So you’re in Bristol town with half a day spare. What to do, what to do?
Well, that sound you hear is Avon calling! The River Avon that is, not your Auntie’s friend trying to sell you some moisturiser.
Come down to the water’s edge and spend a pleasant couple of hours walking along the River Avon in the Conham River Park nature reserve.
Bring your dog or your Auntie, or both. It’s a fiercely gentle walk and a good habitat for all things lovely that England has to offer
Conham River Park is about a 15-minute drive from downtown Bristol. If you are coming by car then rejoice the park has its own car park with fairly decent toilet facilities in a pretty stone building.
A definite contender for the “Beautiful Bogs of the Year” award.
The walk itself is a very gentle riverside stroll, taken at a steady pace it should take most people about 90mins.
We roughly followed this route, which sees you starting and ending at the car park. The first and final thirds are an out-and-back along a concrete path by the riverside, while there is a looped middle third that takes you up a small but steep hill away from the river and through the park.
Most of the track is concrete so it’s all very manageable whatever the weather but after about halfway it goes “offroad”. So if like us you arrive after a week of solid rain then prepare for mud, lots and lots of good English mud.
Wear sensible trainers or hiking boots, don’t be a complete numpty and turn up in your brand-new pair of spotless Nikes.
A glorious mudfest. What’s not to love.
I was back in the UK after a few months in South East Asia and was keener than Roy Keane at a Keane concert to get my feet back onto some good British mud.
I’d done a lot of hiking in Thailand and Malaysia and loved the mini jungle adventures I’d had but I was looking forward to something a bit more straightforward. A hike where slipping in a puddle was the main source of concern, rather than heat stroke or snakes like in Bukit Gasing.
I was in my old stomping ground of Bristol for a few days so I enlisted a pair of old friends to come stomping with me on a hike.
They suggested Conham River Park, and despite spending a lot of time in the city over the years (I’m from nearby Wells) I’d never actually been/even heard of the place. So I jumped at the chance.
Now that’s a slice of quintessential English countryside cake for you.
Since arrived back in the UK a week ago it had mainly rained nonstop. Not that I’m complaining. I like a bit of rain I do. But it had been that horizontal torrential rain that is impossible to defend against. So I had come prepared in hiking boots and rain gear.
But thankfully on the morning of our walk, all was a bright blue sky. Barely a cloud to be seen. Don’t get me wrong it’s March so it was freakin cold. But it was that most lovely combination of cold but sunny. Brisk, I believe is the word your mum would use.
Peanut. My second favourite of the M&M’s but my first favourite dog.
My friends brought along Peanut, a little French Bulldog with a big personality. I have to admit I thought when they’d asked if it ok to bring peanuts I thought they meant the nut snack. So I agreed. When this tiny dog rocked up I was a little dubious.
I’m all for dogs on hikes, in fact I love dogs being on hikes, but I like them to have sufficient leg length so as not to slow proceedings too much. Looking at Peanut’s little matchstick legs I wasn’t very confident.
But fair play to the little guy he was full of beans and did not slow us down one bit, we kept him fueled on doggie treats and he kept us entertained with his dogful enthusiasm for life.
And now I know Conham River Park is the ideal spot for dog walking. So dog keepers of Bristol, get yourself down here, stat!
I was slightly disappointed by the lack of salty peanuts though. I like peanuts.
Yep, you’re damn right it’s pretty. Bristol is the best!
There hike itself is pretty easy to follow. The first third is along a sealed path by the riverside periodically dotted with picnic benches. It’s lovely.
When you come to a sign pointing away from the riverside to “Castle Farm Road”. Take that. It’s hard to miss but just check your Alltrails map to be sure. The next section is through the woods. It’s also lovely.
After a short climb, you will top out and wander along the edge of the fields for a while. At the time of our wander the fields were a little bit barren but come summer who knows what joys you will get to witness?!
Corn maybe. Wheat possibly. Barley potentially. The possibilities are endless (although currently, I can only think of those three).
After the fields, you will plunge back into the woods before reaching the river again by a fairly steep slope.
Now, the picture doesn’t do the steepness much justice but believe me after a bit of rain this section is slippy! It was especially fun watching Peanuts having the time of her life sliding down.
The photo doesn’t do it justice, this is quite the slope.
The final section repeats the first but in the opposite direction. It remained lovely as before.
Apart from Peanut and the doggies friends she made along the way we didn’t see much in the way of creatures. Now, there’s a chance a Golden Eagle landed on my head but I was having such fun chats with my buddies that I didn’t notice.
But for those of you who are more observant, it’s good to know that in terms of wildlife, Conham River Park has all the things you’d come to expect from a slice of English countryside.
There are kingfishers, owls, cormorants, deer and foxes as well as all the more regular creatures like small birds, squirrels and pigeons.
I read that the wooded section of the park even has its own bat cave but, to be honest, I didn’t see any evidence of where the Batmobile would even enter. There are just too many trees. So I’d take that bit of info with a pinch of salt.
Alas, no bat caves but lots of pretty parts.
As with anywhere in the UK, the park has a long and fascinating history and you can catch glimpses of the area’s past as you walk through the woods.
Conham Hall whose grounds the park now sits was demolished in the 1971s after it fell into terminal disrepair but some of the outbuildings remain, as does the imposing boundary wall.
If you spot a Monkey Puzzle tree on your wanders around the park know that used to stand next to the old hall.
The park was then used as a landfill site and later a refuse tip, although you wouldn’t know now. It’s thoroughly pleasant all around.
Back in the days of the Industrial Revolution horse-drawn barges would have plied the River Avon bringing coal from the Bristol Coalfields, pennant sandstone from nearby quarries, and cargo from Hanham Mills. It must have been like a motorway.
Now as you sit on one of the riverside picnic benches it’s just ducks floating on by. I think I prefer it how it is now. Much more peaceful.
One piece of history that remains is Beese’s Riverside Bar which has been keeping passers-by fed and watered since 1846.
Alas, our Conham River Walk still had a very wintery feeling but my hiking friends told me that Conham River Park was a great summertime spot. They had very kind words to say about Beese’s Riverside Bar, also known simply as “the tea garden”.
We wandered past and from the other side of the river Beese’s looked lovely as can be but as it wasn’t a weekend everything was closed up. There’s even a ferry boat you can summon to drop you off for your pint and roast.
It was a shame it wasn’t open for our visit but I love having these things tucked away for next time. It’s always nice leaving a place with reasons to come back rather than the feeling of “been there, down that”.
I’d love to come back with friends during the warmer months of summer. You know on one of those days when the sun never sets when you can just spend an entire afternoon jumping into the river which I’m told is great for swimming in.
You could easily lose a summer’s day chasing ducks and eating ice creams here.
Look at that blue sky! What a day to be alive!
Being from Wells in Somerset, a mere 30mins from Bristol, I know the city quite well but until now I had never been down to Conham River Park. Yep, I hang my head in shame for this is a thoroughly lovely spot.
But now I do, and I’ll be back. And if I ever get a dog I’ll be back with bells on.
Now, if it all sounds a little gentle for you then please note Conham River Park is part of the Avon Valley Woodlands nature reserve, along with Hencliff Wood and Bickley Wood.
The section we did is just a short part of the River Avon Trail, a long-distance footpath that follows the river for 85 miles from Bath until it reaches its estuary on the River Severn at Avonmouth near Bristol.
So my friend, if a 90-minute stroll isn’t enough for you, just keep walking.
Anyway, on that bombshell, I’ll say see you later me ole lovers.
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