162pm Avonmouth to Severn Beach

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.

b01 M5 crossing River Avon, Ruth walking up the Severn Way

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?

b02 Avonmouth Station, Ruth walking the coast

Beyond the station the track looks even worse. So overgrown you can hardly see the rails.

b03 railway lines going somewhere, Avonmouth, Ruth's coastal walk

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.

b04 walking through Avonmouth, Ruth's coastal walking

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?

b05 rubbish dumps, Avonmouth, Ruth's coastal walk

I’m in depot land, and everywhere there are metal containers. Some are piled high in stacks – like gigantic Lego blocks.

b06 container land, Avonmouth Docks, Ruth walking the coastline

Along the road are service stations, storage yards, industrial units, workshops.

b07 fuel stations and warehouses, Ruth walking through Avonmouth

I really liked this tongue-in-cheek advert for the Avonmouth Space Program. It turns out to be a self-storage facility!

b08 space program, Avonmouth, Ruth's coastal walking

And, sadly, I come across another one of those roadside memorials. A young man killed in a traffic accident.

b09 roadside memorial, Avonmouth, Ruth's coastal trek

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.

b10 first sight of Severn Bridge, Ruth walking the coast of the UK

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.

b11 lost in industrial edgeland, Ruth walking the Severn Way

The paths, if there were any, disappear. I begin to walk along the railway track itself, feeling rather nervous. What if a train comes?

b12 railway line going nowhere, Ruth walking up the Severn Estuary

Then I decide the line is not in use.

teasels on railway line, Ruth walking the estuary

The tall, teasel-headed weeds wouldn’t grow to this height if trains passed along the track, would they?

hidden footpath, Ruth walking the Severn Way, Avonmouth

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.

b14 path is overgrown, Severn Way, Chittering, Ruth Livingstone But I always find a way through,  and after a while I begin to enjoy myself.

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.

A train!
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.

Seabank Power station, Ruth walking up the Severn Estuary work going on, Seabank Power Station, Ruth walking the Severn EstuaryThe inland landscape is dominated by Seabank Power Station and a large building site. The scale of both is immense.

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.

b17 New Pill Outfall, Ruth walking the Severn Way

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.

b18 Second Severn Bridge, Ruth's walk

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.

b19 approaching Severn Beach, Ruth walking the Severn Way

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.

b20 fishing family, Severn Beach, Ruth Livingstone

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.

b21 Severn Beach, Ruth's coast walk up the Severn Estuary

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.

b22 looking back to Portishead, Ruth walking in the Severn Estuary

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.
Severn Beach Station1Severn Beach Station - buffersThe 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


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
This entry was posted in 11 Somerset and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to 162pm Avonmouth to Severn Beach

  1. Your route looks quite interesting between St Andrew’s Road Station and New Mills (the bit of the Severn Way I did on the train when walking that ldp last year).

    It’s probably too late now but when I crossed the Severn Bridge on my LEJOG walk I timed myself and now wonder how long you will take. From the initial bridge infrastructure to the end of the same at the other side it took me 50 mins – a long time to walk across a bridge. I agree with you about its beauty – makes you proud of human achievement in serious competition with nature.

    Wales here you come.

    • I’m not sure how long it took me to cross the bridge. Far too long, because I lingered to make the most of it 🙂 I am sure I can get some idea from the time-stamps on the photographs I took. Will remember to add the timings when I write it up.

  2. JohnBoy says:

    That brings back some memories. It was 1985 when I headed through there on my LEJOG walk, and stepping onto the original Severn Bridge marked a watershed moment on the route. Not just because I would be walking away from the hustle and bustle of the last few days and back towards the countryside on the opposite bank, but also because it marked the end of my coastal section, and from there onwards I’d be heading inland and over the hills. I loved the fact that a magnificent bridge was connecting these very different parts of my walk. The first sight of that bridge is still so fresh in my mind.

    • I’m really glad we can still walk across the original Severn Bridge. Thank you for expressing your feelings so eloquently. It’s both a magnificent sight and an important way-point for long distance walkers.

  3. grahambenbow says:

    I was looking forward to a picture of Seven Beach Station!

  4. John says:

    I remember well getting to Severn beach station and a train home having finished the welsh coast. now you are going the other way. enjoy and keep up the great blog.
    cheers J.P.

  5. Helena says:

    I am enjoying your appreciation of the industrial margins of our land – the bits where urban and rural overlap. I admit a particular fascination for the kind of landscape you mention here – the scrapyards and containers and factories that are usually found at the end of the dusty lanes that most people would hesitate to drive down. As a walker I feel much less obtrusive and more connected to the landscape,which applies the same even in this case. I am also loving your appreciation of the bridges and can’t wait to read about your crossing!

    • Hi Helena, I agree these places are fascinating, and you *see* so much more when you walk through instead of just driving past. (On the day I did this walk I had just been reading an interesting book called Edgelands, all about these strange in-between areas on the edge of town and country. This added to my enjoyment of the day.)

  6. Marie Keates says:

    That looked like an interesting walk. I think I’d have been pretty afraid on those railway lines just in case a train came. I’m glad you managed to get a train back too.

  7. Karen White says:

    The Second Severn Bridge is always the way I go to Wales – I love the feeling I get when we reach it, as it really seems like the proper beginning of the holiday Wonderful photos – of course being in a car I’ve never had your view of it.

Leave a Reply to Ruth Livingstone Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s