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10 nature reserves in Bristol to catch the first signs of spring

Blue tit in a tree Photo by Paul Levesley on Unsplash 4 min read

Blue tits are on the lookout for nesting material from the end of February Photo by Paul Levesley on Unsplash 

February is the perfect time to spend more time outdoors and spot the first signs of spring – days are getting longer, birds are more vocal and first wildflowers are popping out to catch the warm rays of the sun. Located around scenic Avon Gorge central Bristol has a unique natural vibe, but there are also many other natural sites scattered around the city. Bring a pair of binoculars for bird watching and take a magnifier to study buds, tree bark and fluffy moss and you’ll have more emerging experience. Here are 10 nature reserves to explore in February. 

Clifton Suspension Bridge from Leigh Woods Photo by Aldrich C on Unsplash 

National Trust – Leigh Woods

Leigh Woods is Bristol’s own National Nature Reserve right in the city and easily accessible from Ashton or Clifton via the iconic Brunel’s suspension bridge. Abundant with wildlife and flora, but probably still quieter in February, it’s one of the best places to go looking for the early signs of the spring. Follow the many forest tracks and keep an eye out for snow-drops, buds and birdlife. 
C3 on Bristol Greenground Map

Avon New Cut NR

One of the newest Bristol nature sites in the city, Avon New Cut is home to mallards, gulls and herons, if you’re lucky you may even spot a kingfisher. Some species of butterflies may already start appearing in early spring, so look out for peacocks or small tortoiseshells at the Butterfly Junction.
C3 on Bristol Greenground Map

Nightingale Valley

Nightingale Valley is a small secluded nature reserve running alongside Brislington Brook, a tributary of the Avon. See if you can spot early wildflowers who like to get their feet wet and often grow by streams – such as marsh marigolds, primroses and snow-drops.
C4 on Bristol Greenground Map

First snowdrops of the year Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash 

Narroways Nature Preserve

Narroways is a small nature reserve in North Bristol next to railway lines with a panoramic view over the city and rich wildlife habitat. Look out for common frogs & toads and slow worms and lizards that may be starting to appear on the sunny south-facing embankments from the end of February. 
C4 on Bristol Greenground Map

Northern Slopes Nature Reserve

Made of three green spaces Nothern Slopes is a large wildlife reserve based (actually) in South Bristol with stunning vistas over Bristol. On the way to Bristol South Skyline Walk, the area has meadows, hedgerows and woods with a stream running through and several lookout points.
D4 on Bristol Greenground Map

Troopers Hill

Another wildlife-rich hillside nature reserve with great views of Bristol is located in the east of the city. At the edge of the woodland and scrub look out for woodland birds such as blue tits who start preparing for nesting at the end of February and if you’re lucky you might even see the green woodpecker! 
C4 on Bristol Greenground Map

Halfpenny Bridge, Snuff Mills ©crabchick | Flickr

Frome Valley Walkway

Running from Cotswold Hills to North East Bristol river Frome is an important wildlife corridor, where nature and people meet. Wagtails, Dippers and Kingfishers have made Frome valley their home and in early spring you can spot wildflowers such as primroses, crocuses and snow-drops on its banks.
B5 on Bristol Greenground Map

Old Sneed Park NR

Old Sneed is a secluded local nature reserve in Sneyd Park, northwest Bristol with woodlands, meadows and a small lake. A butterfly haven, Brimstone and Peacock are one of the earliest to emerge from hibernation. With over 40 species of birds recorded you’ll probably hear a few of them including goldcrests, finches and tits. 
C3 on Bristol Greenground Map

Brandon Hill

Brandon Hill and Cabot Tower is not only a tourist site but also a recognised nature reserve right in the middle of the city with birds, amphibians and urban meadows. A fuelling station for migrating birds you may spot redwings and fieldfares on the way back to North Europe later in the spring.
C3 on Bristol Greenground Map

Kingfisher fishing on the pond Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash 

Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve

Portishead is known for its beach and lighthouse, but not everyone knows it also has a large wetland area and nature reserve. Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve is a 100-acre nature site with large pools, ponds, marshes and meadows and an abundance of water-loving birds, animals and plant species. In February look out for frogs and toads and fluffy catkins on the willow trees.

