It’s a bit of a grey day, but the prospect of a café selling milkshakes is enough to convince my 10-year-old daughter that we WILL have a really lovely walk at Mill Waters, in Sutton in Ashfield. Typically, the heavens open as we turn into the car park, so we head straight to the main attraction - the café and heritage centre - for an early lunch. It’s a popular place, with young and old enjoying coffees, cake, toasted sandwiches and the like overlooking the peaceful King’s Mill Reservoir, which once provided a supply of water to the cotton mills which existed in the area in the early 1800s. Full disclosure: I was commissioned by Ashfield District Council to research the history of the site as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, so this is somewhat of a busman’s holiday.

Tucking into my sandwich I glance at the information panels around the café and notice that a portrait of the 4th Duke of Portland, who once owned most of the land around Sutton and commissioned the creation of the Reservoir in 1837, quite rightly has a prominent position - overlooking the fine selection of cakes on the counter. There are also displays (written by ‘yours truly’) about everything from processes in the mills, and milling terms still used today, to the Unwin family that brought the water-powered technology to Sutton, which led to the boom in textile manufacture in Sutton in the 1820s. But it’s the birds displayed on the wall that really capture my daughter’s attention and as the sun finally breaks through, we head out around the Reservoir to see what wildlife we can spot.

 copyright Kate Dawson
First stop Hermitage Ponds to view the Heron lurking in their heronries high above the water. These impressive birds are known to vomit on any being that dares disturb them whilst they are munching on their prey. We observe them quietly from the handy viewing platform of the 200-year-old Portland Viaduct, a relic of the former Mansfield and Pinxton railway line, which is Grade II listed due to its historic importance.

Then we take a look at an artist’s impression of the old King’s Mill overlooking the spot where it once stood, providing a reminder of times gone by and the site’s connection with the tale of a former mill owner who is said to have encountered King Henry II, who had got lost and separated from his party whilst out hunting in Sherwood Forest. The fable inspired a play called The King and the Miller of Mansfield, which was a big hit on the stage in London.

 copyright Kate Dawson

Further around the Reservoir we admire the Common Terns making their shrill call from the safety of their small reed bed islands and encounter a group of Swans and their young, who fearlessly approach my daughter. As we wend our way around the Reservoir, we are treated to the sight of a stunning iridescent blue dragonfly whose wingspan must stretch to 15cms and I realise my daughter is chattering about her favourite birds and enjoying the moment.

Aside from the various wildlife, the site is a popular spot for sailing with lessons and boat hire provided by the Sutton in Ashfield Sailing Club and we stop to admire the sailors gliding across the water. The Mill Waters Adventure Base located adjacent to the café also offers an array of adventure activities, including a rather daunting climbing wall, for those looking for more of a physical challenge. We head back to the car having reconnected with nature - and possibly, each other - ready for a spot of shopping at the nearby Designer Outlet… well it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

For more information about Mill Waters visit the website. To get more out of your visit download the Love Exploring app and follow the heritage or health and wellbeing trails.

This blog was written by Kate Dawson. Kate offers storytelling, heritage interpretation and PR services. For more information visit email: or download her leaflet here




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