Bluebell Lakes, England, United Kingdom
Fishing is serious sport in Great Britain: Bluebell Lakes is one of the favored places to engage in this sport. With few natural lakes, the English countryside is home to prized small waterways brimming with fish. Historical estates often included a small pond dug into the marshy fen or captured from a dammed river, creek or canal. To provide access to the commoner, owners soon began to charge admission by the day or partial day for fishermen to come and engage in their favorite sport. Bluebell Lakes is one of these deliberately-created places. It has become known world-wide for its most famous residents: huge carp! The untimely death in 2009 of one such famous carp, the 64 pound Benson, caught the attention of newspapers and sport fishermen’s forums across the world. World media outlets such as the BBC reported that much of Britain was mourning the loss of their favorite fish.
Bluebell Lakes is a small fishing establishment located about 85 miles (135 kilometers) north of London on the Cambridgeshire / Northamptonshire border. Three small former gravel pits next to the River Nene were flooded to provide fishery habitat and stocked with a variety of game fish. All of the lakes together contain about 50 acres of water surface. All are relatively shallow, with 20 feet the maximum depth. The owners developed a stocking plan to maximize the size of the fish in each lake, with one particularly suited to large carp, another to pike. Originally begun in 1994, the largest lake was divided into two parts with the addition of a causeway. An additional, small half-acre pond was built to provide fishing for children, beginners, and those who want to see continuous bobber action. A two-mile section of the River Nene is also under the control of Bluebell Lakes and offers excellent fishing along the reedy banks, the locks, and the weirs. The combination of varied fishing habitat has made Bluebell Lakes one of Great Britain’s most famous fisheries.
Fishing at Bluebell Lakes is an experience anglers plan for over a period of weeks or months. Each lake is known for a specific type of fish, and each is considered either a beginner or an expert fishing experience. Admission is in the form of ‘tickets’ for a period of hours, for 24 hours or a continuous period of days. Although the facility is closed and the gates locked at night, an ‘overnight ticket’ can be purchased for night fishing. A complex set of regulations cover what fish may be kept from each lake, with active encouragement geared to removing smaller fish from the lake. Large fish must be returned to the water, usually after having their photograph taken with the proud angler. The protection of the large fish is both a matter of regulation and of zealous attention by anglers. The system apparently works well, as Benson (who by the way, was female) was caught and released at least 60 times since being stocked in 1994 or 1995. Fishing territory is staked out by a system of ‘pegs’ along the bank. Veteran anglers have their favorite pegs and try to arrive early to lay claim to them. Barbless hooks only are allowed, and bait choices are strictly limited.
Prized celebrity carp Benson lived in Kingfisher Lake. Kingfisher Lake sports many common and mirror carp weighing over 30 pounds. Swan Lake also supports extremely large carp, including another common carp called ‘The Creature’ that tops 60 pounds at last catch. Both lakes are limited to anglers over 16 years, and required equipment is necessary to safely land and release these monster relatives of the common goldfish. Bluebell and Sandmartin Lakes support general mixed fishing, and the small Wood Pool is stocked with carp to 6 pounds; tench, bream and Golden Orfe to 4 pounds; and roach and rudd to 1 pound along with crustaceans. New in 2008, Mallard Lake is being groomed to become another big carp lake and is already producing fish up to 25 pounds. Often overlooked is the Willow Creek backwater where old-fashioned reel and float fishing yields up the usual fish found in flowing water. Pike may be taken only in winter, and a regular fishing license is required at all times. Fishing derbies or matches are held here regularly.
Because Bluebell Lakes caters to fishermen, there is no provision for swimming or other types of water sports. A bait and tackle shop, restrooms, showers for long-visit fishermen, and a small cafe with limited hours are located on-site. Camping and vacation rentals are located in the surrounding area. Bed-and-breakfast facilities, housekeeping cottages, and quaint cottage lodgings are available in the many small towns with the customary local pub on a nearby corner for traditional foods and ale. It is possible to secure a vacation rental in a historic thatched-roof cottage or a centuries-old estate for a week or a month. The real estate market always shows a selection of properties for those who wish to purchase property nearby. The nearby villages of Oundle, Ashton, Warmington, Nassington, and Wansford are good places to start your search.
Just as exciting to the non-angler in the family are the historic surroundings. Only two miles away from Bluebell Lake, historic Fotheringhay is steeped with Royal connections. Little is left of the castle overlooking the River Nene that was the birthplace of Richard III and the execution place of Mary Queen of Scots. A mound marks the site where the original motte and bailey stood with a plaque commemorating the death of Mary. After her trial and execution in the Great Hall in 1587, the castle began to fall into disrepair. The large church with its beautiful tower still stands and is the resting place of some members of the House of York. Sadly, the famous stained glass windows are no more. Elton Hall near Peterborough is a 350 year old family estate completed in 1666 with tours available to view centuries-old artifacts and period dress. The Prebendal Manor, also near Peterborough, displays buildings from the early 13th century and a history of the site. Archeological digs on the grounds give evidence of habitation back to 850 AD.
The Nene Valley Railway is a preservation railway running along a 7.5-mile standard gauge line through the valley of the River Nene between Wansford and Peterborough, nine miles from Bluebell Lakes. Officially ending service in 1966, the preserved locomotives and station houses illustrate the many years the railway served the surrounding area. The Ferry Meadows Station sits at the entrance to Ferry Meadows Country Park, a recreational and natural area located within Nene Park. The two public park areas provide playgrounds, a lake, woods, walking and cycling paths. A collection of contemporary sculpture is located south of the rowing course in the Thorpe Meadow section of Nene Park. Also near Peterborough is the FlagFen Archeology Park. This museum and archeological dig combination has a reconstruction of a Bronze Age settlement, Iron Age Roundhouse, Roman herb garden and many excavations in progress, with interpretation.
A visit to Bluebell Lakes is practically required of any visitor to the Cambridgeshire / Northamptonshire border. The visitor can be both steeped in the history of the English kings and caught up in the excitement of the quest for ‘The Creature’ or one of his super-sized cohorts. It’s the best of both the old and the new. Find a vacation rental today and you can be on your way to carp paradise tomorrow. Come and pay your respects to Benson’s memory – and make memories of your own at Bluebell Lakes. Carpe Deum! Carpe Carp!
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Fish species found at Bluebell Lakes
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