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.
18 Dec 2020
Another work lunchtime, another expedition to get coffee, but not down any new road. The walk around the haroubourside was nicer than usual, though, possibly because the day was dull and rainy, which stopped the most boring bit of the walk also being crowded.
The most boring bit of the walk is the bit where you can't go through Underfall Yard, closed due to Covid-19, so have to divert through Avon Crescent to the bit of Cumberland Road where there's just a narrow pavement next to a high wall on the one side, and the railings next to the river, where there's no pavement so you generally don't get close enough to it to see much. There would be another option, the Chocolate Path, if it hadn't fallen into the river last year, but the repair work following that landslip is currently making things even worse by forcing a stretch of Cumberland Road into a traffic-light-controlled single-lane system. This means that the narrow pavement is hard to escape as traffic could be coming past right next to you in either direction.
So, narrow, boring, plus it's not just my natural introversion that's causing me not to want to be forced into close contact with other people at the moment, of course. Maybe this will become my go-to coffee place on rainy days, just because there are fewer people on the streets.
Only a couple of photos today, and none of the boring bit, because I didn't know I was going to want to talk about it here until I got home!
13 Feb 2021
It's been very cold the last few days, so seeing as it was low tide at a convenient afternoon hour, I just wandered out to see if I could see the hot well steaming. I've been told that you sometimes can, on a cold day, but today, as with every other day I've tried, there was nothing in evidence.
It may be that the emergent spring has already filtered through too much cold river silt by the time it hits the surface these days, or even that it's running cooler than it used to. But perhaps I've just been unlucky.
Just outside Entrance Lock
You'll forgive me if I don't get my factual information on the pandemic from stickers on railings.
The latest Public Health England information shows that since 21 March 2020, there have been 89,698 excess (compared to recent previous averages) deaths in England (stats to end of January 2021). 105,081 deaths mentioned Covid-19. For the most recent week we have figures, nearly 5,000 people died compared to the same week in recent years.
(Also, who gives a toss if the people had some kind of "prior condition"? They still fucking died. 'Oh, well, he was two stone overweight, and his wife had anaemia. It's perfectly fine they died an agonising death from Covid-19 in their forties, because they were clearly too weak to bother about anyway...")
According to the estate agent's brochure I just found, including the cellars this place has 567 square metres of space to offer. There was not a price in the brochure, but back in 2017 they were asking for "offers over £1,995,000".
28 Dec 2020
Fractionally outside my one-mile zone, but I got curious about Saint Vincent's spring, whose last remnants you can see in a defunct drinking fountain on the Portway. Along the way I passed Gyston's cave, sometimes called St Vincent's cave, in the sheer wall of the gorge. It's now accessible by a tunnel from the observatory—I tried it about twenty years ago, I think, and still recall the vertiginous moment of looking down from the protruding balcony and realising that you could see straight through the grille floor to the drop below—but from what I can work out the tunnel is relatively recent. Before the tunnel was dug it was accessible only by access across the cliff face, which must have been even more terrifying.
This cave was first mentioned as being a chapel in the year AD 305 and excavations, in which Romano-British pottery has been found, have revealed that it has been both a holy place and a place of refuge at various times in its history.
A few different sources say that the cave became a hermitage and chapel to St Vincent following Bristol's early trading in Iberian wines; St Vincent of Saragossa is Lisbon's patron saint, and a lot of nearby things bear the name.
I'm not sure where the crossover of Vincent and Ghyston happens, though. On the giants Goram and Vincent (or Ghyston), Wikipedia says:
The name Vincent for one of the giants rests on the fact that at Clifton, at the narrowest point of the Avon Gorge, there was formerly an ancient hermitage and chapel dedicated to St Vincent, at or near the present cave in the cliff-face which bears his name. Another (apparently modern) version of the story calls the Clifton giant Ghyston, which is in fact the name, of obscure origin, for the whole of the cliff-face of the Avon Gorge at least as early as the mid-fifteenth century, in the detailed description of the Bristol area by William Worcestre. The place-name was personified to produce the giant's name. Vincent's Cave is called Ghyston cave or The Giant’s Hole in an article in the July 1837 issue of Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal.
