I leave Portishead Marina behind me and am pleased to find a footpath (unmarked on my map) that runs alongside the edge of the marshy shoreline. In the distance are the cranes of Portbury Docks.
For some reason my OS Explorer Map shows the Royal Portbury Docks encircled with an orange/yellow border, implying they can be freely accessed. Surely this is a mistake? I can’t believe you would be allowed to casually walk around the wharves. But I wonder how far I can walk along the shore?
When I meet a family joining the path, I ask them if it’s possible to continue up to the dock’s perimeter fence. They tell me the path ahead is very overgrown and advise me to follow the cycle route running through the nature reserve.
And so that is what I do.
The cycle route runs past lakes and bird hides – all rather bare and new-looking – until it joins a country road at a place called Sheepway. After a few yards of road-walking, I find the bridleway/cycle/footpath branching off to the left.
Soon I am walking around the southern periphery of the dock area. On the other side of high security fences are ranks and ranks and ranks of vehicles. This is a major import route for cars, and the chunky ship I saw coming up the Bristol Channel yesterday – the one that looked like a huge roll-on-roll-off ferry, was almost certainly a vehicle transporter. That explains the lack of windows!
The car parks seem endless. Security cameras watch me. Cyclists whizz past. I see an upside-down security notice – whoops.
The problem with walking along cycle paths is that they are usually very boring from a walking point of view. Long and straight. I put my head down and march onwards. Later, when I check my Garmin, I am pleased to see I managed a speedy 4 mph along this section.
The cycle way runs through a tunnel and alongside a disused railway line for a few yards. I am surprised to see the rail tracks are still in place. They disappear off into woodland, overgrown with weeds and brambles. It looks like a scene from an apocalypse movie.
I meet groups of cyclists, some studying maps. Nobody is walking, and I’m not surprised because this route is not particularly scenic.
The roar of traffic grows louder as I approach the M5 river crossing. Striped posts mark where the path dives under the road.
At this point I have a choice. I could take the direct coastal route, and join the walk/cycle way that runs alongside the motorway and crosses the river here. But I have decided to deviate from the most direct route. My plan is to continue walking up the River Avon to Bristol.
It is unusual for me to deviate in this way. Normally I simply follow the coast. But I have had a torrid time over the past few days – with blocked footpaths, inland diversions, nettles, locked gates, industrial scenery – and I’ve decided I need a treat. The M5 crossing looks bleak. Walking alongside a noisy motorway is not my idea of fun. So I am going to go up the river instead.
My crossing point over the Avon will be the magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge.
I hesitate for a few moments. Do I really want to add extra mileage to my walk? Yes. It will be worth it, I tell myself. Onwards. Under the motorway and down to Bristol
A short time later, I come across a memorial by the cycle track. These sad flowers and messages are always very moving. I wonder whether the death was the result of a crash, or natural causes.
Further on and the cycle track widens. There are two lanes, one for cyclists and one for walkers. It’s almost a motorway! I pass a piece of industrial-themed sculpture.
To my left I catch glimpses of the M5 bridge, crossing over the river on concrete stilts.
A man on a moped takes me by surprise. Are they allowed on this path? But I don’t blame the rider for preferring this route to a busy road. More cyclists whizz past. No walkers.
I am approaching a village called Pill, where I plan to stop for lunch. The path goes under a road bridge. It’s walls are decorated with bright graffiti. No Banksy here, but these are pretty good.
In front of me is a wide meadow area, sloping down to the river. Despite the dominating arch of the M5 bridge, it’s a pretty place. An information sign tells me this is called Jenny’s Meadow (who is Jenny?) and the site is carefully managed to provide a habitat for birds and grass snakes.
Snakes? I decide to stick to the path.
The outskirts of Pill are not promising. Dull housing estates. But the centre is rather pretty, with a small estuary, lots of mud, and some battered looking ships. The pub is basic but provides me with a huge Ploughman’s platter and a pint of cider.
My husband joins me, tired from a long cycle ride, and finishes off my plate of food.
The path from Pill does not follow the river, but heads inland for a while, much to my frustration. But I walk through a pleasant open area, called Watchhouse Hill, and later through a park with mature trees, their leaves just beginning to turn autumnal.
I walk down a track past a fishing lake, hoping I am going to see the river soon. This route may be called the River Avon Trail, but there’s no sign of it.
Finally, between tree branches, I see the Avon. The houses on the other side must be Shirehampton.
Walking along the path, I meet a cyclist. I recognise that man. It’s my hubby.
After a brief chat – it’s not far he tells me, oh, actually, by foot it’s quite a way but it’s very pleasant – he cycles onwards and I keep walking. We plan to meet later at the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The river loops around and I see a rusting bridge crossing an estuary on the other side. That must be Sea Mills, where there is a railway station.
My path leaves open country behind and the banks change from flat to steep, from grassland into woodland.
This is the beginning of Leigh Woods. It’s another couple of miles until I reach the Clifton bridge. Although the hill slopes steeply to my right, the path is flat and smooth. But I’ve been walking quickly and am growing tired. Nearly there.
To be continued…