Avoiding crowded areas and finding quiet family walks in Bristol parks and open spaces has been my mission during lockdown and we are lucky to have plenty to choose from on our doorstep. Exploring Bristol’s open spaces has kept us sane and exercised when we were in dire need of a change of scene and burning off some kiddo energy. I’ve rounded up my favourite walks in Bristol and the surrounding area to go for family walks in order to avoid the crowds.
Family walks in Bristol: where to go to avoid the crowds
My quest for open spaces in Bristol with barely any people led me to a vast 60-acre nature reserve on former farmland south of the city. Stockwood Open Space – the name kind of says it all really – is close to Brislington, and has the added bonus of being super buggy/scooter/bike-friendly, thanks to a cement trail that skirts the edges.
Paths wander into woodland, through sloping wildflower meadows, an apple orchard and past an old pond. There are also, supposedly, cracking views of Bristol and Clifton Suspension Bridge (although we didn’t see them during our visit – more exploring needs to be done!)
The main entrance is near the Oasis Academy Brislington School at Hungerford Gardens (postcode BS14 8XX) – you’ll easily spot the entrance and kid’s playground. From here you can follow the path alongside the golf course, until you reach the open meadows.
Alternative entrances include Whittock Road, Stockwood Road and Holsom Close and The Coots, Stockwood (postcode BS14 8LJ). Dogs are allowed, but must be kept on lead.
Kings Weston Estate
Kings Weston Estate sprawls over 300 acres and there are lawns, fields and woodland to explore. The day we visited, the UK treated us to one of it’s most cracking blue-sky, green-leafed summer’s days, and we barely saw another soul. The estate has a couple of claims to fame – the mansion house was designed by the same guy who designed Blenheim Palace – Sir John Vanbrugh – and it’s home to the oldest avenue of lime trees in Bristol.
In the grounds, there’s a lovely water fountain feature next to the house, which kids love leaping over (and in!) Just across from there, hanging from a gorgeous old tree is a rope swing and beyond that, walks that lead into the woods and across the open fields with views across to the Severn Bridge and Bristol Channel.
There are two free car parks – one at Shirehampton Park and one right next to Kings Weston mansion house.
Eastwood Farm, Brislington is on the opposite side of the river from Conham River Park, although this sneaky little, 45-acre haven for wildlife next to the River Avon is apparently not nearly as well known.
We parked on Whitmore Road near Wyndham Crescent (postcode BS4 4UD). From there you can wander down the track, through woods, past a field of horses, until you reach an open green meadow and the river. Venturing left from here will take you along the river all the way to (currently closed) Beeses Tea Rooms (where you’ll find another car park).
Keep your peepers peeled for herons, swans, kingfishers, coots, buzzards and lots of other local wildlife.
Troopers Hill is a nature reserve that has been shaped by its industrial history and one of the most spectacular wildlife spots in the city. The hill was extensively quarried for Pennant sandstone and the landmark Grade 2 listed chimney standing its ground on the hill’s crest is a relic of its copper smelting past. As a result of these bygone times, the heathland and acid grassland (created from historic chemicals) form a special habitat for wild plants such as purple heather and yellow broom that is unique in Bristol.
It’s great fun to clamber up and down the tiny pathways that carve up the burrow-like hillside, all rocky crags and gulleys with views over the River Avon and Bristol and I left a little bit in love with the place. As you follow the path up the hill, look out also for the Crews Hole woodland trail which takes you on a circuit through lovely woodland.
We parked on Malvern Road (postcode BS5 8JA), near the playground and football goal posts and wandered in from there. There is also access off Troopers Hill Road or or Summerhill Terrace.
Stoke Park Estate is the patch of parkland that keeps on giving, and yet it’s fairly unknown even amongst locals. As it’s on our doorstep, during lockdown we visited the estate almost daily and found something new each time. A woodland animal sculpture trail, a woodpecker in the trees, spectacular views of Bristol, a duck pond, Lockleaze Open Space surrounding Purdown BT tower and huge grassy open spaces dotted with dandelion clocks and buttercups. Although it’s close to the M32, it can often feel like you’re wandering in deep countryside here.
