Alton Water

Many gems have to be sought out, unearthed from the ordinary. Hidden amongst the rural beauty between Ipswich and Manningtree is a reservoir – in this case an artificially flooded valley – called Alton Water.

Without the signposts, you wouldn’t know it was there.

Initially planned in the 1960s to supply more water for the Ipswich area, it opened in 1987, and is now a beautiful and natural 400-acre leisure park.  

VW T4 motorhome at Alton Water, Suffolk
Cree at Alton Water, Suffolk

On this page we’ll share our experiences of Alton Water and we’ll start off with one of the first things us motorhomers have to consider when going anywhere.

Is there room to park my van?

Well, let’s start with some good news! Yes, there is usually plenty of space for parking, either beside the café or further down where you can look out across the water – a great place to take a campervan or motorhome. And there are no lines indicating parking bays, so it’s perfect for the more ample amongst us!

It costs £3 all day to park which isn’t too bad, considering you might be here some time, lunching at the cafe and/or walking around the reservoir.

We never object to paying towards the upkeep of natural spaces but sometimes the charge feels like rent. Take a bow Dunwich Heath at £15 for motorhomes, but that is another post!

And with the recent addition of a camp site at Alton Water with good facilities for 88 pitches, motorhome and tent owners will be grateful to be able to camp close to where the kids can enjoy the swings and slides. 

We haven’t tried the campsite yet, preferring instead to get away from the world and stay at smaller sites, so we can’t comment on it, though it does look good from the outside.

Have you stayed there yet? Let us know!

A village split in two

Before we go on to say what we like and dislike about Alton Water, let’s just dip into its history…

During the construction of the reservoir back in the 1970s, as with many such schemes, there were casualties…

The village of Tattingstone was split in two by the vast body of water. Alton Hall was lost, along with two farms and twenty houses. After thirty years, the people who lost their homes have become faceless and silent – their opinions and distress drowned beneath the ten million imperial gallons of treated water per day.

Rescued Alton Mill was dismantled and re-erected at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket.

However, history moves on and the end product is indeed a lovely place as well as being a necessary and functional facility. Progress does not always have to be a carbuncle.  Often it is, but not here.

Sunset at Alton Water, Suffolk

Sculptured beauty

It is difficult to believe now that the lake is not a natural feature of the landscape.

We have stopped to admire nesting swans or geese and, without taking another step, stood transfixed by songbirds calling from trees or water foul dipping their toes into the water, glancing at themselves in the mirrored surface. The bird life is varied because Alton Water is surrounded by farmland.

The lake continues to be fed by the River Gipping – and of course, where there is water, there are people wanting to get on it.

However, with the recent (2020) closure of the water park there are far fewer people, leaving plenty of smooth, silky water to replenish the soul away from the previous splash zones. The sailing club survives but you have to be a member.

On our most recent visit – June 2020 – we found out you can now park right overlooking the lake. This car park was previously reserved for sailing club members but is now open to the public.

There is also a cycle route and you can hire a bike here for a couple of hours for £14. We thought this a tad expensive, hence deciding to walk.

map of Alton Water

Wonders along the way

We walked all the way around Alton Water – just over eight miles. And on a hot day it can seem like a very long way from the car park when you’re right over the other side!

But whether you’re walking or cycling around the water, there is an interesting thing to see on the way…

Tattingstone Wonder is a folly from around 1800. Initially two cottages, they offended the eyes of a local squire, Edward White, who made them more visually appealing by the addition of a third cottage with a fake tower and façade of a church wall.

So, from the front, you are looking at a church but at the rear you see the three cottages. It certainly achieves White’s intentions, who said he ‘wanted to give people something to wonder about’.

Wonder, we certainly did!

And we’ve wondered some more since, about what we like and dislike about Alton Water. So let us tell you…

What we love about Alton Water…

We love walking all the way around the lake or taking a shorter “to and from” stroll into one of the bays. Despite the relatively modern body of water, the fringes of it consists of established woodland without that precision-planned feel of a designer plantation.

Last time, we sat for almost an hour watching the streak of blue of a Kingfisher dart back and forth across the water. Mesmerising.

We also love that it is away from the larger roads which pollute with noise and fumes. Indeed, there are sections along the walk without any road noise – a vary rare thing these days!

We love the diverse birdlife…and doubtless the park is alive with shyer creatures after closing time.

But there’s something we don’t love…

People. 

OK, we know that there will be people – we enjoy the area so why shouldn’t others!

Mainly, we don’t love noisy people, those who turn up with barbeques and sound systems.

Yes, this has happened on our visits more than once. Why oh why can people not sit anywhere without polluting the area with noise? 

Our likes and dislikes can be summed up nicely in Trudi’s prose…

Woman sitting by lake

Beside the lake, beneath the trees

Imagine the scene…Paint it in your mind…

Choose greens of every hue for the leaves and grasses. Then watch them change their shade, flickering as they wriggle to escape the breeze. Choose greys and blues for the sky – splashing it with silver where the sun calls through.

Make the lake mirror its frame, reflecting the turquoise heavens and earthy green meadows. See the water ripple and shimmer like azure and emerald silk rippling on a warm evening breeze which touches your face in greeting. 

Listen for the whisperings of leaves, passing on the secrets of the wind. Hear too the calls of birds dancing in the air.

Now take a whole red pot of drum and bass and ruin the whole “peace”…A car draws up, then several others, each spewing out people, barbeques, and the steady beat of something that is not nature’s heart.

Chances are you will return to Alton Water. It is lovely. We’ve been several times now. But don’t expect to feel alone in the midst of nature. You will have plenty of company, especially during weekends in the summer.

We’d love to hear of your opinions of Alton Water. Comment in the section below or leave us a message here.

For more great places to visit in Suffolk head here

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