In the latest instalment of our new My Favourite Run series, Advnture contributor Alex Foxfield takes us on a trail running adventure up, down and through Bristol’s Henbury Gorge.
“It’s hard to believe you’re still in one of England’s largest cities,” he says. “Once deep in the gorge, you leap over fallen tree trucks, traverse narrow ledges and are constantly playing hopscotch with the roots and rock below your feet. Trail running at its captivating best.”
- Start: Blaise Castle Estate, Henbury Lodge Car Park
- End: The Blaise Inn
- Distance: 4.39 miles/7.06km
- Elevation gain: 375 ft / 115m
- Duration: ~50 minutes
From the car park, you follow the tarmacked path past the café and play areas before picking up a trail that climbs through the woodland of Castle Hill to Blaise Castle, an impressive 18th-century folly. Soon you come to Lover’s Leap, a superb viewpoint across Henbury Gorge and beyond towards the River Avon.
A sustained and immensely enjoyable downhill section towards the bed of the gorge follows, before you turn right onto the main path down from the park, above the beautiful Hazel Brook. At the path junction by the mill building, you take the trail on the brook’s right bank and follow.
This rough trail is a pleasure underfoot and demands concentration. When you reach the Giant’s Soapdish (labelled as Tarn Lake on most maps), there’s an entertaining ascent onto a narrow ledge and then a steep descent back to the gorge floor. The trail opens up and there’s plenty of choice in terms of line.
Continue to use the brook as your guide, as you hop over and around fallen tree trunks. Another uphill section gets the heart pumping and then there’s a quick descent back to the main tarmacked path. This is where Hazel Brook joins the River Trym on its journey towards the River Avon.
Follow the main path through the Coombe Dingle car park and cross the road at the far end, continuing to follow the river. This next section is delightful in spring, when bluebells and wild garlic carpet the woodland. A raised concrete platform takes you alongside the river and before long you pass under Dingle Road.
Things open up on the next stretch, as you progress through the grassy Trym Valley, with woodland on either side. Eventually, you cross the River Trym and loop back on yourself. If you reach Shirehampton Road, you’ve gone too far.
Reverse the route as far as the confluence of the Trym and Hazel Brook, cross the brook and take a steep trail north. This leads up above the other side of the gorge and eventually to the limestone spur of Goram’s Chair. It can be difficult to locate, look for a minor trail leading to a gap in the trees on the left. Watch your step – the rocky platform is remarkably narrow – and pause to take in the views across Kings Weston Hill and Castle Hill.
Back on the main trail, power on past rhododendrons and emerge onto a tarmacked path by a wooden building that looks like it has been dragged out of one of the Brothers Grimm’s tales. Turn right and then immediately left down steps. Descend through the open land back towards Henbury.
At the end of the field, turn left, descend back to the brook before ascending through a tunnel. Steps lead upwards and you magically emerge into the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, a beguiling return to civilisation after so long in the gorge’s wilds. Continue past the church and turn left down Church Lane to meet Henbury Road. Here, on your right, is the excellent Blaise Inn, which serves excellent food for that post-run refuel. It’s also just a short walk (or run) back to the car park you started from.
The route I’ve chosen here is probably not easy to follow exactly, particularly given the number of trails that wind their way through the gorge. However, it’s just one potential way to explore this wonderful landscape and finding your own adventure here is hugely rewarding. Use the brook and its trails as your guide and there’s almost no end to the running fun to be had. Neighbouring Kings Weston Hill is also wonderful and can be easily worked into a run in the area.
Bristol’s Henbury Gorge: why I love it
It’s the mixture of beautiful scenery, fantastic all-action running and the legends and history associated with it that make Henbury Gorge such a wonderful place to run in. While only a short run, the nature of the rough terrain and its undulating course always makes it feel like a challenge.
On a hot summer’s day, the gorge and the surrounding hills stay cool thanks to their canopy of trees. When it’s raining cats and dogs, the gorge can feel utterly wild, with the Hazel Brook rushing past and loads of muddy puddles to embrace. Spring is when the trails are at their colourful best, with wild garlic, bluebells and rhododendrons creating a real cornucopia.
The downhill sections, particularly from Castle Hill into the gorge are superbly involving, requiring laser focus when it comes to your footing. The section alongside the brook is like an assault course, with fallen trees and rough terrain keeping you on your toes, as you duck and dive between obstacles.
It might be my overactive imagination, but I love a legend or two associated with my outdoor adventures. In this case, local folklore tells of brothers Goram and Vincent (also known as Ghyston in some tales), two giants who both fell in love with a beautiful woman named Avona. She was open to their advances and, to choose between them, challenged the giants to drain a lake that once occupied the countryside between Bradford-on-Avon and Bristol. They immediately set to work.
Vincent was industrious and ambitions. He chose the limestone between Clifton and Leigh Woods for his channel, creating the impressive Avon Gorge. Goram chose land to the north of this and began work on Henbury Gorge. Unfortunately for Goram, one stiflingly hot day, he overheated while working away at the limestone, drank a huge amount of ale to cool off and collapsed into his favourite chair.
When Goram woke, he discovered that Vincent had won the heart of Avona with his mightily impressive gorge, which drained the lake and created the River Avon. In his rage, Goram stamped his foot into the earth on Castle Hill, immortalising his footprint in the limestone. So it was that the Avon Gorge and Henbury Gorge were formed.
The run visits both 'the Giant’s Footprint' limestone formation on the path down form the Blaise Castle, and Goram’s Chair, the outcrop he was said to have collapsed on having become somewhat inebriated.
In honour of Goram, when you finish the run and are overheating due to exertions in the gorge, you too can sample a beverage or two, as the run ends at the excellent Blaise Inn.
Highlight: Goram’s Chair
This is a magnificent viewpoint across the wood-cloaked Henbury Gorge to Kings Weston Hill and Castle Hill, adorned by its 18th-century folly. It takes you completely by surprise the first time you discover it. One minute, you’re running through the woods, the next, you emerge into the open on a dramatic prow of limestone perched precariously above the gorge. In spring, when the trees are full of birdsong, it really feels like you're somewhere much more exotic than a park in Bristol.
My Favourite Run Collection
To view the other runs in the My Favourite Run series on komoot, click on the Collection below...
You can also check out our My Favourite Hike series.
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Alex is a freelance adventure writer and mountain leader with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently President of the London Mountaineering Club, training to become a winter mountain leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexfoxfield.com