Last week I introduced the first in a series of blogs that I’m planning on writing, which recommend good places for family-friendly dog walks, from my experience as a Mummy and dog-owner and family photographer.  I launched with my blog on Farley Mount, which was really well received. Thank you if you contacted me with any further recommendations or had any additional hints or advice for me. I loved hearing from you all and hopefully this blog will be even better and more informative as a result.

So my second recommended walk for families and dog-walkers to try is Testwood Lakes in Totton. I stumbled upon this quite by accident when I was sent there on a teaching course a couple of years ago, and what a find it was! As one of my friends said when I met her there “well whoever knew that this place existed”.

It is situated within Calmore Industrial estate just 5 minutes from Junction 2 of the M27. You do feel like you’re in a very built-up area, until you get to the car park and then peace and quiet and calm descend upon you.

Testwood Lakes

The site consists of 3 different-sized lakes (only two of which allow dogs to walk around as the third is reserved for wildlife). There is an Educational Centre based at the top of the site, with a large expanse of grounds overlooking the lakes (a lovely place to get sent on a course believe me)! The site is also home to a another centre which seems to run sailing courses and camps, I don’t know whether this is used for sea courts or similar, but is a beautiful sight to see them all out on the water with their dazzling sails on a summers day! The car park for Testwood Lakes themselves is situated on the right hand side of long driveway. If you continue up the driveway, you end up at the Educational Centre.

The lakes themselves are not huge. I can walk around both of them on my own in about 1/2 hour, although we tend to just walk around the larger one when we have the children, as once you allow time for throwing stones, playing and dawdling, the walk normally takes about an hour!

I have included a map of the walks that I have done around there, although to be honest this is not a difficult walk to figure out as you can see across the lakes at all time, and so long as you hug the water line, you can’t go wrong! The smaller lake has a gravel/hard path around the outside so is pretty accessible all year around, although the path can narrow in some places. The larger lake also has a gravel path around it, although we cut across the grass and alongside the lake is this is a great place for stone-throwing and running around.

Things to enjoy at Testwood Lakes:

1. Wildlife:

This place is absolutely teeming with wildlife to look out for. As you will be able to tell from my descriptions, I am not au fait with many birds, but I know that there are custom-built hides for you to go and watch the birds around Meadow Lake and a specific wetland area (this is signposted off the main gravel path from the main lake). I have never been there myself as did not think that taking two toddlers and a dog would be the most relaxed or quiet group to entice the birds to chill out. As well as birds in the reserved areas, you will also see a range of a birds on the lakes throughout the seasons and cattle grazing in the fields (be careful with your dogs going too close as they can cut quite an imposing figure)

2. Parking:

Although it is not the largest or most practical car parks in the world (it’s quite a strange shape – almost circular), it has very recently been re-laid so is pot-hole free which is rather lovely.

3. Climbing areas:

Because this is a natural environment, there are no parks for the children to play in. However, this has never stopped my children and their friends having an awesome time as there are several cool things for them to climb all over. Firstly there is the wooden structure right by the larger lake, which is shaped like a boat. This has lead to the children spending many hours playing boats and sailing and creating all sorts of cool games (just be careful in the summer though as we noticed lots of stinging nettles around the base last summer). There is also what we call ‘the animal log’. Now I have no idea how this came to arrive at Testwood Lakes, who carved it or why, but I can honestly say that we love it! I won’t spoil it for you if you want to go and see it for yourself, but needless to say that it is a log, and has 3D animal carved into it. The first time we discovered it, we had a brillaint time spotting them all and then identifying them!

4. Poo bins:

There are several bins dotted around the site and they always seem to be empty which is a bonus – nothing worse than over-flowing bins with dog bags spilling out and stinking the place out!

5. Fishing:

There are designated areas for anglers, although I believe you need to have a permit.

6. Beautiful surroundings:

Having done several photography shoots here throughout the year, I can honestly say that this location is beautiful. In the summer it has long grass which the children just love to run their hands through and hide amongst. In the winter it can look really atmospheric in low light and a moody sky.

7. Picnics:

There are a couple of benches by the car park, but apart from that there are not any others. Having said that, I have seen several families picnicking around the lakes and I am definitely looking forward to doing that with my kids and Josie the labrador in the summer.

8. Facilities:

The Testwood Lakes Centre is open Monday to Friday 9am to 4 pm and Sundays, 1pm to 4pm (BST) in summer and 12am to 3pm (GMT) in winter. During term time there are often school groups using the centre so please be aware it may not always be possible to come and look around. Inside the centre are activity sheets and leaflets, interactive wildlife displays and accessible toilets.

Things to watch out for at Testwood Lakes:

1. Blue-green algae:

There are not many things to watch out or be careful of at Testwood Lakes, but this is the biggie. There are signs up on the information board all year around about the dangers of blue-green algae in the water, but from what I understand, it is more prevalent in the hotter months than in the colder months. It can cause poisoning in dogs who ingest or swim in it, so be warned!

2. Mud:

As with the majority of walks in winter, the grasslands around the lakes can get extremely muddy and boggy and I certainly wouldn’t want to push a pushchair or wheelchair through it. Fine if you’re decked out in suitable clothing and prepared for it though. The gravel paths can also get wet and muddy although not as badly.

3. Grazing cattle:

Be extra careful in the summer months as there can often be cattle grazing and wandering around by the larger of the lakes. They have never bothered us and we have always kept them at arms length, but I know that some dogs (and children for that matter) might not have the same awareness or respect.

Special Offer for dog owners

If you are a dog-lover and are keen to have more pictures of your fur babies around, then I may be able to help you.

I am a massive dog-lover too and am a firm believer in capturing the dog with the children as they all grow up together. If this is something that you have been meaning to get around to for ages, but just keep forgetting, then don't worry!

I am currently running a photography promotion to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dog, which means that you get 50% off the session fee when you book a full family shoot.

Alternatively, if you don't fancy a family shoot, but you do want to capture your four-legged friend on camera, then I am happy to join you on a dog walk and take some photos. The above link also has details of a special dog walking promotion I'm running.

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