Barrow Wake Nature Reserve, Gloucestershire


Wide bend along the River Wye
Steep-sided limestone hill along the edge of the Cotswolds, with fine westwards views and over 100 plant species. Crossed by the Cotswold Way
Photo Tour (24 images)
Barrow Wake Nature Reserve is a small site comprising a narrow strip of limestone grassland about a third of a mile in length, along the west edge of the Cotswold Hills, similar to the larger, better known and botanically slightly more varied Crickley Hill half a mile north, on the far side of a wooded valley that provides a course for the A417. The reserve is crossed by the Cotswold Way, which runs right along the brink of the steep escarpment, the slopes of which are rather overgrown and inaccessible, though part is covered only by grass, and crossed by a few lesser paths. The main route continues south across a field, also good for wildflowers in the summer, then northwestwards to the tip of a wooded promontory (The Peak).

The majority of the hundred or so plant species that grow in the nature reserve are found along these slopes, above or below the main path, which crosses flattish grassland interrupted by just a few small rocky outcrops. Rarer plants include musk orchid and devil's-bit scabious, but the majority of the easily-spotted species are common, and the best aspect of the reserve is instead, perhaps, the spectacular view; the westwards vista extends across Gloucester and the Severn Vale to the hills of the Forest of Dean and south Wales. The name Barrow Wake dates back to 1879, when local quarrymen discovered a late Iron Age burial site, containing three skeletons and many artefacts.

The reserve is served by a large, free parking area at the end of a spur off a country lane, beside which are notices about the local plant life and places within sight to the west. The lane forks off the B4070 just north of Birdlip; the parking place is just beyond the point where the lane veers east, passing underneath the dual carriageway A417. This area is closed each evening by a gate.

The Reserve

The extended parking area parallels the northern half of the reserve, both the main section to the west and a narrow strip of grassland to the east, dotted with a few trees. This too is a good wildflower location, including the musk orchids, some of which grow towards the southern end, just a few feet from the road. The majority of the population though is a little further south, west of the road, both on the slopes and on the flattish, undulating ground above, lined on two sides by a belt of woodland. Most of the hillside below the path is grass-covered, crossed by several narrow paths on different levels; the occasional limestone outcrops are near the top.