There are lots of ways to enter the estate, there’s no dedicated parking as such, but the roads around the park often have free spaces. For the Long Wood trail, the Romney Avenue side near Gainsborough Square is best, for walks starting near the yellow Dower mansion house, head to the Parnell Road area (postcode BS16 1ZS) and to stroll near the BT Tower and anti-air craft battery, head to Sir John’s Lane in Lockleaze.
Take a look at Bristol City Council website for suggested walking routes.
Blaise Castle House Museum and Estate features a 19th century mansion, set in 400 acres of parkland. It’s one of the city’s more popular, well-known parks and the large, free, main car park (and two smaller ones at Henbury Lodge and Coombe Dingle) do mean that it tends to be one of the busier places to walk.
However, there’s plenty of green space surrounding the mansion house to go around, and if you walk up to the hilltop folly castle through the woodland from this side, the paths are plenty wide enough for people to pass at a safe distance.
The trickier part comes on the narrow walkway with the hermit’s cave down into the bottom of the gorge. There isn’t so much room here, and it can feel a tad precarious trying to dodge people, especially with small kiddos and a steep sided hillside.
The Downs, Clifton
A gigantic green space which lies between Clifton and Henleaze, this vast parkland is bordered by some smashing looking houses – oh the time I have spent daydreaming that one was mine!
Being one of Bristol’s most well-known chunks of open green, in one of the city’s ‘trendy’ neighbourhoods, with prime Clifton Suspension Bridge and Avon Gorge views, means that the area does tend to draw the crowds. You’ll likely see groups of BBQ-ers hanging out here on sunny days, so I’d stay away then if you want to avoid lots of people.
At weekends, oodles of amateur football teams (The Downs League) make use of the many football pitches, but during the rest of the week it’s mainly dog walkers, picnickers, joggers, families, kite flyers and the odd Ultimate Frisbee-er.
My favourite part of The Downs is the Sea Walls end which overlooks the Avon Gorge, Leigh Woods and two significant Bristol bridges – the Clifton Suspension Bridge to your left and the Severn Bridge in the distance on your right. You’ll quite often find an ice cream van in these parts as well.
There is no playground equipment to speak of on The Downs, just masses and masses of open grass, and an avenue of conker trees for autumnal entertainment. Around the middle of The Downs, right next to the water tower, there’s a cafe and toilets if you get peckish on your wanderings. The Downs also host major events, charity runs, the odd circus, funfairs as well as The Downs Festival (which featured Lauryn Hill, Neneh Cherry and The Idles in 2019) and Bristol Pride Festival.
Parking: There is no dedicated car park, but spaces are often available on surrounding roads.
This huge sprawling estate lies just across the other side of Clifton Suspension Bridge. While there are no actual kids’ playgrounds here as such, there are mountain bike trails, wooded areas to hide in, buggy-friendly paths, gardens to explore and at certain times of the year, miniature trains to ride on. It’s a great place to play, picnic or fly a kite and you have the added bonus of pretty views back across the city to gaze at while you wander.
Being another well-known parcel of parkland in the city, it’s likely to get busy at weekends and during holidays, but on weekdays you should be fine.
Keep your peepers peeled for hot air balloons – in August, Ashton Court Estate is the site of the spectacular Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, and hot air balloons take off from here during the ballooning season fairly often. You’ll find a cafe at the ‘top’ car park (BS8 3PX – across the Suspension Bridge) and another one, The Stables Courtyard at the lower car park which is accessed via the Ashton Gate entrance. A free 5km parkrun takes place every Saturday and occasionally family-friendly events take place in the Mansion House.
