161b Portishead to Pill, River Avon

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.

 walking towards Portbury Docks, Ruth on the coast, Portishead

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.

b02 Portbury Wharf Wildlife Trust, Ruth walking the coast, Somerset

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.

b03 cycle way to Portbury Dock, Sheepway, Ruth walking the Somerset Coast

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!

b04 car park for imported vehicles, Portbury Dock, Ruth trying to walk the coast

The car parks seem endless. Security cameras watch me. Cyclists whizz past. I see an upside-down security notice – whoops.

b05 upside down Equinox sign, Portbury Dock, Ruth in Somerset

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.

b06 cycle paths are boring, Ruth walking in Somerset, round Portbury Docks

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.

b07 railway track to nowhere, Ruth walking the coast

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.

b09 about to pass under the M5, Ruth walking in North Somerset

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.

b08 pathside memorial, Ruth walking near Portbury Docks, Somerset coast

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.

b10 sculpture, cycle route 41 to Bristol, Ruth walking the coast

To my left I catch glimpses of the M5 bridge, crossing over the river on concrete stilts.

b11 M5 bridge over River Avon, Ruth walking to Bristol

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.

b12 moped and cyclists, Ruth on footpath to Bristol

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.

b13 graffiti on bridge, Ruth walking into Pill, SOmerset
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.

b14 M5 Bridge and Jenny's Meadow, Ruth walking to Pill, River Avon

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.

b15 Pill, surprisingly nice, Ruth walking up the River Avon

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.

b16 through a park, Ruth walking from Pill to Bristol

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.

b17 Bike route 41, to Ruth walking to Bristol

Finally, between tree branches, I see the Avon. The houses on the other side must be Shirehampton.

b18 glimpse of River Avon through trees, Ruth walking from Pill to Bristol

Walking along the path, I meet a cyclist. I recognise that man. It’s my hubby.

b19 meet hubby on Route 41, Avon River, Ruth walking to Bristol

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.

b20 Sea Mills over the River Avon, Ruth walking to Bristol

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.

b21 entering Leigh Woods, Ruth walking up the Avon to Bristol

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…

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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12 Responses to 161b Portishead to Pill, River Avon

  1. David L says:

    You’re right, M5 crossing at Avonmouth is bleak; so is the plod round Avonmouth itself, when you get back round to it! Heading in the opposite direction to you and pining for Northumberland, which coast I walk previously, I’m finding that Somerset and Avon have occasional gems (Middle Hope and Clevedon Pier spring to mind) interspersed with sections of serious grief……

    • Somerset really does itself an injustice. It has wonderful areas of coastline: the walk between Lynmouth and Minehead, Brean Down, Middle Hope, are good examples. And other areas which could be wonderful but,as you say, at the moment give the coastal walker serious grief.
      I’ve been in correspondence with North Somerset Council and they are hoping the coast walk between Clevedon and Middle Hope will soon be open to the public. Good news for those who come after us!

      • David L says:

        Fully agree that W of Minehead is good; but that’s the main SW Coast Path, a National Trail, properly maintained, which I walked almost 20 years ago. Am presently trying to fill in my last few gaps on the SW and S coasts, of which Chepstow (as bottom of Offa’s Dyke, likewise walked long ago) to Minehead was the longest; now it’s Weston-S-M to Minehead; the gap is closing. Others are scattered 1-2 day stretches, for example where I previously walked the Saxon Shore Way and not the modern coast around Kent and from the end of the Solent Way to Sandbanks Ferry and the start of the SW Coast Path, also Eastbourne to Hastings. Oh, and there’s Chesil Beach. Since I’ve walked London to Berwick along the East Coast over the past 2 years, I’m then left with Prestatyn (N end of Offa’s Dyke) to Carlisle and the Anglo-Scottish border which, oddly, no one seems to walk. If I manage those I’ll have circumnavigated, in bits and pieces, sometimes one direction, sometimes the other, over 30 years, around the whole of England. It has taken so long because I never set out to do so; the bits have just built up. There have have been many periods when I preferred to climb mountains instead, or walked inland routes, Coast to Coast rather than along coasts.

        Your approach is far, far, more organised……. Good luck with it. But, for me, it’s far too late to start all over again in the organised way.

        • I would be interested to hear what route you plan for the Scottish/English border. I’ve looked at the map briefly, and it seems rather tricky. I’m sure you’ll find a way.

