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This immense machine is the dragline excavator that worked this site for open cast coal
This immense machine is the dragline excavator that worked this site for open cast coal

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Route No. 725 - Thursday 14 June 2018
Circuit of St. Aidan's RSPB site by the
River Aire at Allerton Bywater - 6km
West Yorkshire . . .

Route map from Ordnance Survey Open Space service.

Map: OS Explorer 289 Leeds


Today the weather forecast is for a large storm system to pass north eastwards across the north of the UK. We are at the southern end of this storm and as we drove south from home down the A1 we could feel the strong winds buffeting the car. We were heading for the St. Aidan's Nature Reserve run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The site is on the northern bank of the River Aire just to the west of Allerton Bywater. We parked in the visitor centre car park at map ref. SE 399 287. The whole area had been an open-cast coal mining site, now reinstated to form this amazing wetland nature reserve. Next to the car park and opposite the visitor centre building there is a huge dragline excavator that was used to excavate coal from the site. It's a very impressive reminder of the former use of the site.

The RSPB Visitor Centre at St. Aidan's Nature Reserve
The RSPB Visitor Centre at St. Aidan's Nature Reserve

Crossing the car park to the visitor centre
Crossing the car park to the visitor centre

Following the path to the right up the hill
Following the path to the right up the hill

Sign post at the fork in the track
Sign post at the fork in the track

There was a good view of the reserve looking south from the hill. About 800m from the visitor centre we came to a fork in the path.

From the visitor centre we passed the dragline excavator following a path climbing up the hill at the northern end of the reserve.


Setting off from the visitor centre past the huge dragline

Looking back past the dragline to the visitor centre
Looking back past the dragline to the visitor centre

We followed the left hand fork in the track
We followed the left hand fork in the track

Looking south across the reserve from the hill top path
Looking south across the reserve from the hill top path

Track over the hill top from the fork
Track over the hill top from the fork

Following the path over the hill top
Following the path over the hill top

We continued along the path for another 400m to another kissing gate where we turned left along a path dropping down the hillside.

At the fork in the track we kept to the left hand fork over the hill. After about 100m we came to a kissing gate through a fence.

Kissing gate as we followed the track over the hill top
Kissing gate as we followed the track over the hill top

Following the path over the hill top
Following the path over the hill top

We turned left here following a path dropping down the hill side
We turned left here following a path dropping down the hill side

About to cross a fenced access track
About to cross a fenced access track

Path crossing the field diagonally to the bottom corner
Path crossing the field diagonally to the bottom corner

We followed the path down the slope to another kissing gate at the bottom southerly corner of the field. Through the gate we crossed a footbridge over a ditch that led us to a wide gravel track where we turned right.

After about 100m we reached a wide track which we crossed into the corner of the field opposite. From the corner of the field we followed a path (the long grass had been cut to mark the path) heading diagonally across the field.

Kissing gate into the corner of the field across the track
Kissing gate into the corner of the field across the track

Kissing gate from the bottom corner of the field
Kissing gate from the bottom corner of the field

Footbridge over a ditch leading to wide gravel track
Footbridge over a ditch leading to wide gravel track

Nearing the track with a lake, right and a waterway, left
Nearing the track with a lake, right and a waterway, left

Looking out for water fowl
Looking out for water fowl

Due to the high winds there were few birds flying except for some black headed gulls and a few common terns. But we did notice various water fowl sheltering around the reeds at the edge of the water.

We followed the track south west between a lake on our right and a wide waterway on our left. We continued along the wide track to a sharp left hand bend. We continued along the track between wide watercourses heading generally south eastwards.

Start of the track with a lake, right and a waterway, left
Start of the track with a lake, right and a waterway, left

Cormorant on a post in the lake
Cormorant on a post in the lake

Just enjoying the view and looking out for wildfowl
Just enjoying the view and looking out for wildfowl

This coot quickly sent its 3 chicks into the reeds
This coot quickly sent its 3 chicks into the reeds

Tufted duck
Tufted duck

Again just enjoying the view and looking out for wildfowl
Again just enjoying the view and looking out for wildfowl

Flotilla of coots sticking together in the gusty conditions
Flotilla of coots sticking together in the gusty conditions

We followed the track between the waterways to map ref. SE 389 279 where there is a junction in the tracks. We turned left here to follow a concrete causeway between two lakes where there was a colony of noisy nesting gulls on an island to our left.

We saw very few song birds. I think they were keeping to the trees in as sheltered a spot as they could find. We did see a group of mute swans, a and a large flock of coots on the water.


Great crested grebe

We turned right at this junction to cross the causeway
We turned right at this junction to cross the causeway

Mute swans feeding at the lake edge
Mute swans feeding at the lake edge

Crossing the concrete causeway between the lakes
Crossing the concrete causeway between the lakes

Following the path up to the fllod bank path by the River Aire, a better route is to turn sharp left here and walk along the lakes side
Following the path up to the flood bank path by the River Aire (better route is to turn sharp left here and walk along the lakes side)

Bridleway along the River Aire flood bank
Bridleway along the River Aire flood bank

Bridleway along the River Aire flood bank
Bridleway along the River Aire flood bank

With hindsight we should have turned sharp left and followed the path around the lakes inside the reserve. Anyway we followed the path outside the tall wire fence along the north bank of the River Aire for about 1km to a bridge on our right over the River Aire. Opposite the bridge we turned left back into the reserve.

Across the causeway we followed the track up to the bridleway along the northern bank of the River Aire. I thought that there would be a better view from the top of the flood bank but I was wrong.

Bridleway along the River Aire flood bank
Bridleway along the River Aire flood bank

Bridge over the River Aire opposite our turning
Bridge over the River Aire opposite our turning

Heading back into the nature reserve from the flood bank path
Heading back into the nature reserve from the flood bank path

Path back into the nature reserve from the flood bank path
Path back into the nature reserve from the flood bank path

Large lake at the southern edge of the reserve
Large lake at the southern edge of the reserve

Discharge point from the overflow cluvert into the River Aire
Discharge point from the overflow culvert into the River Aire

The channel seemed to carry surplus water from the reserve into the River Aire. We crossed the overflow cannel on the flood bank path and then turned left back into the reserve once more.

We followed the path for about 200m, then the path climbed up to the flood bank path again to cross a large concrete overflow channel.

Path around the lakes, to our right
Path around the lakes, to our right

Heading up to the flood bank path to cross the overflow culvert
Heading up to the flood bank path to cross the overflow culvert

Turning left off the flood bank path into the reserve
Turning left off the flood bank path into the reserve

Heading back into the reserve from the flood bank path
Heading back into the reserve from the flood bank path

Path around the eastern side of the reserve
Path around the eastern side of the reserve

Our route was about 6km and it had taken us over two and a half hours to walk including numerous stops to enjoy the scenery and the birds. Where we rejoined the A1 on our way back home we stopped at a garden centre cafe for a coffee & bacon roll just to round off our trip to St Aidan's.

From the flood bank, the path dropped down to an old access road, a remnant of the open cast mining days, but now just used as a footpath. We followed this wide road for about 800m back to the car park and the end of our walk.

The old acess road around the eastern side of the site
The old access road around the eastern side of the site

The dragline excavator seen from the car park at the end of our walk
The dragline excavator seen from the car park at the end of our walk

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