Expand your knowledge of Bristol with a walk around one of the city's lesser-known rambling routes, detailed by Mike from Mike's Bristol Walks. Take it away, Mike...

There’s no denying the healing power of a good walk on a clear day, exercising your body while you fill your lungs with fresh air and blow away the cobwebs. It can turn an uneventful day from a disappointment into a success. But, as the days get shorter and the nights draw in, long country rambles can seem less appealing. What if there was a way of getting many of the benefits closer to home?

A jay sat on an iron fence - Credit Michael Wilberforce
Image: A jay at St. Matthew’s Church, Cotham

Urban walks can provide the answer. Most of us have probably visited the obvious places at some point: The Downs, Blaise Castle, Ashton Court Estate… but what about the rest of the city? In fact, Bristol is full of hidden corners to explore and places of surprising beauty and tranquillity where the urban meets the wild. The city is riddled with rivers and streams, which have carved the landscape into hills and valleys over millions of years. A simple stroll can take you from a suburban street to a woodland nature reserve and then to the secluded charm of an old village centre.

I have been exploring Bristol throughout my life and have discovered somewhere worth visiting at every compass point. In 2020, as the country languished under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, I set out to share my knowledge with my fellow Bristolians so everyone could discover some new walks in their local area. Mike’s Bristol Walks was the result. Here are just a few of my favourite walks in less well-known parts of the city.

The Clifton Hillside

A world away from the more famous sights of Clifton, the steep hillside between Clifton and Hotwells offers a plethora of fascinating little lanes and picturesque nooks and crannies. The steep hills take some effort to explore, but it’s all good, paved paths and steps.

Venture up the hidden White Hart Steps to reach the iconic terraced houses of Clifton Wood, then descend from Clifton Village to the hidden Georgian crescent of The Polygon with its tranquil communal garden.

The Polygon park in Hotwells - Credit Michael Wilberforce
Image: The Polygon, Hotwells

Pay a visit to the precipitous Windsor Terrace, then climb up the Avon Gorge via the steep Zig-Zag path with views of the Suspension Bridge. On the way, discover the remains of the Clifton Rocks Railway, an underground funicular that once connected Clifton and Hotwells. Read Mike's full description of the Clifton Hillside walk here.

Henleaze and Westbury-on-Trym

Out of all the historic villages that have been absorbed by Bristol’s suburban sprawl, Westbury-on-Trym is the one that has retained the most of its old-world charm.

From the leafy streets of Henleaze, make your way to the tucked-away Badock’s Wood nature reserve to explore a mix of woodland and grassland along the River Trym. From the top of the valley, descend into the peaceful heart of Westbury. Discover how the river threads its way between old stone cottages, visit the lovely churchyard and explore the many paths that climb in and out of the wooded valley.

You can then return to Henleaze via a network of hidden paths and lanes on the slopes below Badminton School. Read Mike's full description of the Henleaze and Westbury-on-Trym walk here.

A row of white cottages in Westbury on Trym - Credit Michael Wilberforce
Cottages in Westbury-on-Trym

Crew’s Hole, Conham and St. George

Everybody knows the Avon Gorge, but there is another very beautiful section of the River Avon in little-explored East Bristol. The area can be walked at any time of year, but there are short sections that can be a little muddy in winter.

Starting at the aptly-named Avon View Cemetery, you can begin to explore the network of fascinating old lanes that criss-cross the steep-sided Avon Valley as it threads its way out through Crew’s Hole, a former industrial area that is now a tranquil residential neighbourhood.

A visit to Conham River Park will take you out into more rural surrounds before you climb up through the secluded woodland of Conham Vale next to the tumbling waters of the Stradbrook stream, eventually arriving in St. George.

Heading back down through a few more old lanes, you can then complete the walk via a stiff ascent up the unique post-industrial landscape of Trooper’s Hill nature reserve. Read Mike's full description of the Crew's Hole, Conham and St. George walk here.

A view of Troopers Hill - Credit Michael Wilberforce
Image: Trooper's Hill

Stapleton and the Frome Valley

Bristol has no shortage of steep-sided river valleys, and the Frome Valley in northeast Bristol is a particularly beautiful example. It’s a lovely walk at any time of year, although a short stretch near Frenchay does get muddy and slippery in the winter.

Starting in the historic village of Stapleton, explore the riverside walkway as it winds its way out through Eastville Park with its old boating lake, the lovely Snuff Mills with its historic buildings and gardens and the wilder section of the valley at Oldbury Court Estate.

Take a tour around the picture-postcard village of Frenchay with its charming common and welcoming pub, before following a meandering route up and down the sides of the valley following a succession of ancient lanes as you make the return journey to Stapleton. Read Mike's full description of the Stapleton and Frome Valley walk here.

Weir in forest
Image: The River Frome at Oldbury Court Estate

Knowle, Windmill Hill and the Northern Slopes

South Bristol has some of the best semi-wild open spaces in the city in the form of the Northern Slopes, a succession of undeveloped spaces on the hillside between Bedminster and Knowle West.

Beginning at Broad Walk in Knowle, take a wander through Redcatch Park, the view-commanding Perrett Park and the enormous Victoria Park as you make your way down to Bedminster.

Follow the little-known River Malago, passing through several more green spaces as you make your way to the bottom of Nover’s Hill. Climbing the steep steps to Knowle West Health Park, take a detour onto The Novers for an unparalleled view out over Bedminster to the Avon Gorge.

Continue, then, through the wild and scrubby Wedmore Vale area of the Northern Slopes, before eventually reaching the beautiful hillside of the Bommie and making the short walk back to Broad Walk. Read Mike's full description of the Knowle, Windmill Hill and Northern Slopes walk here.

Panoramic view from The Novers - Credit Michael Wilberforce
Image: The panoramic view from The Novers

About the author

Michael Wilberforce has been a professional town planner for over 15 years. He is a keen walker who has been exploring the streets and spaces of his home city of Bristol since childhood. His work on urban walks has helped Bristolians to explore and discover the hidden delights of their own local area. You can find more suggested walking routes at Mike's Bristol Walks.

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