We visit a magical riverside walk with one of Bristol’s best-loved family parks

Just watch out for the new parking charges!
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From Blaise Castle to Conham River Park - beautiful open parkland, woodland and riverbanks still exist in the heart of Bristol despite continued population growth and development post Second World War.

Yet nowhere in the city comes close to the Oldbury Court Estate for the combination of riverside paths, historic park and exciting children’s play facilities. The only draw back is the new parking charges which have come in.

Last Thursday I visited with my two children on what must have been the hottest day of the year so far. After parking up, we strolled over to the play area which featured a sand play zone, pirate play ship and a cafe. The ice cream van was doing a roaring trade.

After a long time playing we walked down a steep path to the River Frome where a large group of children were splashing happily in the water. At the river bank we then joined the many dog walkers and runners on the main riverside path toward Snuff Mills.

A 1979 walk guide book for Bristol by Helena Eason described this section as being filled with nature. Oak, ash, alder and beech trees lined the path, as they do today, and abandoned quarries were evidenct in the rock faces on the path-side of the water.

In fact, I doubt much has changed here over the past near-50 years, including the narrow Halfpenny Bridge which took us over the water and to the site of Witherlay’s Mill, otherwise known as Snuffy Jacks Mill.

The riverside walk along the River Frome toward Snuff MillsThe riverside walk along the River Frome toward Snuff Mills
The riverside walk along the River Frome toward Snuff Mills

Now just some lumps and bumps in the ground, the mill was used to ground snuff on behalf of the Wills tobacco company which ran it. And what about the name? The mill, like the area, got the name from a man called Jack who was a heavy user of snuff, and someone the Wills family purchased the fashionable tobacco from.

The old mill was a good place to turn around and walk back along the path and up the hill toward Oldbury Court again.

Halfpenny Bridge hasn’t changed from 50 years agoHalfpenny Bridge hasn’t changed from 50 years ago
Halfpenny Bridge hasn’t changed from 50 years ago

It was a beautiful walk and a perfect way to spend a few hours with the children who were as entertained by the river as they were the park. And there’s good news on the horizon. Oldbury Court estate has been lined up for improvements by Bristol City Council, which has allocated £500k for it, Ashton Court and the Blaise Estate.

So, with summer almost here, make sure you get down to make the most of the estate for walks and family fun.

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