hire one on site), passing through forest and wooded areas, as well as country lanes, and a couple of rather hilly sections.
For a more adventurous day out, try one of the water sports (booking required in some cases). Windsurfing, canoeing, rowing, stand-up paddle boarding and sailing are all on offer, with some equipment available to hire, and lessons available.
An adventure playground, a laser tag course and an aqua park are all located close to the car park, and Bewl is a popular spot for fishing too.
Car parking is £7 per day. Swimming is only allowed via TriSwim, booked in advance. Dogs are allowed, provided they're under control.
Nearby: Bewl is best accessed by car — Wadhurst, the nearest train station, is a few miles away. If you want to make a day of it, other nearby attractions include Bedgebury Pinetum and Scotney Castle. Otherwise, stop off at the Kent towns of Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge or Sevenoaks on the drive down from London.
Haysden Country Park, Kent
Spreading out from the town of Tonbridge into the Kent countryside, Haysden Country Park consists of three lakes and multiple rivers and streams, making it the ideal spot to spend some time next to the water. The main lake, Barden Lake, is best for a waterside stroll — a gravel footpath reaches all the way around, with a lap taking 30-45 minutes at an average pace. Bikes are allowed around one half of the lake, as part of the Tudor Trail, a route between Tonbridge Castle and Penshurst Place. Fishermen dot the edge of the lake, birds paddle across it — bliss.
Want to walk further? Follow one of the footpaths out to Haysden Lake, larger sibling of Barden. It's out on a limb, involving a walk under a flyover of the A21 dual carriageway, so tends to be less busy than Barden Lake. You can't walk the whole perimeter of Haysden Lake, but can get a decent way around it — plus it's home to a sailing club, so you may see boats in action on the water.
Nearby: You're on the edge of the town of Tonbridge, with its castle and many independent cafes and restaurants. Haysden is about a 15-minute walk from Tonbridge station.
Hever Castle, Kent
If you're willing to pay the entrance fee to Anne Boleyn's former home in the Kent countryside, Hever Castle, a lengthy walk around a gorgeous 38-acre lake in the grounds is thrown in for free. The lake is best seen from the Loggia, a wonderfully photogenic stone terrace based on the Trevi Fountain in Rome, with pedalos and rowing boats available to hire nearby.
The route around the entire lake takes about an hour, taking in wildflower meadows, a Japanese tea house, quaint footbridges and the ever-popular water maze.
Painshill Park, Surrey
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We've told you about Painshill Park before, a private park on the M25 border replete with fascinating elements such as crystal grottos and gothic follies. But here we're focusing on the lake, which is the centrepiece of the whole estate.
The route around the lake is 2.5 miles, though there are plenty of bridges and footpaths offering you the chance to turn back whenever you like. The crystal grotto is located in the centre of the lake, and accessed by bridge, though other sites of interest to look out for include the ruined abbey and the waterside vineyard. Definitely a walk to take at a slower pace, so you don't miss anything nestled among the trees.
Virginia Water Lake, Surrey
Virginia Water Lake curls around the south-eastern corner of Windsor Great Park, a 4,800 acre area of green space which also encompasses Windsor Castle, and runs right up to Windsor town a few miles away.
The route around the lake itself is approximately five miles along, free to visit, and takes about three hours to walk. Cyclists, amblers and dog walkers all mingle happily on the wide footpaths. All manner of trees line the edge of the water, with swans, coots and other wildlife to be seen. Virginia Water Lake is at its best in autumn, when the leaves turn gorgeous fiery shades, but it has ample viewpoints that make for a Kodak moment all year round. Particularly worth a visit is The Cascade, a beautiful waterfall at the south-eastern tip of the lake which draws in the crowds.
If you've got the time, try wandering away from the shores of the lake and into some of the garden and woodland areas, which includes a 100ft totem pole gifted to Queen Elizabeth II by the people of Canada.
A word of warning — the only toilets around the whole of the lake itself can be found at the main car park by the pavilion, so we'd recommend going before you set off on your lengthy stroll. There are some at the Savill Garden too, but that's an area which has an additional entrance fee.
Nearby: Car is the best way to access Virginia Water — though the car parking charges can be eye-wateringly expensive if you're making a day of it. Once you're done wandering around the lake, why not hop back in the car and park up near the Thames, in search of these Thames islands. Otherwise, Windsor itself is always a good bet for a regal day out.
Black Park Country Park, Buckinghamshire
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Just a hop outside the M25 near Slough, Black Park Country Park takes up 535 acres, including a lake which is handily located near the car park and cafe. It's one of the smaller lakes on this list, so no swimming or water sports... unless you count model boating as a water sport, in which case, you'll want to acquaint yourself with this lot.
Parts of the lake edge take you through forest and woodland, while other parts are wide open footpaths. If you've still got energy to burn once you've done a lap or two, explore the rest of the park which includes woods, bridleways, open spaces, and even a Go Ape climbing centre.
Nearby: Black Park is only a few miles from Slough and... no, bear with us... Slough's really good, honest. In the other direction, take the opportunity to visit Harmondsworth, a beautiful medieval village which may be completely wiped out in the next few years. Alternatively, the excellent Bekonscot Model Village is just a short hop up the M40.
Stanborough Park, Hertfordshire
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Snuggled up to the roaring A1(M) isn't where you'd expect to find a beautiful country park, but the delightful Stanborough Park offers two lakes and multiple walking routes to help you put the traffic out of your mind.
The South Lake is the place to head for sailing, kayaking, canoeing and the like, while the North Lake offers an excellent paved perimeter route that lets you ogle the lake and its wildlife from dry land. Warning: here be dragons (of the pedalo boat type). Head to the northern tip of the North Lake for a quieter, nature reserve-type setting.
Hanningfield Reservoir, Essex
Situated between Chelmsford and Billericay, Hanningfield Reservoir sits within a nature reserve operated by Essex Wildlife Trust. A visitor centre sits right on the lake, offering immediate, panoramic views over the water, and footpaths track along the southern shore, offering peaceful viewpoints and bird hides. A full lap of the water isn't possible as much of the shore is on private land, but the publicly accessible areas offer a Wind in the Willows sculpture trail, with wooden likenesses of characters from the book. In spring, the nature reserve is full of bluebells.
No swimming or water sports are allowed, and bicycles and dogs aren't allowed in the nature reserve either.
Nearby: Why not complete your trip to Essex with a seaside visit?