B1 on Bristol Greenground Map

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Nine viewpoints in Edinburgh to explore this winter

Photo by Robin Canfield on Unsplash 5 min read

Edinburgh‘s well-known viewpoints and hidden lookouts have astounding views Photo by Robin Canfield on Unsplash

Famous for its spectacular views from Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat Edinburgh is less known for its other hills, but the less visited hilltops offer equally magnificent vistas over the city and surrounding landscape. Edinburgh is built on the ‘seven hills’ and is connected to a hill range, so the area has no shortage of peaks to climb. Here are some best viewpoints to discover this winter.

Walkers climbing Arthur’s Seat Photo by Diego Allen on Unsplash

Arthur’s Seat

251m, 4 hours, moderate

Everyone who has visited Edinburgh has seen Salisbury Crags towering over the city, but not all visitors climb Arthur’s Seat (although many do). The impressive volcanic rock in the popular Holyrood Park can be quieter in the winter but don’t count on it on a sunny day, especially near the summit. The park has a network of trails, so if one looks overly crowded, pick an alternative path. Steeper backtrails are great for hill views and wildlife spotting.
B5 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

Hilltop Viewpoint / Edinburgh Zoo

161 m, 1.5 hours, easy

Walks in this wooded hillside zoo not only mean encountering exotic animals but also great views over the city for visitors and residents alike. Located on the side of Corstorphine Hill the best view opens from the Hilltop Viewpoint. If you don’t want to buy the eye-watering zoo ticket (approx £20), hike the slightly more modest Corstorphine Hill Viewpoint managed by the local nature reserve.
B3 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

A passage with a view, the vista from Vennel viewpoint Photo ©Magnus Hagdorn / Flickr

The Vennel Viewpoint & Castle Rock

140m, 1 hour, easy

For some great wintery snaps of Castle Rock take a detour through this historic passageway connecting Lauriston Place to Grassmarket. The view from hidden steps is especially scenic after the snowfall. After you have admired the vista warm up in one of the many cafes in Grassmarket or if you want to continue to the castle (and are up for a steep climb), follow the narrow Castle Wynd passageway that takes you directly to the entrance.
B4 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

Cramond Beach & Island

2-3 miles, 2 hours, easy
Cramond island is one of the twelve islands in the Firth of Forth and can be accessed via a mile-long causeway during the low tide. It has some good views over the coastline and you can get a glimpse of Forth Bridge without leaving Edinburgh. Check tide times on the city council notice board to make sure you have enough time to get back on the land or just take a stroll on the beach and take in the sea views over the estuary from the shore.
A2 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

Visit Calton Hill during the golden hour Photo by Colin + Meg on Unsplash

Calton Hill

103m, 1,5 hours, easy

One of the most visited in Edinburgh, Calton Hill has views of a different light in the winter when the sun rises later in the morning and sets earlier in the evenings. Golden hour is the hour after sunrise and before sunset when the light is soft and Edinburgh looks especially magical during these times. Climb the hill on a clear sunny day and look out for the spot with a clear view. Wrap up warm and bring a hot drink in case you have to wait for a perfect shot.
B4 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

Buckstone Snab

208m, 2 hours, easy

Buckstone Snab is the highest point of Braid Hills with nearly 360-degree views over the city and Firth of Forth. Walk up the Braid Hills Trail until you reach the viewpoint with an indicator pointing to all seven Edinburgh hills. After you have rested on the bench and admired the view, continue hiking the whole loop circling the local golf club or even continuing to close by Blackford Hill.
C4 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

