If you were discussing some of the most spectacular landscapes across, `England`s green and pleasant land`, Northamptonshire would probably not be one of the first places mentioned but as someone who has lived, worked and walked across much of the county for the last forty years, I would say it is one of the nation`s `real gems`.
Several years ago I walked The Nene Way, a long distance path following the course of the River Nene, from Northampton, then on to Thrapston and Oundle. The river Nene meandered its way through beautiful Northamptonshire countryside, stunning wetland landscapes, picturesque country villages with charming church spires and areas of thriving wildlife habitats.
The Nene Wetlands around Rushden had for many years seen a number of industrial and leisure activities take place including iron ore mining, gravel quarrying, brick manufacture, water skiing and it also had a very successful dry ski slope, for many years. After these ventures became uneconomical or exhausted of their mineral assets, the area reverted back to nature with a string of small lakes and ponds straddling the river Nene like a necklace and seven small wetland nature reserves were established.
Today the area has witnessed a pioneering project, the first in the country with the partnership of a Nature Reserve and Retail Shopping development with several big brand fashion names at the gateway to a 41,000 acre Nature Reserve on their doorsteps.
What is so unusual and pioneering about this development is that several retail giants are working alongside Wildlife Trusts to create a totally new shopping experience with nature at its heart.
You really wouldn’t know you were next to a large retail shopping development as you stand on the boardwalk looking out over the water. In Summer migrant breeding birds include Sedge, Reed and Cetti`s Warblers. Dragonflies and Damselflies can be seen skimming over paths and water all summer long. Butterflies such as common blues, small coppers and Marbled whites are a real delight to spot.
In Winter over 20,000 birds, including Bittern, Lapwings, Gadwalls, Wigeons, Pochards, Tufted Ducks and Great Crested Grebes, find a home amongst the wetlands and other habitats range from wildflower meadows, ancient woodlands and flooded gravel pits. The Nene Wetlands is a unique square mile of habitats, managed for both wildlife and people!
I went for a short twenty minute walk around the `Nature Loop Walk ` skirting Skew Bridge Lake and as delighted to come across a series of fourteen wooden sculptures highlighting the wildlife to be found in the reserve and a nod to its industrial history. The sculptures are made of good strong wood and are very tactile, the children I saw were keen to explore them, sitting on or climbing over many of the sculptures, much to their delight.
I would love to have walked more of the wetlands but `retail therapy` and lunch was also part of the day, so I headed back across the Boardwalk to find refreshment at M&S, which I must say was very well prepared and reasonably priced. From my table I could look out over the water of `First lake`. Delightful!
I am not much of a shopper but I did spend a short time in the comfortable retail surroundings and managed to secure a new pair of shoes and trousers at very competitive prices.
I will return to Rushden Lakes to explore the 2.5 hours `Travellers Trail` which guides walkers as Higham Ferrers. Looking at the map there are seventeen different named lakes including Higham Lake, Dragonfly Lake and Heron Lake hugging the fringes of the River Nene.
Rushden Lakes Shopping Centre really does offer the Nature lover and Shopper the best of both worlds.