After attending university in Bristol, I spent a few years pottering around London, forever trying to escape to find more green spaces. In December, my partner and I made the very exciting move back to Bristol as a half-way space between Dorset (where Fiann fossil hunts) and London (where much of my work is).
One of the major benefits of Bristol is that you’re never far from the countryside. Not only was it voted European Green Capital 2015, it also has the delight of being surrounded by nature. Even in the depths of the city, you’re only a short walk or run from open green spaces.
Previously, I lived north of the river. When we returned, we moved south, so I’ve had the chance of exploring some lovely new running routes. I’m going to talk primarily about trail runs (with one exception), as these are the hardest to come by in cities! I’d love for you to comment to let me know your local favourites too!
Avon River Path
Long stretches of flat are almost impossible to come by in Bristol. As a city with the steepest street in the UK, it’s great for getting used to hills. However, if you’re after a flat trail run, the Avon River Path is where it’s at. Start at Ashton Ave Bridge and run west. If you keep running to the coast you’ll reach Pill. There’s a pub there, or you can turn back. It’s around 9km in each direction, but makes for a nice half marathon route with under 90m ascent if you add a little at either end.
The river path actually runs all the way from Pill to Bath, but I’ve not tried much of it in the other direction to Bath. The whole route is 37km.
Ashton Court Estate
Ashton Court is one of the best places to run in Bristol. It even has its own (very hilly) Parkrun in the 850 acre green space. Whether you’re looking for a muddy trail run or road run, there are plenty of options around Ashton Court. There are also multiple different species of deer resident , which makes the estate even cooler. End your run at the (dog friendly) manor house café for tea and cakes, or head on over to Abbott’s Pool or Leigh Woods to extend the run.
The Downs (Clifton/Durdham Downs)
One of my earliest running spots in Bristol was on The Downs, 412 acres (1.7km2) of (almost) flat, open green space conveniently located near to UoB Stoke Bishop halls. Meander around the outside or cut down to Clifton Observatory for the most spectacular views of the Avon Gorge and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Blaise Castle Estate
The 650 acres of Blaise Castle Estate are gorgeous. There are races that take part in the estate each year, but it is also open to the general public every day from 7:30am. My first ever trail race was in Blaise Castle! It was extremely muddy and hilly but also lovely.
For the most picturesque and wild running spots accessible from the city centre, head to Leigh Woods. Accessible from the Avon River path, Leigh Woods covers 490 acres (2km2) and is blanketed in ancient woodland. Leigh Woods is a national nature reserve and Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI), which explains the extreme beauty found throughout. Head to Paradise Bottom for one of the most beautiful and secluded spots in Bristol.
Bristol to Bath cycle path
The only non-trail route on this list, the Bristol to Bath cycle path takes the route of the old railway path, meaning that it’s almost flat (although hillier than you might expect of a rail route). It is 13 miles long and completely traffic free (which is why it is on this list). If you fancy doing only one direction, take the train out or back to make it a perfect half marathon route. There are pubs and snack stations along the way for emergency pit stops.
Troopers Hill is a 20.6 acre nature reserve in the St George area of Bristol. It was previously a quarry, which, after being abandoned, recovered well, growing heather and other wild plants and attracting a wide variety of animals. Although it’s relatively small, it’s beautiful, hilly and wild, with a mix of terrain and woodland/open spaces. Connect it up with the Avon River Path to come in and out of the city.
Conham River Park
Slightly further on from Troopers Hill you find Conham River Park, a stretch of the Avon River trail that heads to Bath. This route can be as hilly as you like – follow the river for a flat run, or run up into the half-pipe woodland above to explore the mountain bike routes.
Just be warned – if you live south of the river, this is an out and back route, except in summer where there is a sporadic ferry crossing at Beese’s Riverside Bar.
Check out my experience of the river path (and some serious hills) here!
Situated along the M32 motorway, Stoke Park isn’t perhaps what you’d think of as a secluded spot for trail running, but thanks to its sheer size, there are plenty of places to run away from the sound of traffic. One of the most striking aspects of the park is the bright yellow manor house, visible from the road. Make sure to wear trail shoes – for much of the year parts of the park are extremely muddy.
Oldbury Court Estate and Snuff Mills
Based in the North East of Bristol in Fishponds, Oldbury Court is a 58 acre riverside park with plenty of tree cover and open fields. There are footpaths either side of the river, so it makes for a good trail loop. Make it as hilly as you like by either staying along the river or cutting up through the woods. Alternatively, cut across the motorway to Stoke Park, or down the river to Eastville Park.
Eastwood Farm is a nature reserve based in East Bristol (the opposite side of the river to Conham River Park). The route around the outside is only a few kilometres long, but there is plenty of meandering to be done, or connect it up with Nightingale valley.
The 45 acres of Arnos Vale may not be the biggest green space in Bristol, but the space there is is absolutely gorgeous! There are plenty of trails to meander through in the cemetery, up and down steep hills through the trees. Connect up with routes through Victoria Park, Nightingale Valley, Perrett’s Park and other city-centre routes.
Small but mighty, Nightingale valley packs a punch when it comes to nature in a small space. Best used as part of a route rather than a destination, it follows Brislington Brook through woodland. If you’re a bird-nerd listen out for woodpeckers, jays and the beautiful song thrush. If you’re not, just enjoy the scenery and smells. Follow the woodland through to (or from) St Anne’s Wood, an adjacent small nature reserve.
What are your favourite trail routes in Bristol? Have you tried any of these?