I said originally I was going to start writing up my walk from Bristol. However that leaves a short stretch of the coast of Somerset that I haven’t yet walked, between Bristol and the Severn bridge and I don’t like that gap! Instead it seems more natural to start at a border, and just north of Bristol, the first walk I wrote about, is the border with Wales. So instead I have changed my mind and I’m going to start writing this walk from the last point I shall walk on the Somerset coast, adjacent to the first Severn crossing at Aust. This is because whilst there is a bridge further south across the Severn, the second Severn crossing (opened in 1996) it is not possible to (legally) walk along it. However the original Severn bridge, opened in 1966 has a footpath and cycle path alongside it, meaning I can use it to walk from England to Wales.
Pedants will point out of course that the first bit of land I reach on crossing this bridge, Beachley, is in fact also part of England (Gloucestershire, specifically) but since there is no access from the bridge down to it and the bridge continues to cross the river Wye (which is the actual Welsh-English border) the first point of land I can reach from the bridge (well, without jumping off it, anyway) is Chepstow, which is in Wales. This means when I finish my costal walk, I can cross the bridge from England to Wales – ending with a border crossing seems so much more symbolic. Of course, since I took the decision to number my walks, it means I’ve designated this walk zero so if you are reading in numerical order, it will be the first walk. I hope I don’t keep up this trend and end up with negative numbered walks!
It also has a border crossing of a different sort, since I’ll be starting in Gloucestershire and heading south into Bristol which I think used to be part of Somerset later becoming part of Avon and then I think just Bristol again when the county of Avon was abolished. This is also my first coastal walk of 2014 (well actually it’s the second, but the first walk following a route I had not walked previously).
This winter has been one of the worst on record, with heavy and prolonged rain causing widespread flooding in Somerset and the Thames Valley, amongst other areas. I wondered if the problems might effect this walk to. I had book train tickets for this walk a couple of months previously, but since then the Great Western railway has taken something of a battering. The track and sea wall was washed away in a storm at Dawlish (you can see some footage from the BBC here and here), the track has also been flooded and storm damaged at Penzance. It is also flooded at Bridgwater and until about a week ago there was also major disruption because flood damage to signalling systems at Maidenhead meant just 5 trains an hour were able to run between London Paddington and Reading, causing further disruption. Although the damage at Dawlish has not yet been repaired, the flooding problem at Maidenhead seems to have been resolved and trains towards Bristol, where I’m heading today are meant to be back to normal now. I drive to a station near Reading, then take a local train from there to Reading. I have nearly half an hour to wait for my train on from Reading, which is a bit of a pain. A lot of money has been spent at Reading, more or less re-building the station to create more tracks and platforms. In the long term this should mean more trains, which is good news. However I can’t say I’m too keen on the new design. The new wide footbridge is a drafty wind-tunnel which feels about 5 degrees colder than elsewhere whilst the platform my train is due to depart from has a waiting room, but it has just 8 seats and is full. So I find a sunny spot at the end of the platform to await my train. Thankfully, given all the recent disruption, it arrives on time.
From Bristol there is a bus to Aust, which is where I am starting this walk. Bristol is a lovely city, but it does suffer terribly from under-investment in its transport network. The road network is inadequate for the large city it has become and hence is very congested and the rail network and public transport is even worse. A good illustration is that the bus I want to catch leaves from Bristol Bus Station. This is nearly a mile from the railway station, Bristol Temple Meads and perhaps more surprisingly there is no direct bus service between the two. So instead, thanks to the help of Traveline, I decide to catch the train to Bristol Parkway, to the north of the city where I can catch a bus to Cribbs Causeway Bus Station and pick up the bus to Aust from there. I arrive at Bristol Parkway only a couple of minutes late, which is not too bad given the recent problems on the rail network. This is not such a great station though. Whilst Bristol Temple Meads is a grand station, Bristol Parkway has the feel of an industrial warehouse. I leave the station and find the bus stop where lots of services to Cribbs Causeway are listed. The first bus that comes is a number 73 which says it goes to Cribbs Causeway, and I take this. I see a sign saying Cribbs Causeway is three miles away, but the bus, as so often, seems to be taking a very indirect route through the housing estates of Stoke Gifford, as we head around numerous roundabouts and speed bump filled roads.
