Location on Google Maps
The Réserve Naturelle de l’Étang des Landes
near Lussat is a huge pond covering some 100 hectares. It’s full to the brim with rare plants, over 200 species of bird and more than twenty types of mammal including, apparently, otters. I single-out only one type of cute fury beast because if the internet is anything to go by, and I’d be the first to admit that is isn’t always, otters are always worth a mention, even if this is mostly because people think that Benedict Cumberbatch resembles one, or in-fact, many. I can’t confirm if the local variety have this unfortunate affliction because I didn’t see a single whisker so your luck may vary depending on how close you lean towards ABC.
As nature reserves go this one stands tall. If there were a 100m dash for nature reserves it’d be a strong contender and you’d, if you were the betting type, be coolly striding to your local bookie with a pocket full of notes and the whistle of a fellow who knows a sure thing and is hoping that he can place his new shirt money down before word gets out that the favourites are to enjoy a tea of dust and ashes.
Blimey what you say sounds awfully good, but is it not really just a field and a big pond with important friends, featuring a nice bit of hard standing? I can’t argue away the truth of that and indeed, I myself shared this very sentiment after my first visit about a dozen or so years ago, when we, and several thousand other people, with whom I’d had nothing pre-arranged, converged on the place with a view to enjoying a quiet peaceful walk and a gawp at nature wadding about in the summer heat.
Sadly, the reality of half the population of a largish town all enjoying a leisurely walk in the hot sun complete with pushchairs, prams, grumbly old relatives and their assortment of loud, sticky and fairly incontinent children and dogs, only some of which were tethered, isn’t any more fun than it sounds. It’s much more like being mown down by a passing CND march in the late 80s than a pleasant post-lunch stroll to soak in the wholesomeness of all things outdoors. All-round a pretty terrible bank holiday afternoon out. One that even the most forgiving of the aforementioned wildlife was ashamed to become associated with and hence it elected to stay hidden at a distance of several nautical miles.
As always, timing is everything. We were so traumatised by this first visit that it took over a decade before we dared to return. Digging deep for a hopeful smile we set off in the autumn of last year choosing a more sensible mid-week slot. The place has been improved a great deal. The hordes had cleared off home for a start and apart from a couple of curious people at the centre and a group of primary school kids on an educational outing of the kind much frowned upon by the modern English school system, we saw no-one. There is a nice new visitor’s centre, robust car park and a level if poorly-signed circular walk taking in the sights and passing by two amazing bird hides. One sits on stilts at tree-top height and another on the other side of the lake at shore level. Both have easy access (although the former has many wooden steps) and in addition there are, close by the ground level hide, a series of board-walks that let you look down on the action.
It cost nothing to park, visit the centre, use their toilets, walk around the entire place and enjoy the hides in any respectable fashion that you fancy, so long as you are quiet; there are signs saying as much in several languages with the English translation having been underlined on several of the encapsulated notices for the hard of hearing. You’ll struggle to find better value for an afternoon out, even if you elect to stay at home.
We did see several birds although many were so far away they were really beyond the limit for my little camera. Even within the hides much of the action isn’t in the foreground so if you have large binoculars this is one time when it is worth the effort of lugging them about.
It’s probable that the hides work a lot better when they are nearer the water. We arrived after a long drought so, as you can see from some of the pictures, it looks like I’ve mixed up the correct shots with some from an African safari where I’d enjoyed my two weeks pointing the camera away from the game. Not so. It was just very dry. So dry that I stood in the pond to take picture of one of the hides and not once was I in any danger of falling foul of the no-swimming regulation.
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