Station: Sea Mills
Trains: Usually every 30 minutes from Bristol Temple Meads. Some services operate from Weston-super-Mare.
Allow: About 1 hr 10 mins
The small dock with crumbling stone walls is all that remains of a floating harbour (only the third such in the country) built in 1712 as an alternative to the navigational perils of the Avon Gorge but closed by 1766 because ships were getting larger and the poor roads between Sea Mills and Bristol prevented safe onward passage of goods.
This stone dock was constructed on the site of a large early Roman harbour, Portus Abonea, built in the 2nd century as a crossing point to Wales and as an export centre to the rest of the empire for Mendip lead.
Abonea fell into disuse on the departure of the Romans in the 4th Century. Bristol was never a Roman city, they considered it too marshy and unhealthy so was bypassed by all major roadways. Abonea was connected to Bath (Aqua Sulis) by the roadway Via Julia.
The main Roman settlement here lies under a succession of later developments including the Port and Pier Railway of the 1890s, the construction of The Portway in the 1920s and residential housing of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The small plot of allotments between the railway station and the river Avon still disgorges occasional shards of Roman pottery in the form of Samian ware.
From Sea Mills station (1) turn right, away from the river Avon.
Go under the Portway viaduct and turn left to cross the River Trym by the footbridge. Turn right and either follow the pathway or go across the grass (2). Either way, keep parallel to the River Trym moving away from the Portway. The lower reaches of this largely level grassy area almost certainly cover some of the remains of the Roman port and shipyards.
The name Trym is from Old English trymme or trum meaning firm and strong.
On meeting an unfenced crossing roadway appropriately called Trym Cross Road, turn right and re-cross the Trym. On the other side turn left (3) along a path which soon enters scrubby woodland and brings you to Shirehampton Road.
Almost opposite is a pub, The Millhouse (4). Our path goes immediate behind this pub.
On Shirehampton Road, turn right, cross the end of Sea Mills Lane and turn left over the pedestrian crossing. On the other side turn left and then right across the front of the pub and then immediately left down a footpath off Bell Barn Road right next to the pub. In wet weather the next section of path may be muddy.
On reaching the bottom of this slope down from the pub turn sharp right. After a short distance there is a joining path on the right. Take this right hand path which climbs up to Bell Barn Road (5). Cross to the other side and turn left. Pass Cheyne Road on the right and Coombe Bridge Avenue off to the left.
In a few yards turn right up a pathway (6) between the houses. This is Ebenezer Lane named after Ebenezer House which once stood at the end of this lane in the 1850’s.
Soon the right hand side of this lane opens up with a view across playing fields while on the left are mature back gardens. Continuing along Ebenezer Lane it meets the end of a newer housing development called West Dene. If you could see past the houses at the far end of West Dene you would see the University’s Coombe Dingle Sports Pavilion (7), burnt down by the Bristol Suffragettes in 1913 and later rebuilt. This act of arson gave rise to a revenge wrecking by male undergraduates of the WSPU shop and HQ in Queens Road just opposite the museum.
Do not turn up West Dene but keep on in the same direction along Ebenezer Lane with the playing fields to your right. On reaching the far end of Ebenezer Lane, keep going straight ahead crossing Cross Elms Lane keeping to the pavement on the left hand side of Parry’s Lane (8).
It is not clear who Parry was. Some sources say the name comes from a nearby Paddy’s Well; others say a Perry’s Well, while yet others say it is from Old English Pirige meaning pear tree. Walk on and, when clear of the corner, cross Parry’s Lane using the traffic island and continue in the same general direction. On your right should be a stone wall with a hedge behind.
Ignore a small access road to the houses behind this wall on your right. On the next bend to the right of Parry’s Lane, just after the street name sign, turn right into a footpath (9) between the houses.
When this path bends to the right, do not enter the cul-de-sac of Parry’s Grove, instead turn to the left, keeping on the same footpath until it meets Hollybush Lane. Here (10), turn left go downhill to meet the crossing road called Sunnyside.
Hollybush Lane, which we are not walking, apart from this little section, is one of a group of old “lost” lanes that come downhill from The Downs to farms, hamlets and villages now long since incorporated into the conurbation of Bristol. Hollybush Lane threads its way up past the University’s halls of residence and its Botanic Garden to emerge on the northwest edge of the downs in Saville Road.
However, now turn right into Sunnyside (11). The houses here were built around 1906 for some of the senior staff of George’s Brewery down by Bristol Bridge. Ahead is Druid Hill, here keep to the left hand side.
Before crossing the road, Druid Hill, have a look at Taggart’s Fountain (12). This is a drinking fountain erected in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (50 years). It has an elaborate wooden surround and roof. The fountain was donated by Francis Taggart of Old Sneed House.
You’ll notice the variation of spelling Sneyd or Sneed; the word is Old English meaning a detached piece of land. Like Redcliffe or Redcliff, both are correct.
Cross the main road, Druid Hill and turn left along the row of shop fronts. Keep going in same direction along the upward slope of Old Sneed Avenue (13).
At the next junction, where two roads enter close together on the left, turn down the right-hand one called Old Sneed Park.
On the right there is a low thatched dwelling (14). This was formerly the lower lodge house of Druid’s Stoke, an 18th Century mansion further up on top of the hill to the right. This mansion and grounds, much changed and now surrounded by roads and housing is still there though now a BUPA care home.
Ignore Mariner’s Drive, next to the lodge and continue down Old Sneed Park to turn right up Glenavon Park. Near the top of this rising road turn left down a side turning also called Glenavon Park. Just opposite the entrance to garages for Westonian Court, turn left down a low stone wall lined path signposted Old Sneed Park Nature Reserve (15).
This pathway leads down to open grassland and a small lake. Don’t take the path across the end of the lake but continue across the pasture towards the far right corner near the railway.
The rising woodland area beyond the lake and down to the railway are the “lost” gardens of Bishops Knoll (16), now managed by the Woodland Trust, the area’s delights are worth an outing in their own right.
Continue down and across the grassland area to join another path coming downhill from your right.
Eventually, you will come to stone steps leading to The Portway (17).
At this point, if you don’t want to face the dangers of the Portway traffic, turn right and go up the step stone steps to Horseshoe Drive walking to the far end parallel with The Portway and the Avon.
At the end of this road, behind a hedge and fence are the exposed foundations of a Roman building (18), believed to be workshops, which were excavated in 1934 having been discovered during the construction of The Portway (1919 to 1926).
Walk to the pavement alongside the main road and use the pedestrian crossing over the Portway.
Turn right and go down the slope of Hadrian Close then left at the bottom along Sea Mills Lane to reach Sea Mills Station.
Whilst every care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the route description, FoSBR cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions, or for changes in the details given. Hedges, footpaths and fences can be moved and redirected. Paths can become slippery, boggy and dangerous in wet and wintry weather. Take special care when crossing major roads.
Check for service disruption before setting off.
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