I don’t know much about Cribbs Causeway, other than it is a shopping centre. After around 15 minutes we arrive at a large out-of town shopping centre (or at least, it looks like one). I think this might be the stop, but we don’t go to a bus station. Instead I see from a sign that this is Bradley Stoke town centre. It is very modern but certainly lacks something in charm. The bus continues passing somewhere else called Aztec West. We continue through Patchway and eventually come to another large shopping centre. This time it is Cribbs Causeway and we pull into the bus station. I get off here and look for the next bus, to Aust. Annoyingly, the next one is not for around half an hour. So I have a quick look in the shopping centre, but don’t spend long. I don’t really like places like this and am very glad that now I can do the vast majority of shopping on the Internet, so I very rarely visit such places and can instead spend the weekend walking rather than shopping! I am a bit concerned that the bus timetable makes no mention of the bus stopping at Aust, although the timetable I printed from Traveline shows the bus is meant to stop at the Aust, M48 interchange.
The bus arrives on time and I ask the driver, if he stops at Aust and he says he stops the motorway junction which is close by, so I buy a ticket to there. This costs £4.80 one way, which is rather expensive. Combined with my bus ticket to Cribbs Causeway earlier it has cost over £7 to get to Aust from Bristol Parkway – expensive considering my train ticket, which covers far more miles, to Bristol Parkway was £11.70. Still at least the bus is an express service and lives up to it’s name, as we join the M5 motorway, then the M4 and finally the M48. Unusually the bus has stuck to the motorway all the way and it feels slightly odd to be on a double decker bus on a motorway! I ring the bell as we approach the Severn View services and the bus pulls off the motorway and pulls up on the roundabout. I am surprised that the bus stop is indeed on the roundabout itselft – this is not the best place to stop, as I have to cross the motorway slip roads to get to the Severn View services and there is no traffic lights of pedestrian crossing. I wonder how any pensioners that use this bus cope if they want to get off here? I initially saw a cycle path going up to the bridge but very unusually although it is signed as a cycle path there is also a No Pedestrians sign. I have never before come across a cycle path that you can’t walk on, but this seems to be one. So I pass this and find another path beside the road leading to the Severn View services.
The Severn view services lives up to it’s name, with a good view over the wide Severn, although it is quite small services. This is probably because after the second Severn bridge opened, taking most of the traffic with it, this road was re-numbered to the M48 and is now a less important route probably used primarily by local traffic to Chepstow. I see the footpath which unusually is on a bridge which goes over the roof of the toll gates for the M48 bridge. This gives me a grandstand view of the bridge and it’s approach, and I think it is an elegant bridge.
It’s expensive though. The bridge is little under 2 miles, but costs £6.40 to cross by car. Is this the most expensive road per mile to use in the UK? I think it might be. Thankfully, as a pedestrian if I want to walk across it I don’t have to pay. On descending down to the other side of the bridge, I can’t resist walking a little way along the path over the bridge, to get a view of the Severn. As I go along the bridge suddenly the wind hits me – it is very windy up here! The view is great though, with the fast and muddy waters of the Severn far below me. I’m also surpised to see high cliffs beside the Severn – I had expected it to be quite flat here. These are Aust cliffs and are very beautiful although I can’t get a good photograph with the sun not shining on them at this time of day. I can also see a couple of jetties sticking out.
I head back from the bridge and now follow the path signed to Aust. This is a wide track that soon becomes a road, I think a private service road to get to the bridge. This brings me down to a larger and more important looking road. I turn right along this, passing a few houses. The road is wide and soon brings me to the village of Old Passage.
