We are staying in a B&B on the edge of Clifton Down in Bristol. It’s a rainy Saturday morning and I walk across the Downs, past parents huddling under umbrellas while they watch their wet children play football. Then I head down a tree-lined avenue and make my way towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Luckily the rain stops, just as I reach the viewing area above the bridge, allowing me to pull my camera out. The tide is low and the River Avon looks a mere dribble, running between muddy banks. Mist curls among the trees.
Despite the dull weather, Brunel’s bridge looks wonderful against a backdrop of autumn trees. As usual I take far too many photographs.
My self-imposed rules require me to begin my walk from the same point I reached on the previous day’s walk. And so I stand on the bridge for a few moments, in the same place where I stood with my husband admiring the view a month ago.
The OS map of this area is crowded with contour lines and the blue splodges of ‘view point’ markers. So it’s difficult to work out how to get myself down from the bridge to the river below. But then I come across a marked path with a sign: Zig Zag Path to Hotwells. I have no idea where Hotwells is, but I hope the steep path will take me to the bottom of the cliff and to the river bank.
The path zigs, the path zags, and then throws me out onto the side of a busy road.
I’m down by the river. But there is no footpath heading in the direction I want to go. So I end up walking 1/2 a mile the wrong way – up the river – before I can find a safe place to cross. A footbridge takes me over the road and to the edge of a canal lock.
Now I am walking down the River Avon, on the official Severn Way. It is both a footpath and a cycle track and is not particularly pleasant because of the roaring traffic a few yards away.
This section of the river has an un-loved air. I pass some decaying piers.
And, on the opposite side of the road I see a strange building built into the cliff. I must have walked past there a few minutes ago – when I was on the other pavement – but I didn’t notice it at the time.
This is the old Clifton Rocks Railway Station. Later I discover it housed a funicular railway that ran in a tunnel up and down the cliff. The funicular was discontinued just before World War II, but had an interesting history during the conflict.
You can read more about the history of the Clifton Rocks Railway on the cliftonrocks.org.uk site.
I walk quickly onwards, passing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, following the Severn Way and hoping I will soon be able to escape from the spray and roar of passing traffic.
The sun comes out. Lovely. I stop and take off my waterproofs.
I’m pleased when the river valley widens and the busy road begins to swing off to the right. I find a footpath sign and walk beside the river, a screen of bushes and trees between me and the traffic. It’s still noisy, but much nicer walking.
After a mile or so, I reach Sea Mills, where a small creek is crossed by both a railway bridge and, a little further inland, by a road bridge. I can remember seeing these bridges when I walked up the River Avon Trail on the opposite bank.
I cross under the railway track and walk past the little Sea Mills railway station. A little further up the muddy creek and I stop to take photos of the railway bridge. It’s not as attractive from this side. A dull grey colour instead of a rich rusty-red.
After crossing a footbridge over the creek, I continue my walk along the bank of the River Avon. This has widened out into an expanse of rough grass. I stop a man who is walking his dog and check I am following a proper footpath. He gives me clear instructions (in a wonderful Somerset accent) explaining that the footpath turns inland shortly and goes under a railway bridge before heading up a hill..
I, of course, ignore his instructions and continue walking along the river, hoping to find a way through along the bank. But the path gradually gets rougher and more difficult, until it peters out just above a steep drop into mud.
Defeated, I turn back and retrace my steps. Under the railway bridge I go.
Here I find some wonderful graffiti. I particularly liked this intricate black and white design. Looks a little like a Popeye cartoon strip, but maybe after the artist has taken one too many pills of some sort.
On the other side of the bridge the path leads through woodland. It weaves up and down and is very enjoyable.
I come out into open space on high ground at the edge of Shirehampton Park.
I take photos of some of the great views looking back up the river. On the left is the grassy bank along which I just recently tried to find a way. On the right is the Avon Trail, the route I followed on my previous walk, from Pill to Bristol
Onwards. My footpath leads me along a narrow alley behind the back-gardens of residential properties and yards. Soon I find myself beside the river again.
This is Shirehampton, once a village but now subsumed and a mere district of Bristol. But it still has a village feel. In the distance I can see the great arc of the M5 motorway as it passes over the Avon.
On my left, across the river, is the village of Pill, where I remember eating an enormous ploughman’s lunch in a pub.
Lunch? I was planning to find a pub in Avonmouth, but I’ve been dawdling and it is already 2pm. Also, there is a lovely pub here – The Lamplighters. So I stop for a cider and a quick bite.
After eating, I continue along the path as it winds through Lamplighter’s Marsh, following the bank of the river.
Ahead the M5 motorway bridge is looming larger. It was to escape this bleak crossing that I walked all the way down to the Clifton Bridge. Now here I am, back at the other end of the bridge. And at the end of my river diversion.
To be continued…