The Frome valley riverside walkway forms a green corridor from the Bristol harbourside for about twenty miles to the source of the river Frome in Dodington Park near Chipping Sodbury on the edge of the Cotswolds. Last week our walking group covered the first five miles from the centre of the city east through the inner city with its graffiti and litter on through Eastville Park and Oldbury Court estate to Frenchay. The green corridor means that otters, bats, foxes squirrels and rabbits can often be seen in the heart of the city. Part of the walkway is close to where we live and we often spot cormorants, kingfishers and herons waiting to catch something for their dinner.
We met at the statue of John Cabot on Bristol Harbourside. In 1497 John Cabot sailed from Bristol to discover Newfoundland on the other side of the Atlantic. The river Frome used to meet the Avon here and in medieval times it formed the north part of the castle moat. In the 13th Century Bristolians dug a wide trench to allow boats to come into the centre of the city. This was known as St. Augustine’s reach or the great ditch.
Old photos show boats tied up in what is now the city centre. If you walk across the centre you will see a pub called the Drawbridge and a catholic church named St. Mary’s on the Quay. You might be puzzled as all you will see is a busy road. The river Frome was taken underground and huge underground reservoirs were dug as part of a flood prevention scheme. For the first part of our walk the river was far below our feet and it was difficult to believe that Bristol has a second river.
It did emerge briefly before disappearing again under the M32. However once we had crossed the motorway we were able to follow the riverside walk for five miles to Frenchay.
If you want a gentle stroll from the heart of Bristol I recommend the Frome walkway (Click my link to download a free map of the walk and find out more about the history of the area.) After walking through the rubbish and graffiti of the inner city and through the subway under the M32 we arrived at Eastville Park. The name Frome is supposed to come from the old English for fast flowing and the river although quite shallow and little more than a stream lives up to its name.
Eastville park was a people’s park made for the working class. They used water from the river to create a boating lake and there was even an open air swimming pool. Unfortunately the swimming pool was bombed during the second world war and never restored. The lake is no longer used for boating but you can play bowls or tennis. Every Saturday morning the park hosts a park run.
The lake now attracts a variety of birds. After flowing through the park the river flows into yet another park known to locals as Vassals Park or to mapmakers as Oldbury Court estate. A group of volunteers known as the Frome fairies regularly don waders and clear litter from the lake and river to ensure it stays clean and fast flowing.
On the other side of the river there are allotments where gardeners can grow vegetables. We had a short detour at Wickham Glen to find the house where Thomas Cromwell held a council of war before the parliamentarians took Bristol during the civil war.
Oldbury Court Estate
The entrance to the Oldbury court estate is known as Snuff Mills and is the site of an old mill owned by Snuffy Jack. The nickname derives from his habit of chewing snuff. The mill has been partly restored and the gardens around it are maintained by volunteers who have won several awards for their efforts. We paused for a snack at the small kiosk.
As you follow the river through the estate you can see the remains of several quarries. Pennant sandstone was quarried here and can be found in many local buildings. The estate was owned by the Vassall family who employed Humphry Repton to design the grounds. When the house became too expensive to repair it was pulled down and the estate sold to the city council who created a lovely park. Away from the river there is a large children’s adventure playground and another café.
We finished our walk with a well earnt drink in the White Lion at Frenchay.