Lakeside, Hollybush, Camp Farm and the Basingstoke Canal
A nature reserve, reclaimed land now beautiful grassland, a SANGS with a lake and the Basingstoke Canal all in one walk
You can start anywhere but there is free parking available at Lakeside Nature Reserve, Ash so that's where these instructions commence.
Walk through the children's play area heading to the right side (save the play until you return!). This path and all side paths eventually reach the tarmac Blackwater Valley path and either some ponds or the river which is very small here. Turn right along the tarmac path. If you can't find it just keep going, it's the only tarmac path through Lakeside!
You will reach the road soon but avoid it by using the small footbridge on the left, and a short way along, after the bridge, cross the road and enter Hollybush and a tarmac track. You will soon find a measure of quiet and a nice wild area on both sides with plenty of blackberries in late summer to collect for pies or maybe some bramble jelly! You will find Warblers here, Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs amongst them.
You have a choice here as you progress, follow the Blackwater Valley Path sign to the left along the pleasant river side path or continue straight on, off the tarmac track, into a wildflower meadow full of flowers, butterflies and bees. Following the main path slightly left across the meadow you will soon enter the scrub area and meet the other option, the Blackwater Valley Path at the footbridge (see picture above).
Cross the footbridge and head straight up the hill onto Hollybush Hill. Here, if you're lucky, in June or July you may find bee orchids in flower as well as many other flowers, it's worth a search around the small hill. Following the path over the hill takes you to a footbridge over the A331.
Crossing the bridge follow the main permissive path through some mixed woodland full of birdsong and a few hundred metres later emerge into a car park for the Connaught Centre, a military service building. Turn left and after passing the end of the Centre building, turn left along Alanbrooke Road.
Follow Alanbrooke Road until it becomes Camp Farm Road and soon, on the left, you will see a signboard for Camp Farm SANGS. Enter here and follow the sign posts for the Sycamore trail (red colour) around the lake. This is a good place to stop for a break. There is a nice picnic area in a meadow surrounded by trees full of birdlife.
Return to the road and cross to the other side, turn left. Take the first opportunity to step up to the right onto the Canal towpath which runs parallel to the road. The bullrushes and waterside vegetation holds many butterflies and pollinating insects on a variety of flowers like willowherb, meadowsweet and fleabane..
You pass Ash Lock, where in the canal depot building Grey Wagtails often nest. Go down the steps under the bridge to avoid having to cross the road. Continue along the canal towpath passing Gold Valley fishing lakes with its enormous bat hibernaculum, until you cross the brightly painted A331 bridge and follow the signs for the Blackwater Valley path. When you have descended the slope you the sign tells you that you have returned to Lakeside Nature Reserve. Turn right and take the first path on your right opposite a pond, and soon you will emerge at the play area and car park.
If you still have some energy while the children play, the lake area is interesting with a phragmites reedbed that holds Reed Warblers in Summer, possibly Water Rail in winter.
Meadowsweet and Fleabane