Go to these green spaces in Bristol to boost your mental health

Molly has a guide to the best places you can go to ease your mind

The conversation around mental health has grown exponentially in recent years, but nobody could have predicted that a global pandemic would be one of our biggest challenges yet. Although lockdown measures have started easing across the UK, social distancing will remain in place for some time to come, and research suggests that 18- 24 year olds are struggling the most with loneliness and a lack of life satisfaction during lockdown. In a YoungMinds survey of 2,111 people with a history of mental health needs, 83% reported that the pandemic had made their mental health worse, and a quarter said they were no longer able to access the support they had been receiving before coronavirus struck.

There are more than a hundred thousand 21-30 year olds living in Bristol. Bristol also has a higher percentage of GP patients registered as having depression than the national average. This statistic is worrying in any given year, but is particularly poignant at a time when people are isolated from support.

In the YoungMinds survey, several participants said exercise was important.  Even a relaxed stroll outside helps me feel better, and this makes sense as spending time outdoors is scientifically proven to help your mental health. Bristol is a brilliant city for getting outside, and now that we are able to exercise more freely, there’s plenty of opportunity to do so. Wherever you live in Bristol, you are within walking and cycling distance of some brilliant green spaces. I have compiled a few of my favourites, from short walks to half day excursions, which can all be reached easily from the city centre.

Short excursions

If you’re just looking for a small dose of the outdoors to read a book or bask in the sun, then a local park won’t be far away. Some of my favourites include Brandon Hill in Clifton, Victoria Park in Bedminster and St Andrew’s Park just off Gloucester Road. If you’d prefer to be on the move, then a walk through the residential streets of Clifton can be a great excursion. At this time of year the stone walls are bursting with life, and you might come across some hidden gems like the cemetery at Birdcage Walk. A long loop around the Harbourside is also a great one. My top tip, especially on a shorter walk, is to take out your earphones for a while. We’re all guilty of plugging ourselves in, but part of the healing power of time spent outdoors is the ambiance. The sound of leaves rustling, the crunch of the terrain under your feet and the chorus of birds all play a part in how restorative your time spent outside can be. In fact, scientists have found that birdsong can boost mental well-being for more than four hours.

An hour or two to spare?

For days when you’ve got a bit more time on your hands there are some brilliant spots just a little further out of the city. Ashton Court and Leigh Woods are two of the obvious choices, but these are huge spaces worth exploring further even if you’ve been hundreds of times before. For instance, when entering Ashton Court from the gate on Abbots Leigh Road, instead of following the tarmac, veer off to the right and walk along the edge of the golf course, before looping round towards the woods. This is a great walk which takes in open spaces and woodland trails, and if you listen carefully you might hear the beautiful sound of nesting skylarks. Clifton and Durdham Downs could also keep you entertained for quite a while. Keep an eye out for the enclosed area of the Downs known as ‘Goat Gully.’ You can spend a bit of time scanning the cliff for Kashmir goats, hunting for wild strawberries and picking wild marjoram. In my opinion there are few things more mindful than rooting through the undergrowth for a sweet alpine berry.

My afternoon is totally empty, where should I head?

If you just want to get out and about for a few hours, have no fear, there are plenty of options. My top pick for a long afternoon walk would be the Abbott’s Pool Loop. The pool is a tranquil space, where you can watch the ducklings paddle about, and the walk as a whole encompasses a variety of surroundings hard to beat so close to the city. If you live the other side of Bristol, try cycling to Clifton to start this walk, to maximise the amount of time spent walking in nature rather than through the city. You can also do an extended version of this route and walk to West Tanpit Wood and Markham Brook. Another great place to cycle to for an afternoon of walking is Blaise Castle Estate. Exploring this 650-acre Grade II listed parkland, the hours can slip away, and keep an eye out for the 18th century folly and excellent views of the gorge. Trooper’s Hill and Eastwood Farm are also great spots for a longer hike or a combined cycle and stroll. There are several decent loops around the Eastwood Farm area, with the chance to take in the Nightingale Valley, Conham River Park or St Anne’s Wood. We have no shortage of green space in this city, so try and make the most of it!

I can’t bring myself to leave the house just yet…

Unfortunately, there might be days where it is all too much, I’ve been there. If you’re feeling super anxious or depressed it’s sometimes impossible to leave the house. When that is the case, there are still things you can do at home for a nature boost. Firstly, try and spot anything green from your windows, look for birds, or open the window a crack and see if you can hear any birdsong. Just the sight of greenery through a window can be uplifting. Another thing you can try is following some naturalists on Instagram. Social media can be stressful but difficult to avoid, I personally set up a whole separate Instagram account where I only follow things I find soothing.  The urge to scroll is fulfilled, but I don’t increase my stress levels, its win-win. I recommend @silverpebble2’s page for a dose of online nature loveliness. Finally, you can listen to recordings of birdsong online or on the RSPB Birdsong Radio app. It might feel silly at first, but the effects can be amazing. So, if you feel a day in bed is what you need, you can still connect with nature, and still reap the benefits of how soothing it can be for the mind.

I hope this inspires you to explore Bristol’s green spaces, and that you find some solace in them. When going out and about please follow government guidance and don’t put yourself or others at risk. Try going early in the morning, and on weekdays if you can, when areas might be at their quietest. If you’re struggling right now, you’re not alone, but nature is here to help.

Where do you go when you need a mental health boost? Let us know in the comments.

All photos by Molly Blair

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