From the heights of Emmetts Gardens, perched on the Greensand Ridge by Ide Hill, the reservoir at Bough Beech off to the south looks so inviting on a hot summer’s day – a cool dash of blue among shades of green, dotted with the white of small sailing dinghies breezily tacking this way and that.
On a hot day you might even think: “Cor, let’s get down there, hire a boat, a pedalo, splash about, perhaps a bit of waterskiing, finish off with a swim followed up by a nifty little sundowner in a trendy bar surrounded by people almost as slick as me.”
Crushing disappointment awaits you; none of these things are possible. The clue is in the name: look how they spell Beech – there’s no ‘a’. True, there is a sailing club and it does have a bar (at the weekends at least) but its home page proclaims it is “run by the members for the members”. Which is lovely … for the members. Fair enough. All good.
Oh well, we can’t get on the lake to cool us off on a summer’s day, so how about a picnic in a delightful meadow with a spot of paddling in the softly lapping water?
Er… absolutely not! Much of the lake’s boundary is a nature reserve and you can’t get close to the water. Again … OK, fine. Nature is good, we love nature, even if we can’t touch it – in fact it’s best if we don’t touch it.
Right, we can’t go in it or stop next to it. We’ll just have to walk or cycle round it while enjoying views across it, in the same way as you can at Bewl Water, an even larger reservoir not that far away. I suspect you may by now have worked out the format of this post and are anticipating me writing “Sorry, but you can’t walk round it”.
Sorry, but you can’t walk round it. I did try a couple of times with no real luck. Although there is a nice walk nearby that goes to Bore Place organic farm and takes in some nice little meadows and woods. You can even glimpse the reservoir if you crane your neck.
Where you can almost see the lake
Ah, here’s the Kent Wildlife Trust to the rescue. I read the KWT has a visitor centre in an oast house, a habitat reserve, nature trail and bird hides. There are picnic tables, and a car park. Big whoop! We’ve got our beautiful lakeside view after all, co-existing nicely with nature. Haven’t we?
Don’t be so naive, joker. It’s closed down. Now it’s an educational facility for some school or other. Anyway, even when KWT ran it you could barely see the lake from the visitors’ centre. And the nature trail went for about a third of a mile close to the reservoir’s western edge without quite giving you a view of it. Well, it did at one point, but there’s a huge fence in the way to prevent people from messing with nature. Then you had to walk back on a country lane down which vast 4WD vehicles hurtle along at colossal speeds, often driven by morons.
I’m told the ex-KWT site is still a great spot for birdwatching (even us dullards spotted greylag geese and great crested grebe) and you can indeed still use the bird hides and unleash your binocular power. Don’t expect any riveting conversation. It’ll most likely be “Seen the osprey?” Suspicious look, “who’s asking?”. Birdwatchers aren’t always the most communicative. (Not my mate Dave though, he’s brilliant.) Bough Beech does in fact have ospreys from time to time – not a beast fond of beautiful natural areas being opened up to the masses for frolicking.
Damn it. We’ll have to just drive around the lake on the adjacent country lanes, admiring it from various viewpoints. Off we go. We pass a sign that seems to be warning us about frogs. Oh I see, they cross the road here.
Ah, hmmm, the lake should be over there … no – there’s woods, there’s fields… it’s over there somewhere, but now there’s a shallow hill in the way. Bloody hell, I give up – you can see it from Emmett’s but I’m beginning to think it was a mirage, it doesn’t exist. I’ll have to join the yacht people.
There it is!
Hold on though, what’s that? Suddenly there it is; a roadside vista of Bough Beech lake. And you can park up. In the north-east corner of the lake, close to the KWT reserve, there’s a causeway traversed by a lane; handily there’s a pavement so it’s a good spot to get out of the car and have a gaze and a twitch maybe. The photos here were taken from there.
I suppose Bough Beech lake might be ruined if we were able to do what we want on it and around it. So really I’m glad I can’t organise a barbecue on a summer’s evening on the shoreline, and that there’s not a kiosk charging £7 to plonk one’s jam jar there with an ice cream van for company. I’m delighted not to be able to pedalo on it – disturbing the geese – or cycle round it – and risk squashing toads.
I rest easy at night knowing I haven’t had a snifter while watching the sun go down over this elusive but idyllic spot. But suddenly my sleep is broken; I jolt upright – did I just run over a frog?
June 2020 update! In a barely credible incident totally in tune with these disturbing times, a young couple climbed over a fence at Bough Beech early in June and sat by the lake in the heat, dangling their feet in the water and eating Doritos (chili flavour). This endearing but incendiary scene lasted for about 7 minutes before irate birdwatchers rounded on them and ordered them out. I witnessed these events unfolding in real time; it was all so shocking that I forgot to film it and put it on social media.
Beckenham Lake is too tame I’m afraid – so many rules, I couldn’t stand the thought. Ended up going to St Andrews Lake in Halling, where I was able to get a decent long swim in, after a distance test to prove I was up to it. To be honest I generally find out easier just to go to the sea because at least you can just swim!
Oh, definitely agree about the sea… such a sense of freedom. But I found Beckenham fun (I’m not a serious swimmer, I just like a bit of exercise); just pay the £3 and in you go (this was last year of course). I’m within a mile of Beckenham Place Park so fine for me, but if I had to travel, maybe not.
Very pleased to find this blog whilst searching for Bough Beech reservoir. I was wondering if there was any way of having a sneaky swim there. Sounds like it could be tricky. However, I’m in SE London and am always on the lookout for nice Kent walks, so am looking forward to reading the rest of the site!
Hi Angela… the best place for a ‘wild’ swim is probably the new lake at Beckenham Place Park (costs £3). There’s also Leybourne Lake just west of Maidstone if you can get there (think it’s on the train). It’s prohibited at Bough Beech because it’s mostly a nature reserve and, like Bewl Water reservoir, Southern Water or whoever it is, says the water is not safe. Whether they have ‘cheeky’ swims over by the sailing club I don’t know…