My historical research took a wander underground recently, partly inspired by the Canynge Square sinkhole, partly by St Vincent's (Ghyston's) cave and its tunnel to the Observatory, and I was surprised to find that there might be an intact tunnel from the Bristol Port Railway and Pier still just sitting there under Bridge Valley Road. A quick search turned up this recent video by an intrepid explorer, so it's definitely still there.
I went looking for the entrances today, and definitely found the south entrance, at the start of the Bridge Valley Path, the footpath that starts with steps at the bottom of Bridge Valley Road. It's easy to miss if you're not looking for it. I think I've figured out where the north entrance is, too, but it was getting dark at that stage and the Portway was still busy enough that crossing the road was still the normal nuisance, so I thought I'd leave further explorations for another day.
This is a little section of tunnel just before Bridge Valley Road.
Peeking down over the edge of the start of the Bridge Valley Path you can just make out the entrance to the Portnalls railway tunnel under Bridge Valley Road. It opened in 1865 and ran to Avonmouth from a terminus in Hotwells, but was closed to enable the construction of the Portway in 1922 (source: Peaceful Portway "Memorable Walks" leaflet)
...and on the other side is the exit from the tunnel section closer to town. I don't know if that was also part of the Portnalls Number One tunnel or if it had a separate name. Either way, the railway would have run from Hotwells Halt on the city side all the way to Avonmouth, from what I can work out.
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 steps still do the job. The handrail, however, is only tenuously attached to anything at the top end.
This is what I'd been looking for. An accessible entrance to the Portnalls Number One tunnel.
Oooh, it opens. However, it also looks like it closes fairly solidly and can be bolted from the outside. And it felt just a tad like there might be someone inside. So I didn't venture in.
I imagine this alarm was last connected to anything during the tunnel's last commercial incarnation, where is was a shooting range for a Bristol gun club. Not even the lights are wired up these days. Or the water.
I'm glad my friend Lisa joined me today; she drove in from Shirehampton and told me that the Portway was looking rather lovely, so we set off that way. She's also braver than I am when it comes to doing urbex stuff, so this was just the opportunity to take a peek into the Portnalls Number One Railway Tunnel/Bridge Road Deep Valley Shelter whose entrance I'd found on a previous wander.
It was definitely dark and spooky and impressively big, with a side tunnel that Lisa explored that leads to a little door I don't think I've previously noticed on the side of the Portway. I didn't get many photos—even my astoundingly powerful little torch (£) didn't do much to light things up, and you're not going to get much joy hand-holding a camera in that darkness—but I did shoot a little video, which I might edit and add later.
After plumbing the bowels of the earth, we went up Bridge Valley Path to Clifton, explored some bits around the College and Pembroke Road, then came home via Foliage Cafe for coffee. Nice.
Lisa led the way. She's got Urbex experience. And I'm a scaredy-cat.
A Bristol estate agent would probably sell this as having an excellent view, too.
Lisa went right to the end of the side tunnel that leads to this door inside the Portnalls tunnel.