          • David L says:

            True: some of the border looks swampy and some is buried deep in Kielder Forest.

            Simplest, but rather a cheat, would be to walk the Roman Wall from Carlisle to Housesteads Fort, up the Pennine Way to the Cheviot, then down the Tweed to Berwick. A closer border route is here —- http://www.ukhillwalking.com/articles/page.php?id=3837 but still with sizeable deviations to Langholm in the W and to Flodden in the E. A chap called Crofton has written a book on trying to follow the border as closely as possible, but I haven’t got a copy as yet — http://www.birlinn.co.uk/Walking-the-Border.html. I’ll decide once I’m well up the Prestatyn to Carlisle section, which will be a while yet.

      • jcombe says:

        Good news about the possibility of a better coast path. I might go back and walk it again if that does happen. You’re route looks better than mine for this bit. You’re right about the access land marking on the map around Portbury dock. It’s bizarre and I don’t think it was on the map when I walked here. I suspect it must be a mistake for one thing the border seems to be random and goes partly over the water and over all the buildings. The access land on the map just north of the M5 bridge also stretches onto the railway line, which seems unlikely to be correct!

  2. Another enjoyable post. Your description enables me to follow you pretty accurately on the map. When you passed under the M5 you were within one km. of my worst experience on my LEJOG walk in the centre of Easton in Gordano. From my journal:

    I camped on a sort of stray surrounded by fairly well to do houses having
    bought some bottled water. I was quite pleased with this cheeky choice of
    camp site.

    At about 11:00pm I was awoken by a gang of young hoodies coming
    across the common and shouting taunts at me. I shouted at them
    from the tent and then they started throwing pine cones at the tent,
    and I have to say that I was quite frightened. I called the police on my
    mobile and they eventually came and temporarily dispersed the
    youths, but when the police had gone they came back again, and I
    phoned again and the police came for a second time. I remained very
    uneasy for the rest of the night and was unable to sleep and vowed
    that I would not wild camp again in an urban situation like this.

    Last year I walked the Severn Way from Shrewsbury to St. Andrew’s Road Station a bit further up the Severn estuary from Bristol (you will walk past it later I reckon). Not wishing to follow the rest of the SW on it’s apparently uninspiring route into Bristol I caught the train and alighted at Sea Mills station which you saw across the Avon, and from there I walked into Bristol to catch a train home.

    I am now pondering on your continuation back to the coast from Bristol – it looks a bit fraught on the map but you never know, and that is the appeal of doing this kind of walk.

    • That sounds like a horrid experience. (Apart from cattle, the only time I’ve felt nervous for my physical safety had been around the edge of urban areas.) and I think you made a good decision by using the train to skip the Avonmouth section of the Severn Estuary.

      It’s lovely to have you following my little walks. Hope you are on the mend and will be out walking again soon.

      • David L says:

        And yet, appearances can mislead. Coming up the Durham coast into Sunderland in July I missed the route where is swung inland and became lost among disused railway yards besides the docks. Hoping it’d lead me through, I wandered into a long concrete cutting, graffiti either side. Mid way along I could see graffiti artists ahead preparing a new section with a wash of khaki background paint. Spray cans were strewn all around ready for the next stages.

        I didn’t like the look and quietly slipped the camera into the pack, then slipped past as unobtrusively and scruffily as possible. No words exchanged, and i was relieved not to be tailed.

        A quarter mile on I came to a dead end: broken bridge and razor wire, and was forced back. This time i asked the youths the way into Sunderland and one of them led me, kindly and helpfully, a quarter mile across the yard to a gap in railings that led to a housing estate. He ouldn’t have been pleasanter, explaining that this hidden cutting was one of the best places for graffiti artists, where the police gave them no trouble and that it was famous across the graffiti world….

        Sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised….

        • Indeed. I’ve had similar experiences of hiding my camera and walking nervously past rough looking young men, only to be greeted by cheery smiles. In fact, I’ve been lucky never to have met anyone unpleasant while out walking, yet (apart from once incident in Brighton when I stumbled onto a nudist beach by mistake and was told to eff off!)
          And I’ve grown very fond of graffiti – as long as it’s done with love and care.

  3. Marie Keates says:

    I did wonder if you’d take the detour. A lot of the places you’re passing are places we deal with at work so it’s interesting to see them as you go through.

  4. Pingback: 161a Portishead | Ruth's Coastal Walk (UK)

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