In my research on the original Hot Well House, I've seen quite a few contemporary paintings which state their viewpoint as "from St. Vincent's Rock", so in the 16th century it seems the cliff-face name was typically St Vincent Rock rather than Ghyston's Rock, perhaps.
I am, as you can tell, no historian!
On the way, I also wandered around the base of the popular climbing area, which I think is the site of the old Black Rock quarry.
For the climbers, I presume.
The road's a 50mph limit at this point, I think, and this bit's normally pretty free-flowing. You can drive past a lot without knowing what's here.
The interesting-looking modern block at the top of the cliff on the left is Seawalls, on Seawalls Road, built in 1977. Zoopla's estimated price for a two-bedroom flat there looks to be around half a million pounds.
There are a lot of crashes on the Portway, which has always felt like a well-designed, safe, wide road with a reasonable speed limit to me. Maybe someone's trying to figure out why...
05 Nov 2020
I spotted the fog and decided to go for a morning walk rather than a lunchtime walk today. It was cold on the Portway, but it was worth it. Most of my One Mile Matt photos are "record shots", but it's nice to get the chance to do something a bit more artistic.
There are a lot of car crashes on the Portway. I don't know how many end in fatalaties, but I feel like I hear about at least one every year. In a luckily non-fatal crash in 2019, an ambulance even managed to crash, ending up on its side.
I think that non-emergency vehicles probably tend to drive far too fast for the Portway when it's quiet as it looks like a nice fast road, but it clearly has some well-disguised dangers. Either that or they're all pissed.
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.
At the grotto that housed the most-recently-in-use Hot Well pump.
You can see a drawing of its better days here; "in 1946, the cast-iron pump was removed to the Underfall Yard of Bristol City Docks, and in 1961 there were reports that it had been donated to the City Museum."
There's a lot of work been done to shore up the cliffs here.
This is a little section of tunnel just before Bridge Valley Road.
Despite its looks, this is neither of the two footpaths actually called the Zig Zag (the Zig Zag itself, closer to town, and the New Zig Zag, further out.) This is in fact the Bridge Valley Path
Every surface of the cliff face around here is basically bolted on to stop it falling into the 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)
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"...
It's not that hot.
The older signs in Bristol just say e.g. 8 instead of the full postcode district of BS8.
This sign, on the grotto that used to house the last remaining Hot Well pump, is the last Hotwell Road sign before it turns into the Portway. Which seems reasonable, as the Hotwell Road should obviously include the Hot Well...
Was, apparently, a blue Ford Fiesta. It passed its last MOT on 24 October 2019, and hasn't been through one since. Can't think why that might have been.
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.
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.
Bottom section of the postcard. I like the way there's a bus and a tram in it, but I'd quite like the bus not to be there so we can see the whole of the former station site. Motion blur makes it hard to figure out the bus and tram details.
That's Sneyd Park up in the distance. We're heading that way to join up with the nearest extant bit of the Port Railway.
All this and an ambulance just lurking there, too.
This is known for being something of a fragile area. Here's a picture of the earlier dangerous face being blasted away in the summer of '76, to stop it falling on the Portway. Every year the Portway is closed for a day or two to allow for a close inspection that can lead to the planning of remedial works. I'll often get a bit of notice of this, as they have to put the warning signs up quite early down in Hotwells so people can plan their alternative routes.
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.
Here we see the Portway road, presumably fairly shiny and new, after many, many things, including the railway line from Hotwells to Sea Mills, were removed to make way for it. As you can see, they've done a splendid job of redeveloping the space where the station was into a little mini-park area, back in the day when the traffic wasn't a constant rush of noise and fumes and you didn't have to scamper across like you were playing a game of Frogger. It might well have been a pleasant place to sit. It certainly wouldn't be now.
