Walk: Leigh Woods, Bristol

Visit several iconic Bristol sights – Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Camera Obscura and Leigh Woods

Clifton Suspension Bridge overlooks Leigh Woods and Avon Gorge

Enjoy a day out in Leigh Woods with views of the stunning Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge.

During the autumn months, the towering copper beech trees lining the drive to Leigh Woods, just across the River Avon from Bristol, wend their way through a magnificent kaleidoscope of purples, reds, yellows, oranges and browns.

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This wooded avenue, just off Abbots Leigh Road, leads to the forest’s main car park. If you’re lucky, you may see an eccentric local who regularly exercises his parrot here.

Leigh woods
Paradise Bottom in Leigh Woods, North Somerset ©Getty Images

The woods were once part of Ashton Court and signs of the pomp and splendour of this grand estate still remain in gnarled, ancient and veteran oaks, limes and yews. These trees also provide a home for fungi, with more than 300 species growing in the woods, including edibles, such as beefsteak and oyster mushrooms.The nooks, crannies, hollows and deadwood created by fungi on these venerable old trees provide valuable niches for wildlife, including birds, bats and invertebrates. 

Ashton Court Estate, Bristol
Ashton Court Estate, Bristol ©Getty

Forest fort

Walkers will find various marked trails, perhaps the most satisfying of which is the 2.5km purple trail that takes you to the edge of an Iron Age promontory hillfort known as Stokeleigh Camp. Its high banks are unmistakable.

Take an off-piste excursion over the ramparts into the hillfort’s partially wooded centre, which has the feel of a meadow or even a secret garden. Venture a little further to the eastern edge of the fort and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views across Avon Gorge.

Leigh Woods
According to the National Trust, The Iron age hillfort in Leigh Woods provided people with a home for thousands of years ©Getty

Mountain bikers of all abilities can also find trails in the woods, from adrenaline-fuelled runs to slower training routes for those looking to practise their off-road skills. The blue trails trace the western edge of the woods, from the south to the north, before linking with the River Avon trail that continues on to the village of Pill to the west, or Bath to the east.

Bristol Botanic Garden

Across Avon Gorge, Bristol Botanic Garden holds a collection of local and rare native species. Among these are nine whitebeam trees, including Sorbus porrigentiformis – a species common to the gorge with upright leaves and globose fruit – and Sorbus robertsonii, grafted from the only remaining tree of its kind. Find out more at botanic-garden.bristol.ac.uk

Bristol Botanic Garden

Walk

This walk gives you three alternative views of the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, while visiting several of Bristol’s most-loved sites. Some are well known, such as Avon Gorge, but a few less familiar attractions, such as the rockslide, are off the tourist radar but cherished by locals.

1. Bridge walk

From the main entrance to Bristol Zoo, walk left along Clifton Down then turn left and pick up an attractive path to the side of the road. Follow the path as it bears right away from the road to a viewpoint over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Walk past the camera obscura – a convex lens and sloping mirror that projects a bizarre panoramic moving image on to a round table. Continue along the path and bear right past the rock slide – a section of rock that has been worn smooth by countless bottoms.

Cross the suspension bridge. A symbol of Bristol for the past 150 years, the design grew from a competition in 1829, judged by leading civil engineer of the day Thomas Telford. Telford declared his own design the winner, but when this proved unpopular, 24-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel won a chance to be project engineer in a second competition in 1830. Sadly Brunel died before his project was completed in 1864.

18 month old Common / Eurasian cranes (Grus grus) "Bart", "Christine" and "Gilbert", released by the Great Crane Project onto the Somerset Levels and Moors, calling in Barley stubble field at dawn with bustles raised as other flock members look on, Somerset, UK, October 2011.

2. Woodland wander

Take the first right up North Road, past some grand houses. Turn right when you reach Leigh Woods and take the left path, following blue markers. This ancient broadleaf woodland has been part of Bristolian life for centuries, and has a rich variety of trees, including the rare Bristol whitebeam. Along with the Brecon Beacons, Avon Gorge is home to six of the 11 threatened tree species in the UK.

Turn right towards the National Trust building, then left. Bear right at a stone wall and carry on as the blue Sustrans path turns left. Turn left at the purple fence post marker 18, then left again at marker 19. Turn right on to the estate road, then bear left at signs for Paradise Bottom.

Carry on downhill (left), ignoring the path that bears right through barriers, and past a cottage called Oak Wood Lodge. Go through a barrier then, when Sustrans route 41 goes right, keep ahead towards Paradise Bottom. The path becomes a wide gravel track. Follow it past a pond to a car park.

3. Riverside

Take the path directly behind the noticeboard. Cross a bridge then turn left. Head downhill and around a pond, then uphill through woods and one of the prettiest parts of the walk. Go through a gate then turn left at the main track (from earlier). After 300m, turn left down Sustrans route 41. Head downhill towards the River Avon, until you reach a cyclepath beside the river.

4. Down in the gorge

Turn right and follow the path past several railway bridges, with views up to the suspension bridge. Turn right just before the bridge and follow this path back to the entrance to Leigh Woods. Turn left back over the bridge and left past the camera obscura to return.

Map

Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.

Leigh Woods map

Useful Information

TERRAIN

Mainly family-friendly tracks. Paths can get confusing in Leigh Woods, but it’s difficult to get totally lost. There is a good network of hard surfaced paths suitable for wheelchairs and prams.

HOW TO GET THERE

By car: Leave the M5 at J19, then follow the A369 towards Bristol. Leigh Woods is signposted off the A369, Portishead to Bristol Road. There is a free car park on Coronation Avenue, opposite the Bath and Bristol Tennis Club (ST 553 740), or you can park beside the entrance on North Road.

By public transport: First Buses 357/358/359 depart daily from Bristol Bus Station, or by the harbourside on Anchor Road. Alight at Beggar Bush Lane via Valley Road. Alternatively take First Bus 8/8A from Bristol Temple Meads, alight at Clifton Village, then walk across the bridge to Leigh Woods.

REFRESHMENTS

Avon Gorge Hotel
Sion Hill,
Clifton,
Bristol
BS8 4LD
☎ 0117 9738 955
www.theavongorge.com

NEARBY EXCURSIONS

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Bristol Zoo Gardens, Clifton, Bristol BS8 3HA
☎ 0117 974 7399
www.bristolzoo.org.uk
Entry (inc voluntary donation) adults £12.50, children £7.75, under 3s free, family £36.50.