Address: Ashton Court Mansion Car Park – Kennel Lodge Rd, Bristol BS3 2JT or Ashton Court Golf Course Car Park – Long Ashton, Bristol BS8 3PX
Parking: The top car park near Ashton Court Golf Course Car Park, BS8 3PX. The lower car park next to The Stables Courtyard (Kennel Lodge Rd, BS3 2JT) or find roadside parking in Long Ashton village and enter the estate that way. Parking costs £1.20 per vehicle per day in Ashton Court Estate and you can use your parking ticket in any of the Ashton Court car parks for that day.
Abbots Pool, Abbots Leigh, Bristol – * CURRENTLY CLOSED DUE TO ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR*
I cannot believe in all my Bristol-dwelling years, that less-restricted lockdown was my first visit to Abbots Pool. The picturesque lily pad-topped pool, surrounded by woodland and bright purple flowers (in May), was once part of a series of pools used by medieval monks to farm for fish.
You’re not allowed to swim in the pool as it’s a sensitive nature reserve, and as the shoreline was pretty populated when we arrived, we moved on quickly into the woods and round to the left to find a huge open green field with shady edges that was perfect for a picnic and smelt like summer.
The onsite car park is currently shut and so people are parking on the road, which is causing damage to the ridges, but you can park near the local pub and wander to the pool from there.
Tucked away in rolling green hills and fields is Park Farm – the home of The Bath Soft Cheese Company. Although the cafe is currently closed at the moment (with the exception of some takeaway drinks), there are some great walks along open green fields starting from the car park there (postcode BA1 9AQ) – up to Kelston Roundhill on the Cotswold Way, down to the River Avon, Saltford and the Bristol and Bath Cycle Path.
Please remember to take your rubbish away with you!
This National Trust-protected nature conservation area on a ridge above the village of Tickenham, is the site of an ancient iron age hill fort that was constructed in the 6th century BC. Its herb-rich grassy slopes gaze over some of the most breathtaking panoramic views in North Somerset – from the top you can see for miles across rolling green hills and fields all the way out to Sand Point, the Bristol Channel and Severn Bridge.
On the day we visited, we practically had the place to ourselves – a handful of other people, a sprinkling of butterflies, a herd of cows, a couple of buzzards and a field full of pinging grasshoppers and crickets were the only other creatures we saw during our Cadbury Camp adventure – it was heaven. Of the few that were there, some had cycled up, others basked in the heat on the banks of the fort while kids bounded up and down its sides. To imagine the fort in days of yore, seek out the artist’s impression, which can be found on interpretation panels at the edge.
The best place to park is at Tickenham Village Hall and then follow the instructions for the ‘Cadbury Camp Ramble‘, or ‘Cadbury Camp Climb’. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for adders, and check yourself for ticks at the end of your walk!
I’ve never had so many people message me about the details of a walk. I think it had something to do with the fact that, with playgrounds having been shut for weeks, the mere mention of rope swings dangling over the Little Avon River pricked the ears of parents in the Bristol vicinity.
This delicious countryside discovery is particularly lovely on a hot summer’s day, when there’s nothing so nice as messing about by a shallow babbling river.
The walk follows the river, crosses through open fields and potters alongside open green meadows in deep countryside. We had no map to guide us, just walked until we reached a footbridge, Charfield Nature Reserve and a few village houses, then double backed to where we had parked on the side of the road (postcode GL12 8HB), not far from Tortworth Farm Shop.
Brean Down beach
Two miles down the coast from Weston-super-Mare is one of the longest stretches of sandy beach in Europe – a 7-mile stretch of beach and dunes.
This area of coastline is mudflat territory, so it’s dangerous to walk too far out at low tide, but if you heed the warning signs, the flat sands are more than enough to quench your appetite for open space.
At one end of the beach near the National Trust car park (free for NT members), is one of the most impressive landmarks of the Somerset coastline – Brean Down, a natural pier with dramatic cliffs (note the steps up are currently closed).