Maddy and Matt from Festival of Nature took a wild walk along the River Avon from Bristol to Bath, the route the Festival is taking this summer from June 11 – 25. The Festival programme includes a new poetry trail along the Avon plus a whole series of guided and self-guided walks, so why not take inspiration from their journey, pack some sandwiches and set off along the river path? Click here for more information on Festival walks and trails
Early on a Tuesday morning in March, I pulled on my dusty walking boots, shoved a sandwich in my rucksack, and set out to meet Matt at Bristol Temple Meads Station for a riverside adventure.
We were about to head out on an exploration from Bristol to Bath up the River Avon. The Festival of Nature 2016 is themed around the river and its wonderful watery wildlife, so we wanted to find out exactly what lives there and why it deserves being celebrated!
First things first: we needed to find the river to begin our walk. From Bristol Temple Meads, we took a left at the bottom of Station Approach and headed towards the River Avon to begin our river ramble. We soon took another left at Cattle Market Road, past the Wood Recycling Project and the roadworks which mark the beginnings of the new Bristol Stadium. We took the first right down a small lane, and there it was – the River Avon!
POETRY BOARD – Click here & listen to Holly Corfield Carr read her poem ‘Four Words for Here’
The name Avon derives from the Welsh word “afon”, meaning ‘river’ – so in translation it’s the River River! The river runs its course over 75 miles, springing in South Gloucestershire before working its way through Wiltshire, past Bath and finally through Bristol, the awesome Avon Gorge and out past Avonmouth to the sea.
Today, Matt and I were only walking from Bristol to Bath, a mere 15 miles – and so we decided to call it a ‘micro-adventure’! Once we reached the River Avon the plan was simple – stick to the river no matter what.
The first section of our journey as we walked through Bristol was very industrial. It was amazing to see the comparison between the slow, sleepy flow of the river, and the huge noisy lorries pulling up at factories on either side of us. Despite what sounds like an unpleasant stretch, this part of the journey was one of our favourite – it was strangely beautiful to see brightly coloured graffiti on bridges next to huge swathes of reeds, alive with the sound of birds twittering away.
Before long we came upon a slight diversion, which took us past Avonmeads in St Philip’s Marsh. We followed a bridge over to Whitby Road. Once we’d walked down Whitby Road we passed over another bridge, where we came to a beautiful uncelebrated weir. Here two rivers meet as the Feeder ‘feeds’ into the River Avon.
We felt that this was where the true walk began. As we walked woodlands sprouted on each side, the track became bumpier and we began to spot huge amounts of exciting wildlife all around us. Even though Spring was only just springing, we spotted splashes of yellow and blue peppering the undergrowth. On closer inspection we realised they were beautiful Spring flowers – Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) and Crocus (Crocus verna). Verna is the Latin word for ‘Spring’ – so you can see why they both have similar names! Click here to find out how you can learn how to identify wildlife with the Festival of Nature.
After passing by Conham River Park and a lovely picnic area right next to the river, we found a small wooden shelter with a bell. In the summertime you can ring the bell and a boat will appear from across the river. If you pay the ferryman 50p he will take you over to Beese’s Victorian Tea Gardens, Bristol’s longest running teashop, set in a sprawling riverside garden.
POETRY BOARD – Click here to listen to Andrew F Giles read his poem ‘The Heronry’
About 5 minutes after reaching Beese’s we heard a great squawking sound and looked up to find a giant heronry in the trees on the other side of the river. A smart looking adult heron glided quietly above our heads as we watched in wonder. We noticed to the left there was a bright white tree – one that I had never seen before! As we took a closer look we realised there were eight dark cormorants sitting in its branches – it wasn’t a new type of tree, it was just covered in cormorant poo!
The walk continued with more magical sites as the river wound gently past us. We soon came to a beautiful lock, placed neatly in front of a sweet stone bridge, which led us to a riverside pub in Keynsham – the Lock Keepers. Here we stopped for lunch and a much-needed pint of orange juice and lemonade. We rested our feet and enjoyed the view of a beautiful beer garden which led down to the water’s edge outside. Our stop didn’t last long though – there’s no time for rest when you’re micro-adventuring!
