South Cerney

First published in Town guides by

Imagine England 50,000 years ago, when ice engulfed the land. Gradually, an ice sheet covering the Midlands, started to melt. And, as it turned into rivers and streams, these great waterways took with them sand and gravel, depositing them up to 20 feet thick in places.

And so these deposits lay, relatively undisturbed, until the 1920s, when the building industry suddenly awoke to their rich value. With little regard for the environment, entrepreneurs began to excavate these resources, leaving the land scarred with huge hollows. But now we turn almost full circle, as water once again began naturally to fill these pits, turning them into freshwater lakes.

And so, the ugly ducking of an area, ruined by industry, began to turn into a swan. For more recently, the forward thinking began to realise what an attraction these hollows could be.

And thus was born the Cotswold Water Park, a fantastic 22-mile area for water-based sport, fishing, riding, and other leisure activities. It has also become renowned as a conservation area - several of the lakes are now Sites of Scientific Interest - and large numbers of waterfowl breed and winter here.

For such a land-locked area, it's a huge bonus. Not only can you pursue your favourite water sport here, you can also learn many a new one. Holiday villages have also grown up around the water, offering wooden chalets with gardens bordering the lakes.

It's fast becoming the Riviera of the Cotswolds, where the wealthy can indulge their leisure pastimes, and the rest of us can visit, watch, or hire the wares we need. There's even Friday Island, which big companies hire for their own private parties - a disco, a barbecue, and your own private lake.

The nearby village of South Cerney thrives with the advent of its newly-found water park. It's an attractive enough place in its own right. It has its fair share of lovely old manor houses, and pretty cottages.

Its church contains the beautiful carved wooden head and foot of Christ, taken from a crucifix in Compostela, dating from the 12th Century. It has been described as "a work of great intensity; the earliest piece of wood carving in the country".

At the end of Silver Street is St Edwards College, founded by Anne Edwards in 1834 to house the widows of clergymen. And in nearby Station Road, an attractive row of gabled cottages dates from the 16th and 17th Centuries.

South Cerney is an area to watch. It has seen its fortunes flow and ebb, as industries come and industries grow. But bearing in mind the 21st Century's obsession with sport and leisure, it seems certain that, 50,000 years ago, a certain ice field did this little area a hugely good deed.

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