01 Jan 2021
I wandered along the gorge today and found the entrance to the disused Portnalls Number 1 railway tunnel of the Bristol Port Railway and Pier. The door was unlocked, but as soon as I opened it I felt a sense of current habitation and decided discretion was the best option. There's a lot of people homeless in Bristol at the moment, and they don't need disturbing. For the same reason, I've omitted posting some pictures of a little encampment somewhat off the beaten track of the new Zig Zag, where I reversed direction as soon as I realised I'd come across a current habitation of some sort.
Up in Clifton it took me a little while to work out that the picture of the Promenade I was trying to reproduce was taken from the viewpoint I'd thought, it was just that the Alderman's fountain was moved from the top of Bridge Valley Road to the other side of the promenade in 1987, so trying to use it as my initial landmark wasn't very helpful!
Finally I swung past the Society of Merchant Venturers, who presumably still own most of Clifton, having bought the entire manor, including Clifton Down, in 1676, and I imagine aren't in much danger of running out of money. That's true to their motto: indocilis pauperiem pati is apparently from the Odes of Horace, and translates as "will not learn to endure poverty"...
The New Zig Zag runs up the gorge between Bridge Valley Road and the area known as "Fairy Glen".
The more I research it, the more I find that Hotwells had far better transport links back in Victorian and Edwardian times than it has today. Along with buses that went to more useful places than the City Centre, there were trams, the funicular up to Clifton, the landing stage for paddle steamer services and two railway stations all within easy walking distance of me.
Today I took a day off work as preparation for doing the bookkeeping for my tax return1, and took a wander along to the site of what would have been my nearest station, Hotwells (or Clifton, as it started out in life), nestled in the shadow of the suspension bridge, the Bristol terminus of the Bristol Port Railway and Pier.
From there I wandered down the Portway, following the original line, until I got to the area around Sneyd Park Junction, where the tunnel from the slightly later Clifton Extension Railway joined up with this originally-isolated BPR line. Then I headed up to Clifton through the "goat gully" at Walcombe Slade, seeing the few above-ground bits of evidence of the tunnel (which is still in regular use) along the way.
It was a lovely day, and a good walk, and it was interesting to daydream of the times when I could have walked a few minutes from my flat down to Dowry Parade, caught a short tram ride to Hotwells Stations, and then headed from there to Avonmouth, perhaps even to board a transatlantic passenger service. The completion of the Clifton Extension Railway that linked the Avonmouth station with Temple Meads made relatively direct transatlantic travel from London via Bristol possible, with passengers travelling up from Paddington to Temple Meads, on to Avonmouth on the Clifton Extension Railway and Port Railway and Pier line, then perhaps catching a Cambpell's paddle steamer—which sometimes acted as tenders for large steamers—to a larger ship that was headed out for Canada, say.
1 I've learned that the best approach is to take two days off and deliberately do something that's not my bookkeeping on the first day, as otherwise I just inevitably end up procrastinating and feeling guilty on the first day no matter what. I have an odd brain, but at least I'm learning strategies for dealing with its strange ways as I get older...
2 Information mostly gleaned from Colin Maggs' The Bristol Port Railway & Pier and the Clifton Extension Railway, The Oakwood Press, 1975.
Now I've found the end of the tunnel that leads up towards Clifton Down station, it's time to find some middle bits. Here I've walked back to the Gully entrance just south of the quarry.
People know this as the "goat gully" these days, but the official name is Walcombe Slade. (So valleyish they named it twice, perhaps, as both "combe" and "slade" mean "valley".)
And from the top of the slade we emerge onto the wide open space of Clifton Down.
A long ramble, starting with trying to find the Hot Well of Hotwells and leading up the side of the Avon Gorge to the Downs and then through Clifton for coffee.
When it was this wet I used to nip off the path before this point and head onto the main path around the Downs. But it's been a long time since I've been jogging and I was in waterproof boots this time.
There've been quite a lot of outdoor exercise classes on display during the pandemic, as you'd imagine.
Exactly what you'd call something that wasn't actually a wall and wasn't next to the sea.
In full flow. The flat top of the water to the left of the overflowing rim sits above a semicircular-profile concrete trough that's designed to calm the water and channel it into the fairly calm wide flow you see here to reduce the erosion it would otherwise cause.
