Although I’ve really enjoyed my detour down to Bristol and back, it’s time to resume my coastal walk.
The tide has been rising while I’ve been walking along the Avon. The water in the river is now deep enough for shipping. A sailing boat chugs along (sail down, motor running) and a fast rubber dinghy speeds by.
I look up as I pass under the M5 motorway bridge, and see cyclists peddling along the cycleway beside the traffic flowing above me.
Just on the other side of the M5 the footpath along the bank comes to an end, and the Avonmouth docks begin. There is a more scenic route I could take if I wanted to. The official Severn Way footpath swings inland and bypasses Avonmouth completely. But one of my rules is to keep as close to the coast as possible. I am going to obey this rule by following the A403 through the industrial docklands.
I wasn’t expecting much from Avonmouth. Just as well. It’s an odd place. A mix of poor residential housing and ugly industrial yards. My plan is to walk quickly, get it over with, and reach a place called Severn Beach before the light fades.
On the way I walk past Avonmouth’s railway station. And am rather alarmed by the state of the track. Look at those weeds! Is this really a working line?
Beyond the station the track looks even worse. So overgrown you can hardly see the rails.
I begin to worry. I was planning to catch the local train back from Severn Beach to Clifton Down Station. But it doesn’t look as if trains pass beyond Avonmouth. If they don’t, how am I going to get back to Bristol?
Before I set out this morning I checked the train times through National Rail Enquiries on my iPad. It told me there was an hourly service from Severn Beach to Bristol, with trains alternating, rather weirdly, with a bus-link. I remember this fact about the bus with some relief. The timetable has never let me down before, but if it turns out there are no trains on this section of line, will I be able to catch the bus?
Anyway, it’s no good worrying about it now. Onwards.
It’s a Saturday, and the dock area is quiet. Everything shut. I guess it’s probably bustling-busy on a week day.
I was dreading this section through Avonmouth – and wasn’t even sure if there would be a pavement to walk along. So I’m relieved to find a wide cycle/footpath track running beside the road, and very little traffic. In fact, the walk turns out to be both surprisingly interesting and rather peaceful.
At the end of a street I see a mound of rubbish towering over the houses. Is it waiting to be shipped to a landfill somewhere? Or some other disposal method?
I’m in depot land, and everywhere there are metal containers. Some are piled high in stacks – like gigantic Lego blocks.
Along the road are service stations, storage yards, industrial units, workshops.
I really liked this tongue-in-cheek advert for the Avonmouth Space Program. It turns out to be a self-storage facility!
And, sadly, I come across another one of those roadside memorials. A young man killed in a traffic accident.
I spend a lot of time worrying about cows, but I must remember that our roads are far more dangerous than our fields.
After a couple of miles of walking along the A403, the road rises up to pass over a bridge. Suddenly I can see the River Severn. And the wonderful span of the Severn Bridge. And Wales beyond. All lit up by the slanting sunlight of the late afternoon.
It’s only a brief glimpse, as the road comes down again and the river is lost behind bushes and industrial structures. But I hurry on, eager to find the footpath that turns off the road, knowing I’ll soon be back on the Severn Way and able to experience some lovely views as I walk along the river.
I find the footpath sign. It leads me down a disused road, moss reclaiming the old tarmac and making a slippery coating underfoot. But the road comes to an end when it meets a drainage ditch. There are signs of recent dredging, but no sign of the footpath.
I stumble through long grass, following what might be tracks made by other walkers, and heading vaguely in the direction of the river. But there is a fuel depot in my way. And a couple of railway lines.
The paths, if there were any, disappear. I begin to walk along the railway track itself, feeling rather nervous. What if a train comes?
Then I decide the line is not in use.
The tall, teasel-headed weeds wouldn’t grow to this height if trains passed along the track, would they?
Ahead, among a clump of brambles, I see a footpath sign. Relief! I push through some bushes and find myself close to the mossy road again. Somehow I must have missed the sign the first time round.
The path is narrow. Easy to miss. But at least I’ve found it. My only worry now is whether it is passable. I had expected a more obvious trail – because this is the official Severn Way, after all.
Someone has been through here with hedge trimmers. But that was some time ago and nature is fighting back to reclaim the cleared space. In places the path becomes a tunnel, and I have to bend under foliage to get through. Hanging bramble branches catch in my hair and grab at my rucksack.
It’s oddly eerie walking along this path, clearly not used very often, wrapped in a tunnel of vegetation. The light is fading with the afternoon. I can’t see past the screen of bushes through which I’m walking. And I’m invisible to the rest of the world.
A wind turbine turns and fills the air above me with its metronome swooshing noise. Nearby I hear traffic sounds from a road. A rumble as a train goes past somewhere between me and the river.
So they are running.
At one point I’m jettisoned from my hidden path and forced to walk along the road for a short distance.
I follow a cycleway and wonder, vaguely, if I might meet my husband.
But I don’t meet another living thing. Only the occasional car rushing by.
My footpath reappears again and I turn off the road to resume my secret route through pressing bushes. This area is called Chittening Warth on my map. Occasionally I find small bridges taking me across ditches, through sluices, and over mysterious pipes that run down towards the river.
At long last the bushes clear and I am walking in the open, with a stretch of grassy marshland between me and the water. And finally have a view of the huge span of the Severn Bridge.
It’s wonderful. Bright in the sunlight. Long, low against the high tide, and gently curving as it disappears into the Welsh shoreline. Dramatic rugby-post pillars suspend the middle section, with a network of supporting strands. Strangely fragile looking.
Technically, this is the Second Severn Bridge. Although to me, of course, it is the first one I come to.
I walk onwards and see houses ahead. That must be Severn Beach. Another bridge behind. The older and first Severn Bridge. I will be heading over that tomorrow.
As I approach Severn Beach I begin to meet people. Dog walkers, a romantic couple, a family fishing. The tide may be high, but there is still a great deal of mud on the shore.
A tiny strip of shingle forms the only beach – the narrowest beach I’ve ever seen. But the view of the bridge make up for the lack of sand.
I reach a promenade. A group of young lads are down by the mud, drinking from cans and bottles of beer. A car sits on the bank. Two couples inside. Music pumping.
With half an hour to go before the train/bus leaves, I spend the last few minutes of evening sunshine sitting on a bench, looking back the way I’ve come. The light is low and glowing. Brilliant for photography.
There is the power station, the wind turbine, the warehouses of Avonmouth, the cranes of Portbury. And that emerald slope on the hill in the distance across the water? – that must be Portishead.
The group of young lads come up from the ‘beach’ and begin to walk, somewhat unsteadily, in the direction of the station. Still clutching bottles.
I follow them and am relieved to find there is a proper station here. With buffers, because Severn Beach is at the end of the line. And the end of my walk for the day.
P.S. by popular request, here are a couple of photos of Severn Beach Station. The light was low, creating strong contrasts, and making photography difficult. So these snaps have been heavily edited.
The young lads were continuing their beach party in the waiting shelter. You can see the buffers at the entrance to the station. It really is the end of the line.
(It costs me £1.50 for the 25 minute journey back to Clifton Down. The cheapest pence per minute rail journey I’ve taken this century so far!)
Miles walked today = 15 miles
Total since beginning of my round-the-coast walk = 1,595 miles