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 previous work on urban walks has helped Bristolians to explore and discover the hidden delights of their own local area.
One of my absolute favourite Bristol walks would have to be the walk along the River Frome from Stapleton to Frenchay (Walk Eleven in Bristol & Bath Hidden Walks).
Exploring this beautiful part of my home city for the first time was a bit of a revelation. As a child, growing up a few short miles away in a north Bristol bubble, I had never discovered the Frome valley. It wasn’t until young adulthood that I broadened my horizons a little and made a conscious effort to visit other parts of the city to see what they had to offer – using, as it happens, an A-Z map as my guide.
Starting the walk
From a seemingly inauspicious start in the shadow of the M32 viaduct, the Frome Valley walk quickly enters a series of beautiful riverside spaces as it passes through Eastville Park, including the serenity of the old boating lake with its lively colony of ducks.
From Snuff Mills and onwards into Oldbury Court Estate, the River Frome runs through a rugged, steep-sided valley. As you wander through the woodlands, with the river tumbling briskly down over a series of weirs, you wouldn’t know that there are houses and colleges crowding the higher ground to either side.
The historic village of Frenchay
But, for me, the real highlight of the walk is the arrival at the historic village of Frenchay. A dense and chaotic cluster of old stone cottages surrounding the steep valley side and the remains of an old quarry, the picturesque village can be explored in several different ways. With no through traffic, the village is truly off the beaten track. As you climb to the top of the village, you can also experience its spacious and well-tended common or pause for a drink at the inviting White Lion.
I always prefer a circuit to a ‘there and back again’ walk, so, for the return journey, the walk bounces repeatedly up and down the sides of the valley, exploring attractive open spaces and a series of little-known footpaths and lanes.
When is the best time of the year to visit the Frome Valley?
Since discovering the Frome Valley, I have approached it in several different ways, experimenting with walks of different lengths at different times of the year, and it’s an area that just keeps on giving. The full 6¾-mile circuit is best experienced in the spring or early summer, when the trees are in fresh leaf and the sun is shining. Less ambitious walkers can start and finish at Oldbury Court Estate, skipping the long section through Eastville Park and Snuff Mills. In the depths of winter, a mini-stroll around Frenchay village is a reliable all-weather treat, as the houses are cheerfully illuminated with Christmas lights and the bare appearance of the woodlands is counterbalanced by the other picturesque qualities of the locale. Later on, as the spring approaches, parts of the common become a forest of crocuses.
Other walks around Bristol & Bath
Hilly walks with hidden lanes, peaceful valleys and spectacular views are a defining feature of both Bristol and Bath, and you will find many more in Bristol & Bath Hidden Walks. Highlights include the secret Georgian gardens of Bristol’s Clifton hillside, the industrial history and unique ecosystem of Bristol’s Troopers Hill, the panoramic view from Bath’s Beechen Cliff and the atmospheric gloom of Bath’s Devonshire Tunnel. You will also discover more picturesque village-in-city places such as Bristol’s Westbury-on-Trym and Widcombe in Bath.
If my own experience walking as an adult has taught me anything, it’s that there’s always more to discover, even on your own home patch. As such, Bristol & Bath Hidden Walks will be just as valuable to long-term residents as it will be to visitors to these two fine, unique cities.
A-Z Bristol & Bath Hidden Walks is the perfect way to explore the city in a new light. It features 20 walking routes in and around the city, including lesser-known gems and popular circuits.