POETRY BOARD – Click here to listen to Tania Hershman read her poem ‘How to be Here’
As we continued on our journey along the river we passed by a host of narrow-boats, where quietly unfurling coils of wood smoke scented the air. Then we caught our first proper glimpse of Keynsham and its iconic disused Cadbury’s chocolate factory. This bend in the river is open and broad – for the first time we weren’t enclosed by dense wood or buildings and felt that we could take bigger, longer strides! After reaching a little picnic area, we took a bend and ended up on the Bristol to Bath cycle path. This route cuts out part of the river walk, but makes it a much more achievable mission.
The cycle path runs alongside swathes of open fields on one side and a traditional railway on the other – steam trains often puff their way up and down this track from Bitton Railway Station (which is a lovely stop-off point if you’re ever in the area). The path itself is long and straight, and Matt was very pleased to find an information board describing the fossils of animals that used to live here over 200 million years ago. I was more interested to find another plant species to add to my list – snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis). Going on another Latintangent – the meaning of snowdrops Latin name is beautiful. Gala is the Latin for ‘milk’, whilst anthus means ‘flower’ and nivalis means ‘of the snow’. So really a snowdrop is a ‘milk flower of the snow’.
After coming off the cycle path by The Bird in Hand pub, and having another (well-deserved by this point) rest, we headed up the road and around the front of the pub. We soon got a little bit lost, but finally found this overgrown path which took us back to the riverside – a map would have been helpful at this stage!
Back next to the river, we carried on past a beautiful marina, over a bridge and onto what I thought was one of the most enchanting stretches of the walk. Here the river seemed fit-to-burst – wide, open and magnificent. The path itself had recently been widened and the felled trees were still at the edge of the path. We were very excited to see such a brilliant deadwood habitat. Click here to find out how you can create habitats in your own garden.
We were also excited to see lots of beautiful lichen and King Alfred’s Cake (Daldinia concentrica). This inedible fungus takes its name from a well-known legend that King Alfred, when taking refuge in a countryside village during wartime, burnt the villagers’ cakes he’d been put in charge of – according to the story, the lady came in to find him fast asleep and her cakes burning, she woke him up and gave him a scolding so alarming that he decided to risk leaving his one-time refuge and return to battle!
After several hours walking, we finally caught our first glimpse of Bath. A word of warning at this stage though – do not be fooled, it’s not as close at it appears! Despite the distance still to travel, we really enjoyed this next section of the walk. The catkins were appearing on the willows along the riverbank, and goldfinches flew overhead.
As we reached Bath Marina, we stopped to admire the view of the river. As we watched the slow winding water, Matt shouted ‘kingfisher!’, and there it was a dash of blue against the brown of the water. We heard its call and, lo and behold, a response! Two kingfishers! We followed them as they darted from bush to branch, travelling next to us on the way to Bath, two bolts of exotic colour in the English countryside.
POETRY BOARD – Carrie Etter’s poem ‘The River Avon, Bath’ (audio coming soon)
As we walked on – I must admit – my feet were beginning to get a tad sore, the excitement of our micro-adventure was beginning to wear a little thin, and the kingfishers had long since departed. However, I began to forget my weariness as I heard the sound of city traffic and we finally hit a barrier – the Bath council are doing major riverside works over the summer of 2016 and this was where the diversion began. That could only mean one thing – we’d made it!
POETRY BOARDS (Kelston Park Fields) – ‘Where the People Go’ by Andrew F Giles & ‘Swan Song’ by Jack Thacker. Click here to listen to Jack Thacker reading ‘Swan Song’
As we came off of the river path we saw a welcome sight in front of us: Royal Victoria Park. The playpark is huge and full of entertainment for children of all ages – and of course for me and Matt! Coincidentally this is the location of Bath Festival of Nature on 25th June, the finale of the Festival of Nature month of activities, as well as the finale of our river walk. Click here to find out more about the Festival of Nature programme of events and how you can get involved.
After our brief sojourn in the playpark, we headed through the city centre and to Bath Spa train station. For a mere £7.20 we hopped on a train and within ten minutes we were back where we’d begun at Bristol Temple Meads Station! To end our micro-adventure with a train ride which ran by the river all the way back into Bristol seemed very fitting.
We saw all of the paths we had walked that day, but none of the exciting bits of wildlife that had made such an unforgettable journey – from the newly emerged Spring flowers to the elusive kingfishers. It was truly an extraordinary experience to have such a close look at all of the remarkable, colourful and sometimes even surprising wildlife living alongside us on the River Avon – a river well worth celebrating.
Join us to celebrate the River Avon at the Festival of Nature taking place in various locations throughout June. For the full programme go to www.festivalofnature.org.uk