Blackford Hill

164m, 2 hours, easy

360 degrees viewpoint on Blackford Hill is a local nature reserve and popular recreation point crisscrossed with pathways. It’s connected to Braid Hills with pathways and you can combine the two hills on one walk. Royal Observatory is located here, so with clear winter skies it’s a great place for stargazing. If you want to try out bouldering, check out the Agassiz Rock beside Blackford Quarry.
C4 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

View of Glencorse Reservoir, Pentland Hills, Edinburgh Photo by David Spalding on Unsplash

Allemuir Hill / Pentland Hills Regional Park

493m, 1 day, moderate

If Arthur’s Seat is well traversed then few visitors know that Pentland Hills Regional Park is a spacious mountain range right next to Edinburgh with easy access from the city. Only a short bus ride from Edinburgh (Stop Snowsports Centre) Allemuir Hill is the closest summit with panoramic views over Edinburgh and twice the height of Arthur’s Seat. Follow the way-marked trails down to beautiful Glencorse Reservoir and catch a bus back from Castlelaw Inn.  
D4-E4 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

Craiglockhart Hill & Nature Reserve

158m & 175 m, 2 hours, easy

With two summits hidden between the urban landscape, this hill is one of Edinburgh’s best-kept secrets. Easter hill is a secluded local wildlife reserve with woods, nature trails and wildlife. Wester hill, the more exposed and higher of the two summits is a great place to watch the sunset. Take the bus 36 (Stop at Glenlockhart Bank) and the trails take you up to both summits.
C4 on Edinburgh Greenground Map

Find these viewpoints on the Edinburgh Greenground Map – your guide to 200+ green spaces, waterways and nature sites. Walk along the official paths, discover hidden gems or tailor your own custom adventures – you’ll never run out of ideas with this tube-style map with a new perspective.

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Seven winter walks in outer London

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash 6 min read

From short river walks to hilly day hikes, London has plenty to discover also in winter Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The best time to walk in London is probably in spring when the parks are green and lush or autumn when the pathways are full of colourful leaves. But winter in the city has its charms too, especially as the days are too short for long-distance adventures. If it’s not pouring down the winter walking actually can be the best of all seasons, especially if you prefer having quiet pathways and crowd-free parks for yourself. Wear good warm boots as it can be muddy and pack a flask of hot drink to warm up in case the cafes close early. If you are planning to visit a nature reserve or heritage site, check the opening times as some are only open for limited hours or on weekends. Here’s an overview of some easy and moderate walks in outer London for winter exploring.

The Line
Art walk

7.7 km (4.8 miles), 4 hours, easy

The Line is a public art and nature trail in East London, crossing River Thames from Greenwich Peninsula and continuing along the Lea Valley. You can walk the path both ways from Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to North Greenwich or another way around, but you have to catch the London Cable Car ride to get across the Thames (£5 one way). The walk will take you along a collection of artworks and installations as well as heritage and wildlife. The Three Mills Island and Green is London’s oldest industrial site extending back for at least a thousand years and Cody Dock is a creative community hub and ecology site.
C7-D7 on London Greenground Map

Bridge over the River Wandle, Mitcham © London Less Travelled / Flickr

Wandle Trail
River walk

4.8 km (3 miles), 1-2 hours, easy

The Wandle Trail is 20 km (12.5 miles) long, so unless you are really brave, consider a taster of the trail in winter and come back in spring for a longer stroll. It starts from the River Thames near Wandsworth Town and follows the River Wandle to East Croydon, but one of the most scenic & ‘rural’ sections is probably near Morden Hall Park. The park itself offers plenty to explore from The Wetland Boardwalk to the historic Snuff Mill and second-hand bookshop at the stableyard and is a good starting point, but you can also start further up from Merton Abbey Mills and Art Galleries. The trail continues south through Ravensbury Park to Watermeads Nature Reserve, where you can catch a bus to Morden or Tooting.
E5 on London Greenground Map

