Rhoda Woodward Tribute 1: Adderbury Lakes

For just over two hundred years the lakes have lain quietly hidden behind the grounds of Adderbury House.

Of course, we all knew that they were there. My father would tell me about the skating parties held by the Miss Cawleys. All the village would be welcome, lanterns were hung in the trees, bowls of hot soup and refreshments served. A lot of the village functions were held in the field. The hounds met, Jubilee celebrations for King George the Fifth, the Coronation of George the Sixth, fetes and flower shows. On these occasions we were taken across to look at the lakes, and told not to climb the fence or to go any closer in case we fell in. Sometimes we would hear someone say that the swans had arrived on the lakes and that that was a sign of bad weather, but they belonged to the big people who worked there and that was as far as it went with regards to the rest of the village.

In 1983 I read in the Banbury Guardian that the lakes were to be restored by the Manpower Services Commission. I had not been a member of the Parish Council for long and was thrilled to learn that we were to be invited to meet with representatives from the Oxfordshire County Council to discuss the plans for the project.

It was a clear bright morning in January. There had been an overnight frost. The wall alongside the lakes had collapsed in one place and this is where we made our entrance, having first inspected the spring in Long Wall that feeds the lakes. We fought and scrambled our way through elder bushes, brambles, decayed undergrowth and fallen trees, clinging on to branches to save ourselves from slipping down the sloping banks into the somewhat murky water as the frost was coming out of the ground making it very slippery.

Suddenly we came to a clearing and I was able to see the whole of the top lake. I had not realised it was so big. Many times I have been there since but I shall never forget that first view. The beauty of the sun shining on the water and the tangle of faded herbage and trees, still white with frost. There was even a pair of ducks over on the far side.

Farther along we discovered another smaller lake badly silted up and overgrown, fed by a waterfall from the first lake. We were told this would be dredged and the sluice repaired. We made another visit a month later. There were huge drifts of snowdrops. We saw a pair of fingfishers. It was St Valentine’s Day. Work started and for the rest of the year the whole place looked like a battlefield. Machinery was brought in, the dredging was completed, paths made, old wood burnt, the summer house and boat house restored, and two wooden bridges built.

By the following spring the snowdrops had bloomed. Not many daffodils had survived, but there was still a large patch of ransoms, which are not seen much in these parts. The bare ground so churned up the year before was soon covered with wild flowers. The white anenomies had not been disturbed and soon there was an abundance of colour. There were two wooden stages built for disabled fishing, the lakes having been restocked with several kinds of fish. The ducks and moorhens produced babies which dashed about on the water like small clockwork toys.

Now people were coming to the lakes to walk round, sit in the summer houses and on the new benches and, of course, to feed the sucks. There was a grand opening in July 1985 and at last we could feel it was really ours to enjoy. No matter how many times I visit, there is always something different: the moorhens, a pair of goldfinches, a grey wagtail or a kingfisher. One unforgettable evening last summer a large damselfly accompanies me half way round the lower lake, twisting and turning to show off its lovely colours. I have watched a water vole having his lunch and fed the roach as they sunbathed on top of the water on a warm day. The trees change their colours with the seasons and the light and shade.

There are not many who do not appreciate our lakes just for what they are. But I am sure that to some of us old “Adderburys” the main attraction is that at one time it was private and belonged to the gentry, but now is something we can all enjoy.

Rhoda Woodward

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