Family walks near Bristol & Bath: Our 5 favourite places to explore
Come rain or come shine, pandemic or not, one thing we can easily do at the moment is get out on some family walks and enjoy the great outdoors. With the world still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, walking can offer a little headspace, some good fresh air, and an escape from the barrage of bad news. Read our favourite places for family walks near Bristol and Bath.
Space is still important as we think about distancing and luckily my home stomping ground of North Somerset has plenty of it. Just a few miles from Bristol and Bath, you can quickly escape the city and dive deep into the heart of the countryside.
Somerset’s best places to visit!
Here I’ve listed a few of my favourite family walks in Somerset. We’ll often set off for a full days adventure and I let the kids help in planning our route.
As such, these aren’t ‘set routes’, but more an idea of nice areas to explore. I would always highly recommend getting a map of the local area and plotting your route beforehand. With a map you can find footpaths that are less well known and often have the area to yourself. You can also then measure and plan the length and difficulty of your walk and decide what best suits your family. Of course, walking with a 2 year old will be different to walking with a 22 year old! Avoiding well-known, popular paths allows for more space and to explore new areas.
For our family walks, we like to go out with a packed lunch so that we can stop whenever and wherever without having to rush back before the kids get hangry. A picnic isn’t just for good weather of course… if it’s raining – wear your waterproofs, if it’s windy – shelter in some rocks or behind a hedge.
1) Explore The Somerset Levels
Flat, far reaching and absolutely stunning. I love the Somerset levels because you can see for miles and miles and the birdlife is amazing. Walking on the levels is great, but I prefer to climb above them and enjoy the view over the levels and out to sea.
– Dolebury Warren & Rowberrow Woods (OS Map 141)
There are a number of routes that you can take here as the area is so large. We tend to start with a steep climb up to the top of Dolebury Warren (which the littlest legs might need help with) and then enjoy the beautiful walk along the top of the ancient hill fort, with bumpy old rabbit hills – it was a medieval rabbit farm and there’s even the ruin of the rabbitkeepers shelter. There’s a sort of spooky, mystical feeling up there which I’ve never had before and the views are just incredible. You can do a full 5km (ish) loop descending down into Rowberrow Woods and following the stream back. We were lucky enough to see an adder snaking along the path here. There is incredibly limited parking at the base of Dolebury Warren.
As an alternative you can loop from the Swan Inn at Rowberrow and have a pint on your return!
– Draycott Sleights (OS Map 141)
This one is really easily accessible and you can walk for as long or as short a length as you like. The official loop around the reserve is 1.7km but you can continue on at the far end. The views are genuinely fantastic looking out right over the Somerset levels, seeing Cheddar reservoir, Glastonbury Tor, Exmoor, and South Wales all at once! There are Kestrels and Peregrine falcons flying overhead as well as the odd occasional glider from the gilding centre nearby. Across the road from Draycott Sleights is an old hill fort where there are some good little bits of rock climbing for the kids.
On your way home, you could pop into Draycott’s cider barn which is a true Somerset experience. A great selection of cider in a rustic barn. Live music on a Sunday.
– Ham Wall (OS Map 141)
Ham Wall is well known for it’s winter murmerations (flocks of 100,000s of Starlings that swoop in to roost making a truly remarkable spectacle to watch). At these times the reserve can be very busy but the rest of the year it’s relatively quiet and absolutely beautiful. In true Somerset levels style, Ham Wall is a wetland that is teeming with wildlife. We’ve seen bitterns, egrets, hobbys, and even an otter. The sounds of the frogs in Spring was incredible and we were surrounded by butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies. See below for my ‘Ham Wall bingo’ game.
There’s a large car park (free for RSPB members) and the main pathways are buggy and pram friendly. If you want to explore the wilder pathways through the reserve, leave dogs at home as there are certain areas where they’re not permitted.
On the pub theme…. Stop in at The Sheppey, Godney which is one of the greatest pubs in Somerset!
2) Visit Chew Valley and Blagdon Lakes
Both Chew Valley and Blagdon Lakes are absolutely beautiful but the small pathways around them are completely swarmed by people at the moment. Rather than visit the lakes themselves, we’ve found the most beautiful walks up above them, where you can find space and enjoy some distancing.
Two of my favourite walks are;
– Compton Martin (OS Map 141)
The Coombe (steep sided valley) behind Compton Martin is great fun for exploring. There’s a wooded path which climbs the hillside, opening up to a large field at the top (often with cows). Here there’s an great view looking down over the lake and it’s a good spot for a picnic. Following the path back down through the actual Coombe is incredible. It’s like being taken back to the time of the dinosaurs. Ancient woodland with high steep sides and caves dotted all over. A proper adventure playground!
Pop into the Ring of Bells, Compton Martin for a pint or treat yourself to a meal. Lovely pub garden for summer, or snuggle in next to one of the Ingelnook fireplaces after a wet walk in winter.
– East Harptree (OS Map 141)
East Harptree is surrounded by the most incredible walks. You can walk up behind the village to see beautiful dew ponds and stunning views of Chew Valley Lake. It’s a route I often run and the steep hill may be challenging for little legs but if you can make a day of it, it’s totally worth it.
East Harptree woods are also worth exploring. Established paths (good for buggies) wind through the woods and show the Chew Valley’s industrial past with an old lead mining chimney and ponds created from lead mining (full of newts).
If you don’t have a buggy, head through the woods to the top of the Combe at East Harptree and follow the stream down back into the village. We’ve spent hours rambling along these paths, exploring the Combe and playing on the old hill fort with rope swings and a spooky statue of a knight. With so much to see around one small village, take a map and plan your route! This is where we took Clare Balding on our episode of BBC Radio 4’s Ramblings. Listen here.
The Waldegrave Arms in East Harptree is also a great spot for a pint.
3) Adventure in Ubley Warren (OS Map 141)
The perfect place for a family walk in Somerset – especially for younger children. This former lead mine dates back to Roman times but now it’s the most amazing playground ever! We spent hours here just exploring. There are mounds and dips, caves and caverns, mines and tunnels, rocks and trees. There are even old mine shafts with grates over them, perfect for dropping rocks down and listening for the long-awaited splosh at the bottom. When you think you’ve seen it all, keep going – there’s more and more and more! Walks can be long or short. Not buggyable.
*Though we didn’t come across any potential hazards at all, please be aware that as a former lead mine there may be risks in the landscape*
4) Visit the beach near Bristol (OS Map 153)
Everyone loves the sea (or technically the Estuary) and Brean Down is my favourite place to see it from. You can walk up the natural peninsular and look left for views of the Somerset levels and the incredible beach of Brean Down (yes there are a few mobile home sites but I actually think they add to the charm!), look right for views of Weston Super Mare and straight out for incredible views of Bristol Estuary, Flat Holm and Steep Holm islands. Take some time to explore the fort at the end of the peninsular and finish off with an ice cream or hot chocolate in the National Trust café. It’s a great winter beach too (and dog friendly).
5) Cheddar Gorge (OS Map 141)
You can’t talk about walks in Somerset without including Cheddar Gorge. This is an iconic place to visit and only 30 minutes from Bristol and Bath. There’s a beautiful circular walk along the full length of the gorge and back along the other side (8km). Park at Black Rock car park and climb to the dizzying heights of the gorge to admire the views. Stop half way in Cheddar for an ice cream or a pint before heading home along the opposite side, leaping across the ‘giant’s rocks’ as my son calls them. There are shorter loops on both sides of the gorge. You can also take a sneaky peak at the Somerset levels from here.
Find out about Max’s birthday adventure on Cheddar Gorge and a new idea for a party bag here.