Everyone has heard of the famous Nightingale Valley, and the Leigh woods above the Avon, that lie just across the Suspension Bridge opposite Clifton Down. The nightingales, since the war began, have deserted their ancient haunt, but the memory of their song, as I heard it forty years ago, was in my ears as I crossed the bridge on a bright June day to be welcomed by a member of the Leigh Woods Committee, who gave me in charge of the ranger, and bade him show me all those eighty acres of woodland paradise, of sunny glade and shady path, of present beauty and past history, which are henceforth the permanent possession of the people. (p. 53)
The history of the acquisition of this pleasaunce is worth recording. It chanced that the owner of Burwalls, the house within the walls or rampart of the ancient Burrow camp, closely adjacent to the Suspension Bridge, was the chairman of the Leigh Woods Trust Committee. He found that most of the land available for building, on the west of the main road through the woodland, was quickly taken up, and there were so many inquiries for sites on the east of the road, that dominates the slopes to the River Avon, that unless this wood could be bought up at once for the use of the public, there would soon be no more wander-ground for the people in the vicinity; and so with admirable foresight and generosity Mr. George Wills purchased the whole remaining eighty acres, which contain within them the famous Stokesleigh camp, and under conditions of management by a local committee, presented it to the National Trust. (pp. 53-54)
His kindness did not stop there. He gave an endowment to meet the annual expenses of the upkeep, built a model rest-house and shelter, combined with a cottage for the ranger, with facility for visitors to obtain hot water for their teapots, a fountain of cold water for children, and possibility of escape from bad weather for people overtaken by rainstorms. (p. 54)….
I walked on with the ranger over half a mile of curving main road, stopping from time to time to look down into the fascinating depths of Nightingale Valley that sloped, a verdurous ravine, towards the Avon. The happy voices of children came up to me from far below. We entered the main woodland path beyond the Nightingale Valley, and heard, as we passed through welcome shadow, the song of the garden warbler and chaffinch, the wood wren and willow wren, and occasionally the mild, mellow “crush” of the woodpigeon’s note, which was jarred by the screaming of the jay. (pp. 54-55)
We came to a large open glade of short grass, and noticed that rough tree trunks had been sawn into suitable lengths, and placed in position between picturesque clumps of birch trees for seats. Several groups of people were sitting in clusters at their tea beneath the shade. The ranger took me to his cottage, which commands a full view of the glade, and showed me with no little pride the kitchen garden he had redeemed from the wilderness, showed me also the ample verandah, with its friendly clock face, and spoke of the litter nuisance which caused him, as it causes all lovers of recreation grounds, considerable trouble. (p. 55)….
We walked forward by a well-defined pathway, till we reached the first of the three ramparts that in early British times were raised to defend the holders of Stokesleigh camp against the enemy. What a “strength” this great camp must have been, when, to prevent the crossing of the ford of the Avon at low-tide, this encampment acted in concert with the Burrow walls camp to safeguard the whole country, this side the river, from invasion. (pp. 56-57)
Much clearing had been done, but I could not help the wish that more might be accomplished, so as to open up to public view the mighty triple ramparts of the camp. We proceeded then to an open glade on the edge of the cliff above the Avon, and gained therefrom a superb view of the river and the opposite cliffs, gorgeous in red and yellow and white rock, with patches of verdure here and there upon their rugged fronts; and we dreamed of the days when Sebastian Cabot with his Bristol and Bridgewater crew, in the year 1497, sailed down the river below us on his great voyage of discovery, while people from the cliff edge of the down, waved him their farewells and breathed their prayers for his safe return. (p. 57)
As we looked across to the city we saw, rose-red in the light from the west, a stately tower, that told us that Cabot’s memory was still fresh in mind. Thence, returning by a circuitous route, we examined some of the ancient wall, which possibly Roman soldiers at a later time had made to strengthen the British camp they occupied, and noted the sketch plan upon a tree hard by, which had been carefully prepared to give the visitor information. (p. 57)
We passed homeward towards the glade we had first entered, through a remarkable birch-tree grove, which by judicious thinning had been opened up to reveal its beauty. So with farewell to our guide we went back to the town well content. (pp. 57-58)
(A Nation’s Heritage, pp. 53-58)