One of the few highlights of my 2020 was walking. Since I've lived in Bristol, I've wanted to make more of an effort to explore the beautiful local countryside. This was always something that fell by the wayside in favour of easier, lazier activities. With the onset of the pandemic, though, options for things to do outside the house dwindled.
Fortunately, during the first lockdown my girlfriend bought an excellent book - Beyond Bristol by Robin Tetlow. This little book has made a huge difference to our lockdown lifestyle. Full to the brim with carefully-researched walks through the fields, woods and villages of Gloucestershire and Somerset, it's a great primer for walkers who want to explore the area around Bristol. In my experience, instructions in walking guides can be frustratingly vague or require lots of prior knowledge. This isn't the case at all with Robin's directions. Each step in each walk we've been on so far has been clear, concise and unambiguous. I can't recommend it enough. It's clear from the creative routes and little details in the guide just how well the author knows the land around Bristol, and how much of his time and passion he's put into exploring and cataloguing it for the benefit of other walkers.
Most weekends, when the rules allow it, we've driven out of Bristol - the walks generally start around half an hour's drive away from the city1 - parked in a little village, and set off for a few hours of leisurely walking. Given the sheer amount of time we're all spending at home these days, being out in the fresh air and hills of the Mendips or the Cotswolds is a very revitalising experience. No screens, no video calls; just chatting, climbing over stiles and engaging with the world outside.
There are still plenty of walks in the book that we've yet to try, but some we've done multiple times. Some of my favourites are:
- A walk from Dursley (of Cam and Dursley fame) over some impressive hilltops following the Cotswold Way, and back along the edge of the forest.
- A short (by the book's standard) walk from Hawkesbury Upton, passing through one valley in particular that seemed like something out of a Miyazaki film.
- A climb up Crook Peak on the south edge of the Mendips, with expansive views over the Bristol Channel and down to north Devon.
I'm looking forward to more of these walks, and if by some miracle we manage to do them all, there's a second book!
I think this period of uncertainty and crisis has really highlighted to me the importance of doing things that are good for the soul, and walking definitely fulfils that for me. I might write in a bit more detail about some of the individual walks I've done over the last year, but I wanted to publish this book recommendation to encourage anyone who's looking for a place to start. I'd be interested to hear about any other good walks in the Bristol area.
1. I haven't tried to get to any of the walks using public transport yet - I'm sure that some of them, especially those starting in larger towns, should be accessible by bus or train. Smaller villages might be a bit more of a challenge. If you were feeling particularly dedicated, you could cycle to the start of some of the walks, but this would make for a long day!