Five scenic half-day walks just outside Bristol, perfect for staying local exploring

Lace up your hiking boots and go exploring!

I love exploring. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a whole new country or merely a new walk to the shop. I love looking at maps and choosing a new route or destination.

Tor with sign for Tor Hill, National Trust, England
Backpacking at home can throw up some great discoveries!

I’m pretty sure there’s a scientific explanation for why travelling is addictive and I expect it would focus on the adrenaline rush that comes from having new and exciting experiences. There’s no reason though why we have to travel thousands of miles to do this, when there’s a whole world to explore right on our doorsteps. I’ve blogged before about the importance to me of being a backpacker at home, which put simply, is to use any free day as an opportunity to discover somewhere new in my own country.

Being forced at the moment to reduce my geographical scope for travelling right down, I’ve decided to focus even more on discovering my local area. For example, during the early lockdown when we were allowed out just once a day, I went for a one hour walk daily in my local area, each time following a new route. The streets of Bristol may not be quote as exotic as those of Jakarta or San Salvador but it was still fun mapping out a route then heading out to explore new streets and alleyways.

Now lockdown is being eased slowly, I’ve started going a little further afield with my friend Sarah. We’ve committed one day a week to heading out into the countryside just outside Bristol to find a new half-day walk. The rules are it has to be somewhere we haven’t been yet and it has to be within an hour of Bristol.

Here’s some of my favourites so far.

Brean Down coastal walk

This is the furthest walk from Bristol, being an hour’s drive. It’s an interesting drive though, with the last part across the intricate waterways of the Somerset levels. It’s also easily accessible by bus (with a change in Weston-super-Mare).

Brean is a bizzare place, full of holiday parks crammed behind a high sandbank running parallel to a never-ending muddy beach. It’s apparently one of the longest stretches of sand in Europe at just over seven miles.

Brean Down is owned by National Trust and although there’s a charge for parking, access onto the headland is free. Enjoy a blustery mile and a half walk down to the old military buildings, dating to the French wars and a fantastic view over to Wales.

There’s various buildings to explore, each with faded information boards. In 1862 the land here was requisitioned for military fortifications to protect the water around twin cities Bristol and Cardiff from Napoleonic France. It was taken over by the military again during the second world war.

Sand Point coastal walk

Who would have thought this gorgeous stretch of coastline lies so close to Weston-super-Mare? It’s almost as good as being in Devon or Cornwall. Just 45 mins drive from Bristol, or an easy walk up through Weston Woods from the bus stop in Weston-super-Mare, a pretty beach is the entrance way to another National Trust owned headland.

A circular walk of three miles takes you through undulating green fields, passing through an ancient stone wall built by French prisoners of war, during the 1792 – 1802 Revolutionary Wars. Pass by the Woodspring Priory, former Augustinian Priory and now a posh bed and breakfast, then drop down to a small lagoon next to moored boats at the river inlet.

Head back along the coastal path, waving across the waters to Wales and stop for a snack in a sheltered cobbled strewn cove. Further along there’s an old shrimping hut from the 1930s, used to boil up the shrimping catch before sale, as well as a wide beach covered in pillow lavas, formed from molten lava cooling as it flowed into the sea.

Kings Wood and Crookes Peak, West Mendips walk

A little tricky to reach by public transport, this one’s best done by car. It’s about thirty minutes from Bristol.

This is my favourite Mendips walk so far, across craggy moorland high above sea level at the western edge of the hill range.  Kings Wood is the starting point, with several trails through an ancient woodland of oaks, ash and sweet chestnuts, before emerging onto Cross Plain with its sweeping views.

The first of two steep climbs begins, up to the trig point of Wavering Down, then a track alongside a crumbling stone wall leads to Crookes Peak. Well known to M5 drivers as the perfectly shaped conical hill, welcoming us home to Bristol, Crookes Peak is also thought to have been one of several beacon sites to signal the first sightings of the Spanish Armada.

After Crookes Peak, footpaths lead back through low lying fields to the outer edge of Kings Woods and a final trek up a steep path back to the carpark.

Bleadon Hill, West Mendips walk

This walk is on the very western edge of the Mendips, close to Weston-super-Mare. Unfortunately the only public transport link involves going into Weston first then catching a local bus back out. Otherwise it’s an hour’s drive from Bristol.

Crossing Bleadon Hill, Mendips, Somerset
Crossing Bleadon Hill, Mendips, Somerset

The best walk here is a seven mile circular, downloadable from www.mendiphillsaonb.org.uk.
It takes in some diverse landscape, starting by crossing the 30 mile long West Mendip Way, which wends its way from Uphill to Wells. Walking on stony tracks, green fields, country lanes and bridleways, the walk starts and ends high on the Mendip range, with great views to Weston from Bleadon Hill at the end of the walk.

The middle section crosses some of the many Harrow channels that make up the Somerset levels. While the end of the trail is a relaxing amble back to the car via horse paddocks, behind a golf course.

East Harptree woods, East Mendips walk

A shorter walk at just five miles, I really enjoyed this woodlands walk. We parked at East Harptree woods, and followed a figure of eight route through the woods and into Harptree Combe before looping back. There’s a very infrequent bus service from Bristol via Blagdon, a pretty village and victorian era reservoir, which is well worth a visit too.

Crossing Bleadon Hill, Mendips, Somerset
Crossing Bleadon Hill, Mendips, Somerset

The woods feature Smitham Chimney, built by the East Harptree Lead Works Company in 1867. Four mine shafts were dug out in this area around 1844, using Cornish miners and their vast experience. Although the chimney was in use for just a few years it has been renovated several times over the years and is apparently the only one left in the South West.

As you drop down to the Combe there are fantastic views over Chew Valley lake, actually a reservoir and the fifth largest artificial lake in the UK. Although the Combe (an old West country word for deep sided valley) was really muddy when we visited just after the massive downpours in late June), it was a pretty walk along a stream and we passed under an impressive 19th century aqueduct.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of half-day trips and short hikes from Bristol. If you’re feeling down at not getting your usual travel fix, remember that exploring your local area can be almost as much fun.

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