You are never far from water in Priory Country Park. Indeed it creates three of the parks current boundaries. The variety of water in the park is also surprising, from fast flowing shallow streams to deeper still lakes. There are also shallow pools and slow moving water. The map shows just how much water is within the
park, with the Priory Lake being the most obvious, but the list of waters to the left shows just how many there are.
The main Priory Lake is about 60 acres and is primarily used for sailing and fishing. There is an all-weather footpath around the lake that provides lovely views without getting muddy - Ideal for the less able visitor. There are also several sculptures and feature benches located around the lake.
There is a bird hide on the southern side of the lake. Just beyond this is an area that is closed between November and March to protect over wintering wildfowl. The birds also make use of the island, which is cut each March then left for the rest of the year. The lake forms part of the flood defences for the Bedford area as it is linked to the Priory Marina via an underground pipe. This means
as the river levels rise the lake levels rise, about 2 days behind the river. The link between the Marina and the lake means that there is an exchange of water and anything within it between the lake and river.
This lake forms part of the conservation area within the park, although there is limited fishing available mainly to the eastern side of the lake. The lake is effectively split in two, with one side almost exclusively for conservation. The fingers are spits of land left over from the gravel extraction that formed the lake. They are generally only
accessible from a boat, which are not allowed on this lake. These spits of land are managed on a coppice rotation, by the rangers, to give a variety of open areas, young growth and height structure. This area is used by many forms of wildlife, foxes, muntjac deer and otters are frequently seen throughout the season. Please note you are unlikely to actually see the otters even though they are present.
There is a bird hide to the eastern side of the lake. This lake is not really linked to the river, so it is mainly rainfall and evaporation that control the level. The only exception is when the river is in flood, when water may exchange through an inclined pipe from the river to the lake.
This pond is fed from a stream, the Riverside Brook, that begins within the New Cut and has an outlet into the river Great Ouse. The brook is shallow and has both gravel and sediment on the stream bed, which acts as a fish spawning area.
The pond is generally about 4 feet deep with sediment on the bottom, although there is a shallower gravel bar at the entrance from the Riverside Brook. There is a small central island surrounded by reeds and the margins to the pond are more reeds and trees.
When you are by the pond there are some nice flowers and plants, Purple Loosestrife and Orange Balsam are particularly notable. Also you may see Arrowhead, which actually looks like an arrow head. Due to its location this is a peaceful area of the park.
The New Cut is a man-made channel dug in the 1870s. It leaves the Great River Ouse over a weir next to Aspects Leisure Park and flows straight for 1 mile where it rejoins the river on the eastern side of the park. The flow is controlled in low water conditions by a sluice in the weir, to allow sufficient flow for the fish present within the
cut - this is required as parts of the cut are very shallow.The water may also exit into the Riverside Brook, through two metal grills or an overspill, where it flows down the brook, into the Riverside Pond and back into the river at the north-eastern park boundary. The flow regime within the cut is managed to maintain a fast flowing channel.
The photo shows such a flow control measure, where underwater obstructions are forcing the water to flow into a central channel - the water surface above and below the obstructions is quite obvious. The main species of fish within the cut, chub and barbel, appreciate these conditions.
The river Great Ouse runs around the border of the park on three sides as it partially encloses it within a large loop. The main stream to the river (shown) is navigable, however there is a back channel which runs the other side of 'Kings Mead' meadow (shown on the far bank). There is no public access to Kings Mead or the back channel of the river.
The river is also crossed by cycle route 51, which follows the route of the old railway line from Bedford to Sandy. The iron bridges that carried the railway over the river may still be seen and crossed. The river is used by many types of wildlife including otters, kingfishers and many other bird species.
The river is bank has flood meadows near it , which are home to many plants and butterflies. These are still prone to flooding in the winter months.
Riverside brook flows from the new cut , through riverside meadows and out into riverside pond. It is shallow and has mainly reeds at its margins. The flow in this stream is good for certain species and it is home to a threatened species of fish.
The leat stream leads off the river Great Ouse through a small sluice gate and into a man-made pond, created by a weir designed to hold the water to a given level. The stream then flows over different geology to give a gravel and sediment bottom at different places, it then exits through a pipe into the lower leat.
The lower leat has an additional water input from the Cardington spillway and the combined leat flow travels downstream and exits at the bottom of the canoe slalom. The bank of the two leat streams varies in different places and provides habitat for different bird species, notably the kingfisher.