I pass buildings and the road then turns to the left and heads downhill. I turn right just before that though on a track that goes right down to the estuary by a derelict building. I notice a rusted old turnstile here and a jetty beyond and realise I am looking at the old ferry terminal. Before the Severn bridges were opened, anyone wanting to cross to Wales either had to drive some distance north, to Gloucester to get across the lowest bridge, or cross via a ferry. This point, Old Passage, was named after the ferry that used to cross the Severn from here. This ceased running in 1966, the day before the Severn Bridge opened. It had been run by a family firm who presumably realised that the opening of the bridge was the end of their business and called it a day. At the time of closure, the ferry had a capacity of just 16 cars – it certainly wouldn’t cope with todays traffic. It’s odd to think this would once have been such a busy and important place, but now it lies forgotten and abandonded.
An internet search reveals that the last boat used for the service is now also at the terminal on the Welsh bank, but derelict and vandalised, which is a shame. I would like to get a view back to those cliffs at AUst too. There is a track alongside the old Aust ferry terminal which leads alongside the river. There is a gate to block it, but it’s open so I decide to walk along it, although there is a sign saying to keep it clear because it’s used by the National Grid for maintenance access, as electricity pylons also cross the Severn here. I make it a short distance along before the track becomes covered in mud and debris which has been washed up with all the recent flooding, and the path gets very wet. I decide to abandon my attempt to see the cliffs at Aust and instead turn back along the road.
This road forms part of a long-distance walk, the Severn Way, that follows this river for most of it’s length. This follows the road, which no doubt would have been busy when the ferry was running, but is thankfully very quiet now. As I approach the oddly named Cake Pill Gout I can see dog walkers on the raised sea bank ahead. No footpath is signed here, instead the Severn Way follows another bank, which joins this one which goes a little nearer the A403. This is obviously well walked though so I take this route, passing over the sluice gates of the stream. Soon I’m on the official Severn Way which goes for a little over a mile to New Passage.
This is a lovely part of the walk, with the wide Severn to my right, and views of the second Severn crossing ahead. To the left is just fields and to the right some marsh, it is a lovely rural walk, and very peaceful. Thankfully, despite the recent heavy rain although the path is a bit boggy it is not flooded, because it is on the raised bank. There are a couple of brick bird hides along here too, although I don’t see many birds today. I puzzle over the Second Severn crossing as I approach. This is a much longer bridge and most of it is built on concrete supports, but a small section in the centre seems to be a suspension bridge. It is almost two bridges, and I wonder why the decision was taken for the small centre span to be a suspension bridge? Perhaps it was to make it a little higher for boats to get under?
Soon the path comes to a tarmac path at the village of New Passage. This was the site of another ferry, although this one stopped running much earlier, leaving the one at Old Passage as the only crossing.
Here the footpath ends and instead there is a sea wall with a tarmac path behind it and a lower path in front of it, with a few people fishing. I decide to take the lower path but quickly see there is jetty sticking out. I assume there will be steps up here, but there aren’t and it’s a dead end. I manage to squeeze between the fences to get onto the jetty though to save waling back. There is a notice here that this was once the site of the old railway ferry, which used to operate until the Severn tunnel opened. It is interesting to note that it took around 80 years from the Severn tunnel opening to trains before a road bridge was built.
I decide to continue on the upper path and an soon passing under the new Severn bridge. It is clear this one is used by much more traffic, which I can see heading over the bridge. It is also quite curved and I wonder why, perhaps the bed rock was better for supporting the bridge?
Once under the bridge I continue on the sea wall passed a park home site and then on to the village of Severn Beach. The beach here though is mostly shingle and mud and doesn’t look inviting, although the view is good.
The tarmac path continues south although in place is not right along the coast, but there seems to be a well walked route that does keep right to the banks of the Severn. I keep to this until I come to a couple of pipes jutting out into the estuary. I can’t cross these so follow the path back inland to a gravel track. This turns to the left and I hope there is a route to the right soon, but a check at the map makes it clear I’m going the wrong way. I head back to the pipes and there is a metal gate here. I go up to this and realise I had made a mistake and there was a stile beyond this, which is the route of the Severn Way. I take this and end up on a path parallel to the Severn beach railway line. Unusually the village of Severn Beach is a terminus for a short railway line from Bristol, although I later find that most trains terminate at Avonmouth and Severn Beach has a less frequent service. I have booked to return from Shirehampton station, further down the line, at the end of my walk.
