The cluster of lakes around Wintersett and Walton, south of Wakefield, have an established look about them.

You could almost imagine that it was Nature rather than man that made them. However, all is not as it seems.

The lake at Anglers Country Park, for instance, was in 1974 the deepest open-cast coal mine in Europe. When it was exhausted the land around it was restored and the mine became a large lake.

Now it looks at though it's always been there. A nature reserve flanks one section of it, wildfowl float on it, terns hover over it in search of fish, and dog-walkers and ramblers enjoy the good paths around it and leading away from it into the countryside.

It's a splendid spot with a discovery centre built in 1995 where you can learn about the area and its most famous son: Charles Waterton, naturalist, who grew up at nearby Walton Hall, built in 1767.

That itself, now a fine annexe to a modern hotel, sits on a island in a lake which was originally little more than a moat before Waterton's father enlarged it in 1790. His son later turned it and the broad acres around it into a significant nature park.

Wintersett Reservoir and Cold Hiendley Reservoir, which sit side-by-side just to the south, were built in 1854 and 1874 respectively to feed the Barnsley Canal, which runs northwards passing just to the west of Waterton Lake.

Well actually it doesn't run anywhere now. This canal, which opened in 1799 to carry coal from Barnsley and grain from Wakefield, passes up the western side of Walton Hall Park (Squire Waterton refused to allow it to go through), and is now derelict, overgrown, stagnant - an ideal home for frogs, dragonfly and mosquitoes, with an excellent path running alongside it.

The reservoirs which used to feed it are now used by anglers, a yacht club, wildfowl and twitchers.

It was around part of this area that we decided to walk the other Saturday, exploring an area new to us. We were impressed with it.

Where once there was mining there are now green fields and woods, stretches of water reflecting the sky, and pretty villages in a rural setting barely three miles from the heart of Wakefield.

As we strolled along we met very little in the way of fellow walkers other than those accompanying dogs. We did come across golfers though as our route approached Walton Hall and its hotel. And on the homeward stretch through Haw Park Wood, where the mainly deciduous trees at one stage gave way to an expanse of tall conifers, bare except for at their upper reaches, we were overtaken by a group of cyclists.

For quite a stretch the latter part of the route was alongside the 9ft-high stone wall that Charles Waterton had built all around the estate to protect birds and animals and keep out poachers. The three miles of it were completed in 1826 at a cost of around £9,000. It still stands.

Although the weather has eaten into the sandstone so effectively that in places it's worn right through to the other side and sometimes incongruous patches have been put in, it remains a fine memorial to the man who has been dubbed The First Green Hero for his conservation work and his lifelong interest in wildlife.

As we left the car park, what looked like a leaf blew across the road in front of the car. On instinct, I slammed on the brakes. It wasn't a leaf. It was a shrew, scurrying for the safety of the far verge as fast as its little legs could carry it. Squire Waterton would have approved.

Step by Step

  1. From car park, walk along track with Countryside Discovery Centre on right and keep on to Anglers Country Park lake. Walk with lake on left around far end of it and begin return journey along western shore. Ignore a footpath sign soon on right, pointing to stile into field. Where track meets a gate with nature reserve beyond and turns sharp right to head away from water, go with it. Swing left with track and look for another sign on right next to stile with dog access hole beside it. Over this, go over another stile into field.
  2. Walk down two fields, with hedge on right, to stile in bottom corner. Cross footbridge and go over second stile. Officially, path now goes diagonally across field to stile in far corner and then route hairpins left. However, if ground is boggy (and it probably will be), turn sharp left over second stile and walk along fieldside on clear, well-used path to improvised stile in field corner, climbing over a couple of low strands of barbed wire. Follow narrow path beyond as it winds briefly through trees before joining path coming in from right (which you would have been on if you'd gone the official way).
  3. Continue along this clear path through wood to arrive at Waterton Lake. Stick with lakeside path (lake on left) to emerge on to golf course. Keep ahead on upper, clear path to descend to a junction of paths with Walton Hall to left. Main path swings left here. Go ahead instead and almost immediately at fork of paths take grassy, leftwards one. At T-junction, go sharp left into hotel car park.
  4. Swing round right to pass in front of hotel (making a detour for a coffee or a drink in café-bar at back of Walton Hall across bridge if you like). Leave hotel grounds via gate to access road and walk up this to bridge over disused Barnsley Canal. Cross bridge then turn left to drop down on to canal towpath. Walk along this to where path leaves towpath, forking right up slope with sign to Anglers Country Park.
  5. At top of slope, go left across bridge then go right at other side, with wall of Waterton Park on left. At junction of paths, go left with the wall, heading into Haw Park Wood. Keep on with main path up side of wood, with wall still on left. At end of wall, by Watchtower sign, fork slightly right, still in wood, to eventually arrive at signpost and information board.
  6. Through gate beyond, follow track uphill to join road. Keep along this to return to car park (Wintersett Reservoir is on right towards end of route).
Fact File

  • Start: Waterton Countryside Discovery Centre, near Wintersett, south of Wakefield
  • Time for five-mile walk: 2 hours
  • Going: Easy
  • Map: OS Explorer 278 Sheffield & Barnsley
  • Getting there: From Wakefield, follow A638 Doncaster signs. Just past Crofton boundary sign, turn right to follow Waterton Countryside Discovery Centre brown sign to drive through Crofton village and then Wintersett village. Turn right just past Anglers' Retreat pub on right and continue another half mile to centre car park
  • Parking: Lots of it, and free
  • Toilets: At discovery centre
  • Refreshments: Ditto, at Squire's Café. Discovery Centre is open 11am-4pm every day except Monday