Also, guess what there is fencing in the park area? Yes, some nice iron railings. I have no idea whether these are same ones I found—today's seem in surprisingly good nick considering this photo would have likely been taken almost a hundred years ago, and also how many railings were torn up during WWII.
This photo was taken before the war, as you can see a tram still running in the background—a Luftwaffe bomb took the tram system down in 1941 and it was never replaced. It also was obviously taken after 1926, as the Portway opened to traffic on 2 July 1926, having cost £800,000 to build, about £47m in today's money. So, that fixes it to a 15-year period, I think, but I'm not enough of a historian to be able to pin it down further.
We'll be over there in a bit, at the entrance to the Gully. Before that, though, we'll just head to the other side of the quarry on the left.
I have literally no idea what the hell this is. Weird that it seems to have been filled with expanding foam and has a little fence.
If it weren't for the gert big road next to it, this would be a lovely place to spend some time.
12 May 2021
I wanted to take another snap of an interesting Gothic Revival place in Clifton, having found out a bit more about the owner. On the way I walked through the Clifton Vale Close estate, idly wondering again whether it might've been the site of Bristol's Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (I've not researched further yet.) On the way back I knocked off the last remaining bit of Queens Road I had yet to walk and tried to find the bit of communal land that Sarah Guppy bought so as not to have her view built on...
...lived here. You may remember seeing her gravestone in St Andrew's Churchyard...
Her Wikipedia entry notes:
She bought the land opposite the house for the benefit of Clifton residents and it still remains green space
While there is some green space opposite, it looks very private and seems to belong to Edgecumbe Hall (sometimes spelled Edgecombe, it seems...)
CHIS's Communal Gardens web page says:
Richmond Hill Gardens. ca 1830 This forms a key visual feature at the top of the triangle. There are specimens of at least 23 tree species, including a magnificent Weeping Beech, the finest in the city, and a Redwood, which is an offshoot of a tree cut down twenty years ago. The land was bought by Sarah Guppy (1770-1857) an inventor and designer who was consulted by Brunel. She lived in Richmond Hill and did not want any building opposite, so bought the land and made it communal. For many years it was a nursery garden but now it has become a well hidden car park for those houses to which it is attached.
...and lists it under "Private Communal Gardens", so I suppose it's not public, but it is communally-owned (and likely to have a covenant against building?) Seems a bit of a shame it's ended up as a car-park.
From the listing:
By Edwin Rickards and Henry Poole. Pennant ashlar, limestone balustrades, cast-iron railings and lamps, bronze statues. Raised forecourt with curved steps and a large fountain with bronze aquatic statues and granite urns; flanking plinths with flagstaffs on moulded bases, turned balustrades with lamps, curved railings with urn finials to the front, bronze lions couchant to the rear, piers to outer gateways with lamps on moulded bases. Rickards and Poole were a notable partnership of the Edwardian period, and this is a particularly good example of their work.
It's nice to see it running. It was dormant the last time we saw it, possibly closed down for winter?
As made communal by Sarah Guppy.
I wonder who actually owns it communally?
With Holy Trinity's belfry in the background.
It's an odd little nook. I imagine there's a quite expensive property back there. I've also never noticed the "OTF" carved into the near door pillar before.
Between the gate and the oriel, the keystone reads "The Mew House 1995".
The bricked-up door to the left seems to be an outbuilding in the incredibly grand-looking back garden of the Bishop's House. Speaking of which, here's a bonus pic of the Vicar of Clifton standing at the front door.
I foolishly didn't leave time to pop in and pick up a coffee on my way back from my outing.
I love this Gothic Revival pile. I've snapped it before, but I recently found out something interesting...
19 Dec 2020
Despite a mild headache, I enjoyed this wander over to Bedminster. The light was lovely, especially toward the end. I always enjoy the view down the streets south of North Street at this time of day/year, with the distant hills backdropping the Victorian terraces.
I have to think that if you need a specific parking place marked out for your signal engineer, it might be an indicator that your traffic lights aren't terribly reliable.