Soon the path comes to a crossing over the railway line. I’ve not heard any trains today and am getting a little concerned this line may be another effected by flooding and may not be running, which would be a problem given I have booked to travel back from a station on this line. Unsuaully the crossing here does not have any board walk over the track, so you must step over the rails and into the ballast, which is a bit awkward. I go across and continue on the path now sandwiched between the railway and the A403. I had hoped, it being Saturday there would not be much traffic on this road, but I can see numerous lorries and cars going along it – not what I wanted to see, as I will be walking on this soon.
Soon the path emerges at the A403 with a sign warning of the road ahead and that there is no pavemenet. The route of the Severn Way is a little confusing here. The map shows it going between the A403 road and the railway line but the path has ended at the road here. It is also not marked as a right of way on the map, and I can’t see the route. I cross over to the pavement and find almost immediately, a cycle path heading parallel to the road. This must be the route. I follow this past what is obviously a new park created nearby the Seabank Power Station. I can see the power station ahead, a sign I am now heading into an industrial area. I was not looking forward to this part of the walk, but when walking along the coast you soon get used to the fact some areas are not going to be very scenic. I find though it makes you appreciate the rest of the coast far more, it feels like you have earned the beautiful scenery on most of our coast by walking through a few industrial areas on the way. The path is quite good and although an industrial area, it is nice to see whoerver built this path has made an effort, with a shelter and seat also put in, and some ponds.
The cycle path soon turns away from the road though and I then worry that this must be the wrong route or perhaps the path has been diverted. I spot a rather feinter path heading straight ahead and follow this. I keep close to the road and am looking for routes back to the road, but there are brambles and bushes between me and the road. The path gets fainter and I’m soon in an area of waste ground. Probably an industrial site that been demolished and slowly returning to nature. Sadly it is not a nice place to be, it is full of fly-tipped rubbish and does not feel safe. I feel uneasy and look for a way back to the road. I spot a stile, but it is very overgrown and does not look easy to get through. There must be a better away. A little further up there is a metal gate and the road just beyond, but the gate is closed and padlocked and I realise I have gone wrong and not meant to be here. I decide to keep to a path close to the road. I see an area of tarmac ahead and think this is the road. But there are a load of skips here and lorry just beyond – I suspect I have walked into a depot or similar accidently. I am worried I will be spotted, so don’t continue and head back.
I’ve either got to walk back or see if I can get onto the road. I find that overgrown style and decide to see if I can squeeze through. Although very overgrown with brambles I make it over, but there is a ditch ahead. There was obviously once a wooden bridge over this, but it has rotted and collapsed, and the moss covered planks are now in the ditch. I step carefully over it and find numerous clothes abandonded here, which makes me uneasy. Scrambling up the bank I am now right beside the A403, but it is busy and there is no pavement. I wait for a gap in the traffic and cross and then walk along the road. I can’t find any sign of the Severn Way here and have to wait for a gap in the traffic to carry on along the road in places, as there is no pavement or verge. This is very unpleasant and does not feel safe, but I can see on the map the Severn Way joins this road ahead again and I hope it will mean there is a pavement again.
After around 5 minutes walking along the road I come to the point the cycle path re-joined the road – I should have stuck to that route! Thankfully from here there is a pavement, albeit a narrow one and muddy in places. I follow this south through an industrial area of Chittering Industrial Estate. The road forks right and I keep to it, to head back towards the river. Just as I think the pavement is about to end, I see the Severn Way is joining from the right. I can see the footpath here, but I wonder if it was passable and I missed it, or if it has been blocked or closed further up. I continue on the road which goes over a railway line. I notice oddly that there speed limit signs show 60 on one side and 50 on the other. I wonder if this is a mistake or if the speed limits apply to the different tracks?
