Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Two rivers, woodlands and little lanes - 5 mile circular walk

Trip summary:

Cost: Free
Time: Approximately 3 hours (if walking with kids)
Distance: 5 mile walk in Bristol
Start/end point: Cafe Retreat on the Downs (or anywhere along the route that's convenient)
Equipment: Comfortable walking shoes
Bring: Snacks, water, packed lunch if appropriate, and a camera
Special notes: Some areas can be quite muddy so welly boots might be appropriate if it has been wet

Walking with kids
A beautifully lit fence makes for a great canvas...and
a great distraction near the end of a long walk.

Superficially, Morgan is not a great walker. What I mean by this is that the mere mention of the word "walk" causes an instinctual response of eye-rolling and whining. However, once out the door, he is happy as can be and has done some brilliant walks, just shy of 20 km - which is pretty good for those little sticks he calls legs. Sure, we get a few comments like "how much farther" and "I'm seriously going to die if I have to walk any more", but these moments pass and the next thing you know, Morgan is running ahead because he's seen something interesting. Kids are often far more capable than we give them credit for.

The trick, we have learned over the years, seems to be a careful balance of incentive and distraction. The tools you use to accomplish each of these are, of course, child dependent. Recently, I used a friend for distraction.

I admit that I was a bit concerned about bringing a friend along for a longer walk. I figured it could go either way. They would either find strength in each other or they would spur weakness - I clearly was hoping for the former.

Durdham Down to the River Avon

Morgan and James enjoy their ice creams. Behind them is the
gate that leads through from The Downs to Seawalls Road.
I first learned of this walk through a website called outdoorswest.org.uk as they list it as one of the Bristol ramblers' walks. For me it was a winner because it incorporated the river, some woodlands, it was circular and it could start and stop at a cafe!

The route takes you across the Downs, where you may or may not be able to avoid the ever-present ice cream van (I wasn't successful).
Follow the worn path from Rockleaze Road on the Downs past a line of trees. It takes you through a little gate that leads onto Seawalls Road. This first part of the route isn't particularly interesting as it's just on pavement along quiet streets. It's a pretty nice area of town though.
At this fork once leaving Bramble Lane, keep to the left track
that leads down to the direction of the Portway and River Avon.

At the end of Bramble Lane there is a path that leads you down in the direction of the River Avon on the left. Follow this and where it forks take the left path (see picture). This takes you across the railroad tracks and then follows along a tall fence. The path eventually leads out onto the busy Portway. There is luckily an island halfway though so you can cross carefully. The road was very quiet the day we went.

Along the River Avon

Once across the Portway you will see a marked path just a little further upriver that will lead you down to a trail that will carry you along the river. This trail follows the river right to Sea Mills railway station.

The path leading down from the Portway to
the River Avon.
There's a picnic table partway along this path, which makes a perfect place to stop for a snack. Otherwise, it's just a lovely amble along the river and eventually the noises of the Portway disappear.

At Sea Mills station, you can take a path that goes under the railway track rather than crossing it. Now you follow the River Trym.

Following the Trym

When you first get away from the River Avon, keeping the River Trym on your left, you will see a little footbridge. This is a favourite spot of Morgan's as he likes to drop sticks off the edge and watch them head down over the weirs. There's almost always ducks here also, so if your kids like to feed the ducks, bring along something nutritious for the little waddlers.

As you follow the River Trym, there's not really a path. You simply walk along the grass with the river on your left. Eventually, you enter a sweet little wooded
The view when you pop out onto Shirehampton Rd. Head for
where the green car is in the picture!
area. This was lovely in the autumn with all the colourful leaves. This path leads you out onto Shirehampton Road. Turn right and across the street you'll spot a pub. Head across the street toward the pub and just beyond it you will see a public footpath sign. Follow that back down into the woods.

This next section brings you very close along the River Trym and the boys enjoyed spending some time poking sticks into the River and generally mucking about.

There is a fork in the path and you should take the right branch. If you come to a footbridge that takes you across the River Trym, you've gone too far. Go back and take a left at the fork.
The trail that follows the River Trym.

A small set of stairs will take you out of the woods and onto Bell Barn Road. If you cross the road you will soon see another footpath leading to your right - follow it.

A series of lanes

The remainder of the loop is a series of back little lanes. Some of them very plain and some of them quite cute. Eventually you come onto Hollybush Lane, which runs past the Halls of Residence for the University of Bristol and takes you past the University of Bristol's Botanic Garden. There's a series of stairs along here, or you can take the path, which has got a good incline. This is where the two boys started to fade somewhat. Luckily at this point, the promise of a hot chocolate and piece of cake was close enough to get them through to the end. If you haven't been in to visit the Botanic Garden though and you still have some energy, it's definitely worth a visit. 

Hollybush Lane eventually takes you back out to The Downs and the Cafe is luckily in sight. It's amazing how much energy little ones can muster when some cake is involved!

The route:

Here is a Google Map for this route, but let me also direct you to a PDF file that the Ramblers have provided, complete with instructions.


Cafe Retreat on Durdham Down is a great place to return to as you can time your walk so that you come back to a meal or at least to a drink and cake. In our family, this is always good incentive for those tiring last steps. However, as the walk is a leisurely three hours, then you can certainly get away with taking along a few snacks.

We have also found that without fail there is an ice cream truck on The Downs, near the toilets on Circular Road.

Notes for the kids:
There was a four-armed, two headed monster on the trail!

I'm always trying to find inventive ways to make walks more interesting for Morgan. The first time we did this walk, I gave him the map and he was in charge of navigation. This was quite effective and he kept making imaginary phone calls to his toy bunny, known as Bun Bun, to confirm directions. For some reason this worked for him. 

Morgan and James re-inacting a great sword fight along
the Avon.
This time, with a friend, talk managed to get him through most of the walk. Morgan and James also decided to pose a series of monster pictures along the walk. They would scoot ahead of me to find the next great place to pose a picture and then they would gather any props required, such as sticks and leaves, and when I caught up to them, I would snap a photo. 

Trip highlights:

Morgan and James particularly liked the parts of the path along the river. This is certainly where their imaginations were most active, talking about pirates, reinacting sword fights and looking for wildlife along the banks of the river.

What we'd do better next time:

Apparently I should have brought more snacks!

Additional photos:

Nature has reclaimed this abandoned greenhouse off of
Bramble Lane.

Crossing the railway track before getting
to the Portway.

The perfect bridge for throwing sticks and leaves into the water.

Two silly boys.

Path leading out onto Bell Barn Rd.

The stairs/path on Hollybush Lane. This is
where I was told that these two boys may
very well die from walking too far - the guilt!

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