Alton water near Ipswich is a terrific place for a family cycle ride. The circular path around the reservoir is mainly hard-packed sand & gravel; gently undulating with a couple of sharp hills to challenge kids. It is about 8 miles which is a good distance for younger family members and enough for both the smallest in a child seat and the grown-up pedalling! As the path weaves around the water you are surrounded by nature with spectacular wild flower displays in spring, woodland and aquatic birds and even highland cattle. Plenty to see and do including an all important ice-cream stop! Read on to find out about the route from a family perspective and look at car-parking options.
Head for the visitor centre in Stutton if you need to hire a bike. Parking here costs £3.70 for up to 3 hours or £6 for the day. There is also an excellent water-sports centre with kayak rental if you want to make a full day of it.
If you have your own bikes and a car I recommend parking at Lemon’s Hill SatNav; IP9 3NH. It is pretty much the half way point from the visitor centre with its café, ice-creams, playground and toilets. This makes a great pit-stop for kids and grown-ups alike on a family cycle around Alton Water! This, along with the car park at the Wonder, is now a pay and display car park, £3 per day, so a little cheaper than the main visitor centre. If you cannot afford that or want to cycle at dusk (the carparks close at 3pm in winter) then there are a few free parking options, see below.
Which way around?
As this is a circular ride should you go clockwise or anti-clockwise? The north shore is the hillier and anticlockwise I’d say the hills up are more gentle, but steeper on the way down. The steeper descents also have sharp corners at the bottom. Depending on how good your kids are with brakes, you may decide that the clock-wise route is preferable for a family cycle. A short walk-up the hills is better than a kamikaze descent with and stinging nettle greeting if the corners are missed. If its been wet the south side tends to muddier but its never boggy. However be prepared for muddy feet / legs / everywhere when you return to your car.
Things to see
Around the water’s edge you see several hides for observing the many birds on the water. You are free to enter, but if there is a serious birdwatcher there already, it is best if the kids are quiet so as not to scare the birds. Suffolk is very much on the migration-route for all sorts of birds so what you can see will vary with the time of year. I’ve seen Geese, Great Crested Grebes, Swallows around the water and Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the woods. In Spring bluebells are abundant, although the best displays can be found on paths away from the reservoir.
Close to Lemon’s Hill on the south side of the reservoir you’ll pass “The Wonder” car park. Nearby there is a church-like building which is in fact The Tattingstone Wonder: a pair of cottages made to look like a church by a land-owner in the 1790’s Most curious is the rear view as you can see the tower only has 3 sides!
The clock-tower of the Royal Hospital School punctuates the skyline, and close to the water’s edge on the southern side near the visitors centre there is a meadow of Highland Cattle which certainly adds to the interest for kids on a family cycle around Alton Water. For more information on things to look out for, there are detailed notes on Alton Water’s construction and history here.
Parking without Restriction
The main car parks all prominently display closing times around dusk. It can be quieter to avoid daytime and a night ride can be exhilarating, so where to park and not get locked in? Some of the roads around have parking restrictions but there are a few options:
- Around Tattingstone Village Hall, Entrance off The Close IP9 2ND, near Lemon’s Hill
- Alton Hall Lane, quite narrow but a few well used parking spaces.
- Birchwood, a small carpark down a long narrow lane. Can be difficult to turn if full.
- Coxhall Road near Black Pond Meadow, an often used parking space for a couple of cars.
Wherever you park, be considerate and don’t block entrances & access or create a hazard to other road users.
If you would like a more challenging off-road ride taking in Alton water there are several bridleways nearby including this off-road loop of Alton Water from Ipswich. No car-parking required… but it can get very muddy!