We have been visiting Carsington Water since it opened over 20 years ago, and have watched as it has been constantly improved and upgraded. The original track around the reservoir has now been widen, leveled and is easily achievable for most to walk/cycle around being 7-8 miles of undulating track, (which my 7 yr old daughter can achieve with relative ease). The track now runs right around the edge of the reservoir, only briefly leaving the waters edge before returning to it. There are bird watching huts set up around and the variety of visiting birds is lovely to watch. You also pass by woodlands and fenced off fields of sheep. If you look carefully you may notice the carved figures in wood, and tucked away on a track near the Millfields car park, is a small open fronted stone building complete with wooden carved furniture, inc TV and clock - like its out of some children's story, which kids are fascinated with it. If you venture slightly off the new improved track onto the original track taking you through the village of Carsington itself, and onto some single track country lanes, you will pass a small pub "The Miners Arms" with a pleasant beer garden - nice to take a break, have a drink and a packet of crisps (although your legs dont peddle as well after a pint)!
There are 3 car parks - Main car park with the Visitor Centre, Millfields and, Sheepwash. Main car park charging £2+ dependent on duration. Millfields is currently £2.50 all day but is barrier operated, so if you dont have the correct money you cant get in! The Sheepwash car park is tucked away with limited parking compared to the others, but is free!
The Main car park houses the Visitor Centre and a large out door children's play area split into 3 age groups, fenced off for safety with some benches for those watching parents. Our daughter has spent hours on this play frame/area long with slides, swings etc, and its free! Along side the play area is a refreshments hut selling hot and cold drinks and ice cream (open 11-4 approx mid - peak season). Further refreshments are in the Main Visitior centre just a stroll away. Around the play area is a large grassed area with some wooden picnic tables (some under a sheltered area in case of rain) but these tables are highly demanded on sunny days/peak periods. Further up the bank behind the car park are additional benches, some with pre-built barbeques. One down side to the childrens area is that there is no immediate toilet facilities right by the young children's play area, and as anyone with young children knows you have limited warning of the "need" for a toddler to "go". There are toilets in the Main Visitor centre, but it is a sprint with a toddler under your arm! The toilets are plentiful and clean (well it is a Severn Trent run attraction).
The Main Visitor Centre is laid out in a court yard style and houses shops selling clothes, jewellery, RSPB related products, gift ware, books etc. Additionally there is a refreshments shop selling hot and cold snacks and drinks, some pre-packed branded ice creams, etc. There is a separate specialist ice cream store opposite selling traditional ice creams in waffle cones with such flavours as honey comb, toffee, chocolate, rum and raisin, and even diabetic vanilla amongst many other flavours. They're not cheap at £2-3 each (dependent on your add-ons) but when you consider that your day out is practically free other than parking fees they are a nice treat. There is a full restaurant upstairs above the visitor centre if you require something more substantial than a snack. There is also an environmental presentation detailing what happens to water and how its processed and how we use it - informative and well laid out, appealing to children.
From the visitors centre you can walk over to the "island" in the water with its standing stones to climb the path up to.
Next to the visitor centre is the cycle hire centre, with well maintained and up to date bikes for hire including those trailer trucks for very young children who cannot yet cycle and are towed behind an adults bike.
Onto the Millfields Car Park, being located the other side of the Dam from the Main Visitor centre - has many picnic style tables laid out along the waters edge which are often visited by Canadian Geese and a variety of Ducks, amongst others. There are toilets here and occasionally you can purchase ice creams here, but it is occasionally, regrettably. Just hidden behind this car park is the Caravan Clubs site known as Blackbrook, with access directly onto Carsington Water along a track which runs along the road side.
As for Sheepwash Car Park, that is all it is. A car park with the odd table, and no facilities. This car park is located further along from the Main Car park and on the Wirksworth - Ashbourne road.
In summary, there's plenty here to pass a sunny day or even just dry day. Only the committed walker is found here on less pleasant rainy days due to the limited places to shelter. However having considered the cost of this day out it is amongst the cheapest around. Great for the family. Great for the dog walkers. Great for couples and friends to spend time. Great to get you more active. That's why we go back so often.
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