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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A day in Leigh Woods; Burwalls cave, Luke Jerram's stranded boats and a wooden sofa

Leigh Woods runs along one side of the Avon Gorge near Bristol and is home to some very rare species of trees and plants. I went there a few days ago with a friend of mine, Duncan.

First we visited the legendary Burwalls Cave. This cave is quite a scramble to get to, but it's worth it. When we went, the ramsons (also called wild garlic) were covering the woodland floor, giving the mild garlicky smell that always means 'summer is coming' to me.

The cave itself is just under where Burwalls House now sits at one end of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Before the mansion and the bridge were built, there was an Iron Age hill fort there.

Although some of the cave looks natural, I'm sure that other parts were dug out, built up and remodelled to make the place more like a grotto when such things were fashionable. The Bristol area has a couple of other notable grottoes, including ones at Goldney House and Warmley. 

Unfortunately, the cave was a mess when we arrived, with old sleeping bags and rubbish all over the place.  There were no signs of any current occupants either.

We couldn't really leave it in such a state, so we bagged up the rubbish and piled away the camping gear (being very watchful for discarded needles, of which there didn't seem to be any luckily). It was a real shame to see such a great spot, that many people have enjoyed finding for the first time, left full of discarded junk. Often before there has been cooking equipment and similar useful items left there tidily for other visitors to use, but this was different.

It looked a lot better afterwards, and in one dark corner we were rewarded by coming across a roosting bat. We also let the rangers, who look after the cave, know what was there. Hopefully it will be in a more welcoming state now.

After a bit of a mad scramble to get back to the parapet of the Suspension Bridge, we walked up into Leigh Woods. It was good to be there again, especially at this time of year when everything is gearing into summer.  The visit also gave an opportunity to visit the Centenary Bench and see how it was doing, as well as getting some knife carving done.

Two of the National Trust rangers at Leigh Woods have carved a great-looking wooden sofa, from cedar which originally grew on the Tyntesfield estate.  It is where the car park used to be by the Trust's offices :

There was another new artwork to be visited in the trees nearby. Luke Jerram is a well-known artist and has made installation artworks around Bristol before. He has placed five fishing boats in the woods as a piece called 'Withdrawn'. It addresses the problem of overfishing and its effects on the environment.

It was interesting to see, although it was a shame that the boats weren't safe to climb onto. Even though it wasn't the point behind the artwork, some of Jerram's previous installation pieces have involved a lot of viewer participation (playing pianos left around the city or sliding down a huge water slide) and it made just standing and looking at the boats feel a bit like there was more that could be happening.  

The walk there was lovely though, with the bluebells in the hazel coppices starting to come into flower. I'm glad that the artwork is there and that it gives people who might not be visiting the woods otherwise a reason to see them when they're at (what I would consider) their most beautiful.


  1. That looks like a magical place, barring the junk, that is. What's wrong with these people? I would love to scrabble through the Undercliff at Lyme Regis for all that greenery, especially with bluebells coming out as I don't seem to see those as much anymore - at least not the truly wild ones. The cultivated variety (Spanish origin?) are that weird washed-out blue, pretty but not quite the same effect. However, I did actually get to see a bat - a TINY pipistrell that had flown into a classroom at work. It really was no bigger than a mouse, with miniscule fingered hands, so no wonder the French call bats 'bald mice'...Meanwhile, I also came across a stoat/weasel (dead, sadly), right in the city centre, by a building site, which seemed a really strange place to end up, dead or alive. Still can't decide what it was, as it seemed too big for a weasel, but didn't have the black-tipped tail of a stoat. I sometimes see red squirrels bounding about the branches at work - a whole lot easier to identify, and a privilege to see as I certainly never saw any in England, except at Brownsea Island in Dorset, along with all those peacocks...whose feathers I was desperate to get my very greedy hands on!

  2. 'bald mice'- what a great name! The Spanish bluebells are also very common escapees from gardens around the city of Bristol, but seeing the deep blue colour of the native species flowering in swathes really reminded me how much more delicate and beautiful they are than their Iberian cousins.
    I wonder if the mystery creature might have been an escaped ferret?

  3. I made 2 films at burwalls cave, which are on you tube under that title. I go to the cave alone or with friends once a year & spend the night there listening to spacey music on tapes.I find burwalls cave a magical & mystical place.
    I have been going there since 1969, when I lived in Bristol, I now live in wilts. Due for a visit soon.
    stage name-the witchyman.

  4. Thanks for your comment Andrew. This cave does seem to be a very special place for so many people. I'd love to know who the first visitors were - was it back in Neolithic times or was it more recent? I hope that you enjoy your next visit.

    1. hi Alistair,
      I went to the cave on the Friday of the balloon festival by myself playing my tapes with a few beers. At 2am I was joined by a dude who was working at the balloon festival who shared his bottle of wine with me, we both mentioned the mess left by some cave visitors showing a lack of respect for this haven.
      I showed my burwalls cave films at the bluescreen night at the cube cinema.

  5. I went to burwalls cave on Friday 2nd sept & spent the night there again listening to some great music on tape.I enjoyed the night. I arrived in the dark but noticed more the next morning that some idiot has been hacking away at the sacred stone at the entrance to cave, chipping off blocks of stone. The stone also stops anyone falling over the side.
    This act of vandalism, which it obviously appears to be shows no respect for this magical place and seems pointless, plus a lot of graffiti has been sprayed at entrance to cave. Most cave visitors respect burwalls cave. it's sad that some don't.
    stage name-the witchyman.

  6. It's a real shame to hear that people are still doing their best to damage such an amazing place. I found a stone carver's mallet in the cave when we went, I wonder if some misguided idiot has been trying to carve the stone? If so, they really should go somewhere else and more appropriate and leave Burwalls alone.

    1. I wish the idiots who have no respect for the cave would go somewhere else

    2. I wholeheartedly agree Andy

  7. I went to the cave on the 4/8/17/ and had a surprise as the cave & path has had a makeover done by a hard working polish guy called magic who has been living there recently, I also met Pablo. The pathway down to the cave is safer now. I had a good time & enjoyed their company. stage name The witchyman.

  8. Pablo took a really good spooky photo of me in the cave last time I went, he said he would email it to me but I'm still waiting.