The Northern Slopes Part 1: The Bommie

Countryside in the City

Who would have thunk it. Autumn is very nearly here and the summers we remember from our childhoods never really arrived this year… Personally, I don’t mind. The start of autumn is probably one of my favourite times of year (that and spring, which I’ll wait for with baited breath).

Over the final weeks of summer 2015 we have explored more of Bristol’s green city spaces and frolicked the fields and beaches of gorgeous west Wales. Our favourite new spots are the fields, woodlands, bushes and hills of The Northern Slopes in South Bristol. The Northern Slopes are three expanses of luscious green space set cascading down the landscape of the neighbourhood. From The Bommie to Glyn Vale and The Novers, each section of the Slopes has a different name, a unique history and a modern-day story to tell. Bristol folk may be surprised to hear of such a glorious collection of green spaces in the heart of this area of the city but believe me, it’s worth a trip. As part of my Countryside in the City feature I’ll be breaking down The Northern Slopes into three posts and first off is the wild community-centric area of The Bommie.

Cotton plant

Purple-flowers-in-Bristol  Yellow flowers Bristol

The Bommie

Obscurely named and unsuspectingly placed, The Bommie can be discovered from a number of entrances, either at the bottom of the hill through bushes and woodland, or from its highest point at the top of the open grassy hill. Our first question when we found out about this spot of nature in our city was why is it called The Bommie!? Wedmore Vale is its official name but the locals think the site’s better-known title was given after World War II, when the area avoided complete decimation when a German bomb was dropped but didn’t explode.

The land has a farming history that goes back to the early 1900s and today, The Bommie still sits at the heart of the community of Knowle. Bramble Farm, the Wildfest project and stretches of allotments are all part of the welcoming nature of the land. It truly lends itself to families, foragers and tearaway ramblers like us. We even discovered a rope swing on our way into the woodland – and of course had a wistful play.

Rope Swing

At the end of our latest visit and blackberry forage, a hot air balloon sailed over the area, floating precariously close to the top of the hill. As we stood and stared children’s screams from the surrounding streets called out – “Land on The Bommie! Land on The Bommie!”.

From the top of The Bommie you can see on to Glyn Vale and beyond. The views across Bedminster, Ashton Court and Clifton alone are a treat but what really interested me on our last few visits were the abundance of blackberries and the wildlife.

Hill on The Bommie Bristol

View from The Bommie Bristol

Wildflower Muses and Fruit Foraging

As well as in our garden, wildflowers can be spotted all around the city and I wish I could name them all. Something else to add to my ‘to-do’ list. The Bommie is covered in greenery with patches of wildflowers spawning out here and there. On entering The Bommie from the west gate we have always been welcomed by bright greens speckled with pinks, purples, yellows and whites. Over the coming weeks the look of the Slopes will change but I look forward to witnessing the autumnal tones we have to look forward to!

Bee on a flower

Every opportunity must, of course, be taken to enjoy some of nature’s best gifts and you only have to follow me on Instagram to know that blackberries, apples and herbs have been staining my fingers over the past couple of months! On every trip to The Bommie so far, we have foraged and scrounged, filling a fare few tubs with plump, ripe blackberries from hedges surrounding the fields and nestled beneath the undergrowth, which has lead to plenty of fresh and healthy puddings, smoothies and pies! (recipes to come…)

Blackberry picking

Blackberry season Bristol

As with so many of Bristol’s green spaces, the risk of building development, pollution and neglect are a real threat for The Bommie. I’m grateful to be able to revel in the glories of the space and enjoy these parts of it. With The Northern Slopes Initiative and the active community in and around it, I’m sure the fruits of the land will continue to be reaped for years to come.

Next on the agenda, I’ll make my way westward to Glyn Vale to discover more of Bristol’s hidden treasures a top The Northern Slopes…

Boats Amid the Trees – Withdrawn in Leigh Woods, Bristol

We have made our way through Leigh Woods many times since moving to Bristol. Across the suspension bridge and along the road past high towering homes, the path becomes greener and greener as you walk towards the National Trust woods. Over the road from Ashton Court, the bustling noises pass by quickly and Leigh Woods welcomes you in for a refreshing, elongated breath of calm. I’ve loved exploring the woods at different times of year; from dark thick bare bark to flurries of bluebells and the hint of light emerald in the trees, then to even brighter blankets of green and an array of blooms before reds, oranges and yellows take hold in the canopies and create new paths of colour throughout the woodland.

Walking through Leigh Woods during the spring and summer months of 2015 presents a very different sight for visitors. Between the trees in the middle of the woods an obscure scene begins to unfold. ‘Withdrawn’, a significant installation piece by Luke Jerram, begins to take shape in amongst the tall grasses, trees and wild flowers.

Boats in Leigh Woods, Bristol

Boats in the woodland, Bristol

The intangible scene – a collection of boats in the woods. The ships appear abandoned, left to traverse the woodland rather than crashing waves. Their colourful sea-battered sides stand between the sturdy trees with pride. Ready to meet the waters again? Or accepting of their fate away from the comfort of their natural surroundings?

Looking down, the view is full of juxtaposition – the obscurity of seeing the boats sitting amongst the dry grasses and scuffed soil sends a message of confusion and mystery. Still, the way Jerram has constructed the scene, it appears that the woodland floor has accepted the rudders and anchors of the boats. Or maybe the act of time, wind and weather has given the ships a chance to sink into the ground and gradually be surrounded by the blossoming life and sprouting plants of the season.
Boats in the woods

Boats on the wood floor, Leigh Woods

Boats in woods - Bristol

Withdrawn - Leigh Woods, Bristol

Luke Jerram’s installation will stay in Leigh Woods until the 6th September 2015 – and after that, what can we do to ensure we don’t experience the unfamiliar view of ships amongst the trees again?

Everything Bristol does as European Green Capital of 2015 is to raise awareness of our changing environment. Around the city and beyond Bristol we can already make note of the negative effects of pollution and climate change but steps are being made towards a more sustainable city. From the eco friendly homes of Hanham Hall, to Skipchen and the Severn project, Bristol and its inhabitants are happily and actively seeing how many changes can be made now.

Many people have questioned the effectiveness of art installations such as Withdrawn but if we’re talking about it, it must mean we’re passion about its insight.

Ships in Leigh Woods, Bristol

Weathered Boats in Leigh Woods

Fishing boats in Leigh Woods

Boats amid the trees, Bristol

Grape Hyacinths for April

Just days after the clocks sprung forward an hour, we saw our back garden begin to come to life. A touch of extra sun and a little West Country rain contributed to the arrival of dabbles of colour and more splashes of green every day- not to mention flourishing grasses that will soon require cutting.

Now, we have a small patch of purple bathing in the sunniest spot of our garden – the grape hyacinths. The collection soaks in the rays, attracting bees and creating our very own plot of wild flowers to enjoy.

With the rest of April sure to offer the usual mix of long bright days and downpours, I look forward to seeing more surprises when I look out of the window each morning.

Grape Hyacinth and Bee

Grape Hyacinth