Soon over the railway the road descends to a roundabout. Here the Severn Way turns left and leaves the A403. I wonder if I should join this, but it is not the closest route to the coast, missing out Avonmouth. After my experience earlier I wonder if this is a good idea, but find that since there is a pavement I will hope it continues. I pass a large sign for Cabot Park but after that the pavement narrows and becomes mud covered in places. Oddly ahead I can see what look like level crossing lights, but there is no railway track accros the road. I can see an old railway line on the map though so I suspect it has been closed and removed but oddly the lights have been left. Rounding the corner the road becomes arrow-straight and all I can see ahead is industrial buildings. At least the pavement continues though and some of the buildings seem to house shops, so there are now few other people about, which makes me feel safer. To the left I pass a huge Asda distribution centre and to the right a sign to St Andrews Road Station.
Earlier in the walk I had been following the railway line but concerned there were no train. I think the service is hourly so was surprised not to have seen any trains. I decide to cross here to see if there is a poster at the station about engineering works or problems with th eline. I see a sign for where a rail replacement bus stops, but nothing about service disruption. Oddly although on my Ordnance Survey map the railway line is marked as single track, there are 4 or 5 track here, and the station is on the other side of them. There is a high bridge to the station and I climb this for a few over the industrial area I am in and the Avonmouth Docks beyond. I can see along the railway to all the industry and take a few photographs anyway of the industrial landscape. Coming down the steps I am dismayed to see I have attracted the attentions of “Security” as there is now a security van that has pulled up on the road next to the station and the man is watching me suspiciously.
Unfortunately police and security guards have the increasing habit of assuming anyone with a camera, (especially an SLR camera, as I am using) is a terrorist. So much so there have been a number of internet campaigns and a good BBC news article here.
Unfortunatly I can personally confirm that these stories are real and not overblown. On another of my coastal walks (which I have not yet written up), I too get stopped by the police, for doing nothing more than walking along the pavement beside a public road (also near a dock) holding (but not using) my camera and a map. Thankfully on that occasion, after explaining what I was doing they were satisified and let me continue my walk but it was rather concerning. Although I know I’ve done nothing wrong (this is a public road after all) I am worried I am about to have a similar encounter. Thankfully as I descend the stair case and head back to the main road, the security guard stays in his van, but he does follow me slowly as I walk along the road. Thankfully as I get near the main road he stops and watches me for a minute. Obviously satisified I am heading back to the main road, he turns his van around and goes, so I am relived.
I continue on the main road and soon spot a bus coming towards me. Unfortunatly, I spot it says “Railway Service” on the front and my fears are confirmed, the trains are obviously not running (or at least, so I think). After around another half a mile, I come to a roundabout. At last the industrial area ends and going straight on I am in the rather more peaceful village of Avonmouth. It is surpsing how quick the transition is from industry to residential is. I am not expecting a lot from Avonmouth, as towns next to a dock are usually not particularly nice. This looks far better than I expect though, with a church and a green with childrens park on it.
The sign on the church noticeboard “All metal on roof replaced with fibreglass”, tells it’s own sad story though. I decide to head to the station here, to find when the rail replacement buses are running. This is a just across the road from the church on a quiet road behind the main road. Thankfully when I get here I realise the trains are running, but the timetable is a little odd. On a Saturday, which this is there is an hourly service to Severn Beach, but half the services are by bus and half by train. I don’t know why this odd arrangement exists, but it seems it is not a rail replacement bus as such, but that some of the services are normally run by bus. From Avonmouth south it is all trains though thankfully.