Capital Ring (SE)
Hill walk

17 km (10.6 miles), 1 day, moderate

If you are a determined walker then with 78 miles in full length Capital Ring could keep your weekends busy for the full winter, but if you just want to get outdoors on a sunny Sunday, then you don’t have to leave the capital for the hills – the south eastern London is actually quite hilly. You can start from Beckenham Place Park and walk to Downham Fields – a large hillside park. From here pass the natural Grove Park Nature Reserve on the way to historic Eltham Palace Gardens and continue to Avery Hill Park and winter garden. Stroll through the tree-lined Eltham Park, before climbing up to rural feeling Oxleas Woods & Meadow for some scenic hill views.
E7-D7 on London Greenground Map

Tram climbs towards the Coombe Lane tram stop CC BY-SA 4.0 Eagleash / Wikimedia

Woody Loop
Woodland walk

19.3 km (12 miles), 1 day, moderate

You don’t have to use the short daylight hours for commuting to the countryside as some parts of outer London feel almoust rural. Croydon is a busy modern hub, but wander slightly further out and you find the area around Addington has a completely different feel. You can start from Addington Hills with wooded walking paths and views over London, then head to Bramley Bank Nature Reserve before reaching Selsdon Wood, part of the London Loop trail. Continue to Hutchinson Bank Nature Reserve for sloping woodland views and wildlife spotting and loop back along Addington Vale and Spring Park. Tram (Coombe Lane) stop takes you back to West Croydon or New Addington.
F6-F7 on London Greenground Map

Regent’s Canal
Bridge walk

5.8 km (3.6 miles), 2-3 hours, easy

London is famous for its iconic bridges over River Thames, but did you know its historic canals also have an elaborate small bridge network? Grand Union Canal is the longest canal in England with over 100 bridges, numerous locks and seven arms, but if it feels a bit too strenuous to walk during the winter you can start by walking a London section of the canal or the adjoining Regents Canal to get a taster of some of the London small canal bridges. Paddington to St. Pancras section only has over 30 bridges with a curious Lisson Grove Bridge – the only house in London that is built over a canal. Look out for it at the entrance of the Maida Hill Tunnel, if you are coming from Little Venice, you have to look back after exiting the tunnel.
C5 on London Greenground Map

Mallard on a lake, Photo by Joe on Unsplash

Woodberry and Walthamstow
Wetland walk

6.4 km (4 miles), 2-3 hours, easy

Start a walk from the Woodberry Wetlands – a nature reserve in Hackney with rich wetland habitat next to the busy urban environment. Coal House cafe serves warm drinks if you need warming up. From here walk to Springfield park and join the River Lea up to Walthamstow Wetlands. The site is recognised as the largest urban Wetland in Europe, especially important for the wintering wildfowl and still functions as a working water reservoir. It also includes a historic Engine House (now a visitor centre) and a Coppermill. You can continue up to Tottenham Marshes along the river and catch a train back from Northumberland Park station.
B6-C6 on London Greenground Map

Tilbury Fort and Gravesend
Heritage walk

Approx. 3-5 km (1.8- 3 miles), half a day, easy (includes ferry crossing)

Tilbury and Gravesend are further out from London, but still close enough for a day trip to see the rich maritime history of the Thames Estuary. Tilbury Fort was an artillery fort built to protect London from seaward attacks from the 16th century up to Second World War. Now the star-shaped bastions are converted into a spacious green space and museum (entry £7 on weekends only). A short walk will take you to the Tilbury walk of memories – a tribute to the lives of the Empire Windrush passengers. From here catch the Tilbury ferry to Gravesend (Mon-Sat £4 one way) and take time to explore this historic village with nautical importance.
D10 on London Greenground Map

London Greengroud Map is your valuable guide to hundreds of London green spaces, waterways and nature sites. Walk along the official long-distance paths, discover hidden gems in greater London or tailor your own custom adventures – you’ll never run out of ideas with this tube-style map with a new perspective.