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.
Well, we didn't quite see the far end, but seeing as we've seen the three ventilation holes, I thought it would be worth actually seeing some of the tunnel! This is the Clifton end, adjacent Clifton Down Station.
The tunnel is dead straight. You can, apparently, see right from one end to the other, though I don't think there's anywhere for a member of the public to stand that allows that view. Of course, in the days of steam, the view was mostly obscured by smoke from the trains themselves, and this exit had a succession of jury-rigged bell systems so that the driver would know when to apply the brakes to avoid overshooting the station, as it was hard to tell when they were about to emerge from the tunnel.
And here's the reason I just went for a fairly pointless wander around the station—I thought I'd kill a little time so I could snap a train actually using the Clifton Extension Railway's tunnel as my last picture of the wander.
A quick google of the number suggests this is a Great Western Railway Class 166, whatever that means. I quite like trains, but I'm no trainspotter.
That concludes our rather random 9km wander around the above-ground bits of a tunnel. Please disembark safely, minding the gap between this website and the rest of the internet.
Of course there's graffiti in there. This was, apparently, used as a stable!
Further to improve the ventilation provided by the two vertical shafts, in 1950 an old shaft leading out to the face of the gorge was re-opened after having been blocked for many years. Originally it had been used as a stable for ponies employed in tunnel construction. A ganger's cabin is hewn out of the side of the tunnel and is on the down side approximately midway.
— Colin Maggs, The Bristol Port Railway & Pier and the Clifton Extension Railway, The Oakwood Press, 1975
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.
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.
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."
06 Jan 2021
The International Grotto Directory website says:
Prince’s Lane might have been one of the original ancient tracks from Hotwells to Clifton, in the Avon Gorge. The site later formed part of Rownham Woods which comprised some thirteen acres. By the end of the 18th century and the early 19th century, the Society of Merchant Venturers granted to Samuel Powell a building lease, for The Colonnade (1786), St. Vincent’s Parade (1790), Prince’s Buildings (1796), and Rock House. Rock House is generally considered to be the oldest surviving building associated with the Hotwell (see Chapter 20). John Power conveyed part of the woods to William Watts for the construction of Windsor Terrace (1790-1808).
The above development of the Avon Gorge cleared Rownham Woods, and created a triangle of land on the north side of the gorge, that became enclosed as a result, by Mansion Houses, whose garden walls all entered on to Prince’s Lane. The Lane started at the bottom of the gorge, at the base rock of Windsor Terrace, and came out half way up Sion Hill. It is clearly shown as a public footpath, dotted with trees, in Ashmead’s map of 1828. Some of the gardens were quite steep in parts and therefore, had to be terraced, because of the gradient of the gorge.
I've passed Prince's Lane literally thousands of times in my life, every time I've walked past the Avon Gorge Hotel, which itself started (in 1898) as the Grand Clifton Spa and Hydropathic Institution and pumped water up from the Hot Well for its hydropathic treatments. I've never actually ventured down it until today, or at least nothing like as far down it as I did this afternoon—I may have poked my head around the back of the hotel to see the original pump rooms at some point in the past.
This was a great wander, though it does very much feel like a private road, and frankly I may have been pushing my luck a bit by winding my way between the astoundingly big back gardens of the houses of some presumably very wealthy Cliftonites, but I felt vaguely justified in exploring the history of one of the oldest footpaths in my part of Bristol...
The nice folk who look after the Clifton Rocks Railway have an example of what one of the carriages would look like at the top, though the tunnel here has been bricked up for a long, long time. If you get the chance to visit on one of their open days, it's pretty fascinating.
16 Jan 2021
A raggedy wander with my friend Lisa, picking up a few stray streets and venturing only briefly onto Whiteladies Road, where it was too damn busy, given the current pandemic. We retreated fairly quickly. Found a couple of interesting back alleys, and got a very pointed "can I help you?" from a man who was working in his garage in one of the rather run-down garage areas behind some posh houses, and clearly didn't want us just wandering around there.
More Lime Walk.
06 Feb 2021
A lovely walk in the early spring sunshine with my friend Lisa. We headed directly for Jacobs Wells Road, to start off around the scene of one of our earlier walks, but this time took in Jacobs Wells from QEH upward, stopping to snap some photos of a Bear With Me, some interesting areas between Park Street and Brandon Hill including a peculiarly quiet enclave with a ruined old build I'd never found before, then crossed the Centre to grab take-away pies from Pieminister (I had the Heidi Pie) and head back to my place down the harbourside.
Apparently the service areas on this side of Park Street are no more attractive than Hill Street on the other side.
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.
14 Mar 2021
An enormous walk today, or at least it felt enormous. My feet are sore, anyway. I started off recreating a couple of local historical photos in Hotwells, but then headed for my traditional walk along the towpath in the Avon Gorge to the far extreme of Leigh Woods, up and through the woods to the height of the Suspension Bridge, finally crossing into Clifton Village for a well-deserved vanilla latte.
I say "traditional" because this used to be a very regular route for me, first walking, years and years ago, and later jogging—this route combined with a circuit of the Downs on the other side used to be my way of making sure I was fit to do a half-marathon (I did six of them in total, between 2010 and 2014).
I miss the routine of this walk, even though it's a long way and it used to pretty much wipe me out when I did it—I'd come back home and collapse and do very little for the rest of the day. But perhaps that's what Sundays are for, and I should try to remember that.
Doing this walk regularly was quite a meditative experience. Not so much of that today, but once I got to the further extreme of the towpath, where the roar of the Portway traffic on the other side of the river dwindles and I turned into Leigh Woods to climb ever closer to birdsong and further from rushing cars, I did seem to recapture a little of the feeling of previous walks. (I would say my mind cleared, but I was mentally singing along to Life Without Buildings' The Leanover for most of the wander. There are worse songs to have stuck in one's head, though; it's a great track...)
Anyway. Apparently the walk made me more likely to ramble in words, too. I'll stop now :)
One of many archways under the Portishead railway line that runs along the edge of Leigh Woods.
This gate's not normally open, from what I remember.
Here's an interesting little place—not that I'm athetic enough to climb into it like the graffiti artists who've clearly been at work. This little disused quarry was a police firing range for a while, and the last time I wandered into it, perhaps ten years ago—I happened to walk past while it was unlocked for some reason—you could still see the piles of old tyres and other ricochet-deadening material that would have lain behind the targets.
Well, the gate is pretty secure. I understand that if you're an agile teenager it's not that hard to get in, but if I ever had any wild trespassing days they're long over now :)
I wasn't going to take a very long walk on this nice spring evening; it just happened. I was going to knock off a path or two on Brandon Hill, home over centuries to hermits and windmills, cannons and Chartists, and then just wander home, stopping only to fill up my milk bottle at the vending machine in the Pump House car park.
However, when I heard a distant gas burner I stayed on the hill long enough to see if I could get a decent photo of both the hot air balloon drifting over with Cabot Tower in the same frame (spoiler: I couldn't. And only having the fixed-focal-length Fuji with me didn't help) and then, on the way home, bumped into my "support bubble", Sarah and Vik, and extended my walk even further do creep carefully down the slipway next to the old paddle steamer landing stage and get some photos from its furthest extreme during a very low tide...
21 Dec 2020
Despite the weather, Sarah and Vik and I wandered around Ashton Court a bit as the sun rose. Not that you could really tell. Sadly, the bit we wanted to watch the sunrise from was closed, because people hadn't been treating the deer with appropriate respect. Ah well, at least it was some exercise.
That's Sarah and Vik at the other end. I hadn't realised when I shot this.