Relieved, I continue my walk along the road past the station, as this is the closest to the coast. Soon I can see the huge Avonmouth bridge ahead. This goes high above the road. I had previously walked on the south side of the Avon to Pill. The Avonmouth bridge is the lowest crossing of the river Avon and so if I cross this bridge and re-joint he path I followed before I will have closed this gap on my coastal walk and walked all the coast from the Severn Bridge. When I planned this walk I though the bridge was quite short and so planned to walk across it to Pill then back and east to Shirehampton, which has a station from where I can catch the train home. However I soon realise I hadn’t taken into account the fact the bridge was already way above the road here, and there is no access to it from here. I cross the A4 and walk on a path beside some waste ground under the bridge as I think there might be a stair case ahead, although I’m not sure if it is fenced off. As I get closer I can see I’m right there are stairs up and they are open. I make my way up and suddenly the noise hits you – there are 8 lanes of traffic to my right, as this bridge carries the busy M5. Thankfully there is a metal fence between me and the road. I turn left and follow the bridge as it climbs gently over the Avon. I get good views over Avonmouth and soon the Avon itself, far below.
This is a lovely river and by this point tidal, with mud banks beside the river as the tide is out.
The bridge gets very high and I’m a little disappointed that the motorway to my right means I can’t really get a view out to the Severn, but the view inland is good, with marshes beside the river. I start to descend towards Pill with extensive marshes on this side. As I near the next motorway junction, the path goes down from the bridge and brings me to a little junction of cycle paths as the base of the river. I follow the one to Pill and spot there is a dis-used railway line to the right, all overgrown and with trees growing out from the track, which is still in place. It is an odd sight and with all the traffic problems in Bristol I can’t help but think re-opening some of these lines as railways or trams would surely help.
Continuing on, I pass under a railway bridge and the line to my right now looks used, so perhaps the bit I saw was an old siding (I later learn this is a freight route into Portbury Docks, which was recently opened although sadly not for passengers, only for freight). I soon reach the first houses of Pill and follow the path down to the banks of the Avon, where I can walk on the grass banks beside the river to the centre of pill. The path beside Pill Creek has flooded and is now covered with mud, so I stick to the road past the Duke of Cornwall pub and then to the main green in Pill. I remember this from when I walked this side of the path a few years previously.
I realise this would probably have been a better place to end the walk, as there is a bus from here back to Bristol, but I have booked my return ticket from Shirehampton, so decide I’d better head back there (as being an advance ticket I suspect it won’t let me through the ticket gates if I try to join from Bristol Temple Meads instead). I re-trace my steps to the bridge and climb back up on the path over the motorway. The traffic noise is intrusive, but the view more than makes up for it. I descend to the other side and return down the steps and along the waste ground back to the A4 Portway. I cross this and try to find the Severn Way. I head along a rather grotty industrial road passing over a level crossing and then spot the path to the left. This is a good path, probably recently upgraded for cyclists too, that goes over an area known as Lamplighters Marsh, presumably from when lamps lit the way along the Avon for boats into Bristol. This is unspoilt and there are a few seats from which to enjoy the view over the muddy banks and to Pill opposite.
I still have a while to wait for my train, so I wait here for a while. I soon continue along the path which joins station road in Shirehampton. I follow this through the village to a brick railway arch, although there is no sign of the station. I go under the bridge (there is no pavement) and spot the sign for the station to the right. I follow this and then reach the station, where I finish my walk. I am still quite early for my train and see it going the other way to Avonmouth, where it will turn round and head back to Bristol. It arrives on time and I make a point of sitting on the right, so I can enjoy the views of the river in the now fading light. The train is on-time and I soon arrive at Bristol Temple Meads. I have a little over 10 minutes before my train home leaves. This is good news, because it gives me enough time to get a pasty from the excellent shop in the subway at the station. From there I catch the train back to Reading which is busy but runs on time.
It has been an interesting and vaired walk today. Whilst I would have happily missed out the industrial part (but don’t because that would be cheating), the rest of the walk was very enjoyable, with a variety of rural and urban scenery and plenty of interest along the way. I am also pleased to have now properly finished my walk through Somerset and to the Severn Bridge.
The public transport needed for this walk is detailed below :
- First Bus X7 (Bristol – Cribbs Causeway – Aust M48 Interchange – Chepstow – Newport)
- First Bus 73 (Bristol – Bristol Parkway Station – Bradley Stoke – Cribbs Causeway)
- Severn Beach Train timetable (Severn Beach – Avonmouth – Clifton – Bristol)