A Walk with the Dogginator
Shortly after the Dogginator entered our lives (deciding that she was coming home with us by climbing into my handbag while we visited her and the other pups) we began to seek excellent places for walkies.
I bought a copy of Bristol and Bath: A Dog Walker’s Guide by Nigel Vile – and in the turmoil of new puppy ownership, promptly forgot about it. A few weeks ago it was rediscovered and we’ve now done a couple of the walks. Most recently, this weekend we went to Leigh Woods National Nature Reserve, a co-managed National Trust and Forestry Commission woodland. Leigh Woods is located on the North Somerset side of the Avon Gorge.
Before we even began our walk, we had the thrill of driving over the Clifton Suspension Bridge, one of the great achievements of the great engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The excitement of this feat of engineering and the spectacular view, never palls. Although the entrance to Leigh Woods is carefully marked with inoffensive green signs, designed to blend into their surroundings, this did somewhat defeat their purpose and we nearly missed the turning! A long driveway through deciduous woodland, partly marked by a stunning beech avenue, led to the car park and the start of the walk.
A slow descent through the woods
Initially, our path led along a paved road but we quickly left it behind and headed down through beech woods, with the light filtering softly through the bright green canopy. Above us to the left were cliff-like hillside, with lush vegetation indicating that this is often a damp place to be. Not today: we were blessed with warm, dry weather and it was dry underfoot. To our right, by contrast, the hillside plummeted sharply to an unseen valley bottom. The occasional pine challenged the dominance of the deciduous trees and ferns.
Some of the route is described as ‘shared space’, with walkers and cyclists using the same route. This is not always a cordial relationship and reviews suggested our own experience: that cyclists tend to assume they have priority. Not always though. Many passed us with a merry ding of their bicycle bells which gave us fair warning to ensure the Dogginator was neither endangered nor a danger to our two-wheeled friends. In other sections the route described in the book follows the route of a marked cycle track. Ironically, this section is steep and all the cyclists we met here were pushing, rather than riding their bikes.
From the lower part of the cycle path, we caught our first glimpse of the railway line that would run parallel to a long section of the walk. It is situated uphill and away from the River Avon, which eventually revealed itself at the foot of the hill.
The river bank
The next stretch of the walk follows the line of the River Avon upstream toward the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Initially, the bridge is hidden around a bend but the scenery is still worth seeing. During our visit, the tide was out – yes, the river is very much tidal at this point! The narrow yellow-brown river was barely more than a trickle and it was hard to imagine that Bristol once relied on this channel as a commercial shipping route. The plunging banks at low tide are solid mud, with a delicate tracery of rivulets and grasses abounding on top. Our path was shady, with trees young and ancient on either side.
Alongside the river, it is advisable to keep dogs on leads, just in case the temptation to make discoveries leads them onto the muddy river banks. Rescue could be tricky! Around a few more bends, our second view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge was soon revealed. It was worth the wait. Under the soaring span of the bridge itself, we could glimpse some of the former warehouses and buildings of the historic port of Bristol. Soaring – yes, it was way above us – and that was a clue to the next leg of our walk.
Up we go!
Before reaching the bridge, we turned uphill into the romantically-named Nightingale Valley. This is the National Trust part of the route, beautifully maintained, though a challenging ascent for my rather unfit legs.
The Dogginator took advantage of several opportunities to win over new members for her fan club along the route. She likes to win them over by snuggling up as close as possible. We tend to apologise profusely but this just seems to encourage the newly-enlisted fans, who make excuses for her and wave as we depart. We can’t win.
Despite the steep climb and my lack of fitness, the last leg was achieved without distress of any kind. We’d returned to level beech woodland along the top of the valley and back to the car park, despite a minor misunderstanding of the instructions. By this time, the angle of the late afternoon sun was producing stained-glass like effects through the foliage.
The book came up trumps again with this walking route – a big success. The route is beautifully maintained, with several wonderful little surprises to discover, such as fallen trees carved into wonderful sofas! Our only disappointment was that the pub the book recommends, The George at Abbot’s Leigh, doesn’t serve food on Sunday evenings. Little daunted, we popped in for cider and local ale and the dog-friendly garden was a sun trap. We vowed to return there another day. Preferably when the Tour de France is distracting cyclists from practising their art in Leigh Woods.