Royate Hill and down the Frome

Ever since I went to Royate Hill Nature Reserve while walking along Coombe Brook with Tracy, I’ve been thinking about that space.   I was especially thinking about the photos I took of the brook from the viaduct, and wanting more.   So as last Tuesday was a beautiful day, I hopped on the bus to go back.   After the nature reserve, I walked back into town down the line of the Frome – my map is here:

and the album of photos is on flickr – or if you mouse over the first picture below, it should bring up the slideshow.   I have some film-ettes too, which I’ve added in below.

Royate Hill viaduct Nature Reserve

It was such a contrast to last time.  That day was grey and misty, Tuesday was blue skies, and breezes.  As soon as I got into the reserve and was walking up the steps, I could see how spring had changed things in the few weeks since I was last here, with cow parsley coming out, and annual plants everywhere.  All the leaves were that perfect spring acid green, shining in the sun.

Up on the top of the viaduct, the biggest change was the wind, and I understood why all the silver birches up there are curved, wind-shaped.  The birches had a lot of young leaves, and their long, thin branches were sweeping out horizontally in the gusts, before falling back.  I love the way trees in the wind can sound like the sea

Wind in the birches

I wish I’d taken my sound recorder – other sounds were the crunch of my feet on the clinkers, birdsong, traffic of course, and the wail of a chainsaw somewhere behind me.   But mostly it was the wind, making the birch leaves dance and hiss.

I keep trying to describe the space to friends, and the words I come back to are “low key amazing” and the phrase “everyday extraordinary” that I was using a lot during my photography degree.  It’s not a very big space at all, and on the embankments, it’s just like being in a standard city wood, albeit with higher views.   The viaduct walls are too high for me to look down over, and it’s not like the plants are rare or unusual – but it’s still such an incredible place, lovely and surprising.   I love the way there are so many different environments in such a small space, a trait that a lot of city nature reserves share, and that makes them so valuable.

Looking down at Coombe Brook from the Royate Hill Nature Reserve viaduct

I got my brook pictures by leaning my arms over the wide walls, and taking photos down with my phone, then, if I was in the right place, repeating with my (new) XA2.  What I hadn’t taken into account was that the side I really wanted photos of – where Coombe Brook comes in from the Royate Hill Allotments – would be in shadow, so those ones didn’t work.  But it didn’t matter, every moment up there, meandering back and forth around the space, was a good one.

In the woods on the eastern viaduct, the trees were creaking in the wind, with the squeaking sounds of branches pushed against each other.  It was such a typical spring day – gusty wind rather than continual, and the sounds felt comforting, like the whole woodland was alive.  The wind kept blowing clouds over the sun, so the light was changing continually, but mostly it was dappled shadows, moving.  I think this is my favourite time of year, when the leaves are out, fresh and young, but you can still see the structure of the trees through them.

Wind-shaped trees

After a while, I went to follow the Brook again, and walked along the bottom of the embankment to get there.   It’s more desire lines than a formal path, and it was surprising how much the undergrowth had grown since last time.   Foaming cow parsley everywhere, moving in the breezes.  My favourite flower, too, though I’ve never yet got a photo of it that I’m happy with.


The brook was low, and the light was wonderful, making everything from an abandoned shopping trolley to graffiti on the brickwork look magical.  A path appears, that runs into Greenbank Cemetery, and I poked around looking at the river from Rose Green Road, and trying to get close to it on little path-lets.

Birches peeking over the top of the Royate Hill viaduct

Something else that was new was getting to look up and see the canopies of the birches peeping over the edge of the viaduct walls.   Last time we could see bare branches sticking up, but something about the green leaves made me very happy – these little hints of what’s up there.

I walked through the cemetery, following the line of where the brook runs under it, with drains running into it.  A lot of the gates are locked, so I took a long way round, past WWI graves, and through a carpet of bright yellow lime tree flowers.   The curved patterns where a lawn mower had gone in a spiral on a slope.   The gothic cemetery buildings.  A young woman trying to walk a cat on a lead and not doing very well.

Following the Frome through Easton

I walked down Rosemary Green again, and then, at Stapleton Road, tried to walk all the way down along the M32, following the River Frome as it runs under the motorway.  Lots of fantastic graffiti, but the path was blocked, so I walked down an alley covered in young virginia creeper leaves, and onto Stapleton Road again.  I pulled off past Fox Park, and walked down the side of the motorway, with white cherry blossom looking gorgeous, and incongruous against the roar of the cars.   Patches of blossom in the sun.  It’s hard, looking at the motorway, to think of the river underneath it.

The River Frome comes out from under the M32

The Frome comes out from under the M32

The Frome comes out at the start of Riverside Park, and runs down through high, curved, meandering walls.   In the sunshine it’s clear that not only is there fresh new growth on the trees, but also in the water, as the different kind of weeds glowed green.   Every time I stopped to take photos, ducks would appear, hopefully.

It’s a busy commute-route, with cyclists and joggers and people walking.  I especially liked the three girls sharing gossip while slipping between two languages, depending which one felt more expressive for what she wanted to say – I’m so jealous!

I was trying to film the way the weed moved underwater, like flowing hair, the sun catching different parts of it as it waved, but I wasn’t happy.  I need a tripod to be able to do that properly sometime.   The colours probably look a bit fake, but in real life, they were moreso!

Back along the line of the underground Frome, and through Castle Park, and home, happy.

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