I went to get my first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine today. Handily, the vaccination centre was Clifton College Prep School in Northcote road, next to Bristol Zoo, a road that's just within my 1-mile range that I hadn't visited before.
I parked up near Ladies Mile and tried to find a few of the tracks marked on the map I'm using, but couldn't see most of them. Whether that's just because they've disappeared over time, or with the recent lack of use or waterlogging from the 24 hours of rain we just had, I'm not sure. It was a pretty fruitless search, anyway.
The vaccine shot was virtually the same setup as when I got my winter flu jab back in November, except for the venue. I snapped a couple of pictures of the school while I was there, but I was in and out in five minutes, and you probably don't want to linger around a vaccination centre, I suppose.
Instead I wandered around the compact block of the Zoo, now sadly scheduled for closure. By coincidence I finished E H Young's Chatterton Square this morning: set in Clifton (fictionalised as "Upper Radstowe") near the Zoo, the occasional roars of the lions that can be heard by the residents of the square (Canynge Square in real life) form part of the background of the novel. The book's set in 1938 (though written and published post-war, in 1947). It seems a shame that the incongruous sounds of the jungle will no longer be heard from 2022. All I heard today were some exotic birds and, I think, some monkeys.
I was told not to drive for fifteen minutes following the jab, so I wandered out of my area up to the top of Upper Belgrave Road to check out an interesting factoid I'd read while looking into the history of the reservoir at Oakfield Road, that the site of 46 Upper Belgrave Road was a bungalow, shorter than the adjacent houses, and owned by Bristol Water, kept specifically low so that the pump man at Oakfield Road could see the standpipe for the Downs Reservoir (presumably by or on the water tower on the Downs) and turn the pump off when it started overflowing. Sadly I couldn't confirm it. There is one particularly low house on that stretch, but it's number 44, and though small, it's two-storey, not a bungalow, so nothing really seems to quite fit in with the tale.
I'm writing this about nine hours after getting the jab, by the way, and haven't noticed any ill effects at all. My arm's not even sore, as it usually would be after the normal flu jab. In twelve weeks I should get an appointment to get the second dose.
The Downs are an amazing resource for Bristol, but you can't really do them justice with a photograph, especially on a dreary, waterlogged day.
...spot for a picnic, then?
Socail distancing is quite easy as long as you don't mind getting muddy.
This is a ventilation shaft for the Clifton Down Tunnel. The railway tunnel was opened in 1877, and is still in use. According to this page (which might've been put together by my friend Rob, by the looks of it!): this ventilation shaft used to be topped with crenellations, and also:
Clifton Down Tunnel is 1751 yards long. Halfway along its length there is an opening into a cave that exits half way up the cliffside of the Avon Gorge.
...so that's quite fascinating. I think it also used to connect to the Bristol Port Railway and Pier tunnel that I found in the Avon Gorge on another wander.
EDIT TO ADD (14 Oct 2021): I'm just reading Colin Maggs' The Bristol Port Railway and Pier (Oakwood Press, 1975) and the tunnel was indeed built for the Clifton Extension Railway, which linked the Bristol Port Railway line with the rest of the national network. It sounds like quite a feat of engineering, including the use of a diamond boring machine invented by Major Beaumont, MP: "Cutting facets of black diamonds were fixed round the end of a steel tube to form a kind of auger. This tube was rapidly revolved by compressed air and advanced so that its diamond points came into contact with the rock and water forced through the tube washed away grit and kept the tube cool."
I noticed I'd missed a bit of Circular Road and Ladies Mile, and it was a nice evening for a sunset wander up to Clifton. There was something I recorded along the way, not photographically but in video.
Bristol Zoo, the world's oldest provincial zoo, has recently decided to close its Clifton site after 185 years of occupation, which means that the sounds of wild animals will no longer drift incongruously through this leafy Georgian area. They're moving everything up to their existing second site, The Wild Place Project near Cribbs Causeway. As I was wandering the Downs, I heard some fierce roaring noises, so I decided to see if I could get a little closer while they were still going on and record a sound that's soon to disappear.
I don't have a way yet to put video directly on this site, so here's a link to the video of my attempt to catch a bit of the zoo noises that I just popped on YouTube. It's sad that this might be the last time I hear such noises in Clifton.
The Very Special Wildflower Meadow hasn't got any flower in it yet, that I could see. But I suppose it's only April.
It's prettier from a distance.