Bosherston Lakes (Lily Ponds)
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Part of a fascinating 18th-century designed landscape
Bosherston Lakes is a linked system of three man-made lakes created in the 18th century by damming a small river on the Campbell family's Stackpole Estate near Bosherston village in Pembrokeshire. The Lakes, often known as 'the Lily Ponds', are famous for their display of water lilies, which cover the surface of the water in a brilliant floral display in early summer.
The Lakes form part of a National Nature Reserve and a 340-acre Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The area supports a resident population of otters, and the lakes are also well-stocked with fish for coarse fishing (by permit from the National Trust's Stackpole Learning Centre). Sticklebacks abound in the eastern lake, while perch and tench are common in all three lakes, as are eels.
There are 100 acres of lakes, though the actual amount varies by season, as water is lost to the underlying limestone. When water levels are low green algae known as stonework is exposed. The algae turns white and gives off an unpleasant smell.
The western and central arms of the Lakes are fed by limestone springs, while the eastern arm is fed by streams. The eastern arms thus contain silt and other nutrients carried by the water as it passes through nearby fields. For that reason, it is not a good environment for the water lilies that grow on the other two arms of the Lakes. The northern reach of the eastern lake is overgrown with reeds and water-loving plants.
At the southern end of the eastern lake is what appears to be a grass bridge. It is, in fact, a dam, built around 1780 to create the first of the Bosherston Lakes. South of the dam was a tidal inlet, subject to regular floods. The flooding inspired the Campbells of Stackpole Court to create a second dam at Broad Haven South to create permanent lakes.
The history of the Bosherston Lakes goes back to around 1760 when the Campbells of Stackpole Court began to lay out a picturesque landscape around their fashionable Georgian mansion. Sir John Campbell II dammed a river running through his estate to create three long, slender lakes, with a viewpoint over the lakes from the mansion. He also planted thousands of trees and laid out trails through the estate, using the landscape as a huge canvas to create a romantic landscape.
In 1797 an elegant bridge was built across one of the lakes to link the house and home farm with the deer park and Stackpole Quay. The 18th-century Eight Arch Bridge is one of the focal points of Bosherston Lakes, and trails lead from the site of Stackpole Court on one side to Stackpole Warren on the other.
The Lily Ponds
Bosherston Lakes are famous for their water lilies, which explains the alternate name of The Lily Ponds. The Lakes are home to a huge population of dragonflies (over 20 different species) and wildfowl. A boardwalk crosses the lakes, allowing visitors to see the lilies from close range. The best place to see the lilies is from the National Trust pay and display car park at Bosherston, just below the medieval parish church of St Michael and All Angels.
From the car park a trail leads downhill to a narrow boardwalk across the lake. The boardwalk is very close to the water surface, allowing you to get a very close view of the water lilies. The best time to view the lilies is in June and July, but the display can last from late May to August. On our last visit in mid-May, the lilies were just starting to come into flower, as the photos accompanying this article show.
What to See
Aside from the water lilies, which are quite stunning and well worth a visit, there are several other highlights to visiting the Lakes. Between the western and central lakes is Fishpond Camp (aka Bosherston Promontory Fort), built on the high ground about 3,000 years ago when the lakes were a tidal inlet.
Eight Arch Bridge
The aptly named bridge crosses the eastern lake and was built in 1797 to link Stackpole Court to Stackpole Warren. The bridge was built above a weir, and, as the name suggests, was designed with eight segmented arches. The roadway is 3.3m wide (about 11 feet), and the arches are made of ashlar while the rest of the bridge is built of rubble stone. Iron ties were later inserted to solidify the structure. The bridge is a Grade II* listed historic site. If you follow the trail on the far side of the bridge you will come to the Devil's Quoit, a standing stone erected about 5,000 years ago.
The Victorian Monument
From the trail along the eastern lake you can spot an intriguing monument on the eastern side of the lake, looking rather like a peculiar conical hut. The monument was erected in 1881, as evidenced by a datestone. On the north-west side is a stone seat, just below the date stone, but there is no other indication of why the monument was erected or by whom.
Broad Haven South Beach
At the south-eastern edge of the Lakes the water gives way to a dune system, and beyond that to a beautiful and secluded sandy beach. On the west side of the beach are low cliffs pierced by caves, with springs gushing forth from the rocks. In the centre of the beach is a clear stream running south out of the lily ponds.
The spectacular scenery and unspoilt beach made Broad Haven South a perfect setting for the 1989 TV adaptation of the CS Lewis tale 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader'.
Bottle-nosed dolphins can be spotted offshore, while the cliffs are home to a wide variety of birds including razorbills, kittiwakes, shags, and fulmars. You can reach the beach by following the signposted trail down the western side of the westernmost lake from the Bosherston car park or by following the Pembrokeshire Coast Path down the eastern arm of the eastern lake. The easiest way, however, is to park at the National Trust car park at Broad Haven South, reached by a minor road south of Bosherston.
There are three National Trust parking areas close to the Bosherston Lakes. The most popular - and the best for seeing the lilies - is the main Bosherston car park, just below the parish church. There are also National Trust car parks at Broad Haven South - best for the beach - and at Stackpole Court, best for the eastern lake and for visiting the site of the Campbell's manor house of Stackpole Court and the restored walled garden that used to provide food for the residents of the Court.
I've taken several long walks around Bosherston Lakes, and I think it is one of Britain's hidden gems. The landscape is incredibly peaceful, despite the popularity of the Lakes in summer, when people converge on Boshesrton to see the display of white lilies. The trails leading beside the lakes offer such wonderful walking in a beautifully picturesque landscape. Keep your eyes open for otters!
About Bosherston Lakes
Address: Bosherston, Pembrokeshire, Wales, SA71 5DW
Attraction Type: Garden - Countryside
Location: 5 miles south-east of Pembroke off the B4319. Paid parking area by the church.
Website: Bosherston Lakes
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Bosherston, St Michael and All Angels - 0.1 miles (Historic Church)
Stackpole Estate - 0.6 miles (Garden)
Devils Quoit, Stackpole - 0.8 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Stackpole Court & Walled Gardens - 1 miles (Garden)
St Govan's Chapel - 1.2 miles (Historic Church)
Stackpole, St James and St Elidyr Church - 1.3 miles (Historic Church)
St Petrox Church - 1.5 miles (Historic Church)
St Twynnells Church - 2 miles (Historic Church)
Nearest Accommodation to Bosherston Lakes: