Station: Severn Beach
Trains: Usually hourly from Bristol Temple Meads. Some services operate from Weston-super-Mare.
Allow: About 1 hr
Severn Beach is a small village on the eastern banks of the Severn Estuary in South Gloucestershire, and is the terminal station of the Severn Beach Railway line that runs from Bristol Temple Meads. The Great Western Railway built a rail link between Avonmouth and the mainline station at Pilning in 1900.
Around 1922 the village of Severn Beach was created mostly built by local entrepreneur Robert Stride, becoming a minor seaside resort with a swimming pool, boating lake, donkey rides and dozens of fun-fair rides and stalls. People from nearby Bristol came in large numbers attracted in part by less strict licensing laws.
As with many other resorts, its decline started post WW2 when potential visitors found cheaper alternatives abroad. By the 1970’s, most of the shops had closed. The village pub the Severn Salmon, formerly Severn Beach Hotel, was demolished to make way for housing and the last remnant of the amusements, a children’s roundabout, lingered on till the early 1980’s sited at the point where Beach Road bends inland, and replaced in 2018 by the ‘Just As You Are’ Tea Cottage. Shirley’s Cafe still operates near the station and is justifiably popular.
As you walk from the train (1) across the Station Road in front of you is a large metal clad gate (2), a reminder that until the Beeching cuts of 1963, this line continued northeast to connect with the mainline at Pilning. On leaving the station turn left into Station Road. Ahead is the rising ground of the sea wall. Shirley’s Café (3) is on the left and Beach Road on the right.
Turn right into Beach Road where you will find on the right hand side, a convenience store, a bakery and public toilets (4).
Past these on the left you will see the Tea Cottage (5). Turn left here and go up the steps and onto the sea wall. This is a walk with little shelter. In wet or windy weather, it can be chilly if strong winds are blowing along the estuary.
Here, on the sea wall, you are standing on the final stages of the Severn Way (6) a 340km long-distance path that follows the Severn from its source on Plynlimon, Powys. Originally, the Severn Way finished at here at Severn Beach, but it has been extended into Bristol via Lawrence Weston, Shirehampton and the Avon Gorge. The official end of the River Severn is where the river crosses the notional line between the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm. Here it becomes the Bristol Channel.
Turn right towards the motorway bridge now named, with a large sign over the westward carriageway, the Prince of Wales Bridge. After a few yards there is an access point to estuary beach and the path below the sea wall (7). You can walk on either path, upper or lower, as they rejoin just before the motorway bridge. As you approach the bridge, just after the rejoining of the two paths, there is a fenced off-area (8) to the right of the path. This area encloses a ventilation shaft and pumping station for the Severn Railway Tunnel some 15m below.
Just under the motorway bridge, the path again divides (9) as before. Again, either path can be followed as they rejoin just before you reach New Passage. As you walk northwards along the sea wall, depending on the state of the tide, there is lots to see out in the estuary (10). In the estuary every rocky outcrop, and every pool has a name. In bygone years, this part of the estuary was a major shipping route with trade both up and down the waterway and across to Wales and back.
Ferries carried people, goods and animals and in past times of conflict large numbers of soldiers. With the large tidal range local sailors needed to know exactly where they were and what perils lurked. The water also provided large quantities of fish, particularly salmon. Nets of various types and static fish traps, known locally as ‘putchers’ and ‘kypes’, have been sited here for generations. The lines of stunted wooden stakes that you may see as the water recedes are the bases of such traps and some are very old.
As you approach New Passage, on your right, next to the sea wall is Severn Lodge Farm (11), notable for its 24 chimney pots and nine bedrooms. Believed to date from 1750’s it was semi-derelict for many years but is now fully restored. It was used as a hotel for many years for mail and passenger coach travellers waiting for the right state of tide for a ferry crossing to Wales, it became part of the railway hub of the original Pilning Station when the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway arrived in 1863.
The stone stub of a jetty (12) is all that remains of the landward end of a 499 m wooden pier built to carry the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway trains out to waiting steamers. A plaque here gives more information. The small modern housing development is built on the site of New Passage Pier railway station and hotel (13). This hotel boasted a promenade, tea rooms and private gas works. It operated until 1886, becoming redundant with the construction of the Severn Tunnel; at which time the station and pier were then demolished.
Even after the railway had gone, the New Passage Hotel continued to prosper as a popular privately owned public house. In 1921 the hotel was the location of experiments by the inventor H.G. Matthews in the projection of moving films with a sound track who, like other better known inventors, also experimented, unsuccessfully, with ‘death rays’ as a form of aerial defence. The hotel closed in 1973 and was left empty. Ravaged by the elements, vandalism and neglect, it was finally demolished in the late 1970s.
This area of the estuary is a favourite with birdwatchers, particularly in the spring and autumn. More than 28 species of seabirds and waders have been recorded along with migratory passerines such as Ospreys and other rarities.
At the end of the concrete sea wall, the Severn Way (14) continues northwards towards Aust and beyond. It first crosses a rifle range so walkers should beware warning signs and red flags if present. If you are tempted to continue north remember it is a further than it looks to the original Severn Bridge. From this point to Aust by the most direct route (the Severn Way) is just over 7km. There is a good pub there and on the motorway service roundabout a bus stop for the Newport/Chepstow service to Bristol. Also, from this point there is an alternative path, (15) which skirts round the West side of the range to re-join the walk route at the inland end of New Passage Road. The author has walked this path. It is little used and difficult to locate in places.
In WW2 the whole area between Aust and Avonmouth was littered with Anti-Aircraft gun sites, searchlight batteries and Starfish decoy bombing sites as part of the Bristol defences. Little remains today but a few km or so north of this point can still be seen several eroded bomb craters created by Luftwaffe victims of those decoys. Better the empty marshes of Northwick Warth than the streets of Bristol.
Turn right through the metal gate and go along the service road in front of the new houses. Note that near the end of this the road rises and falls (16) as it crosses the old railway embankment. The uneven garden on the right here covers the remains of the station and turntable.
At the end of this short service road you could turn right and return to the start point by going back along the sea wall.
Otherwise, turn left and go along New Passage Road. This is usually a quiet road but with the bends and absence of pavement do beware of traffic. Some of the Victorian houses along this road were built for ferrymen or railway staff.
If in need of refreshment, just before crossing the M4 motorway there is a track off to the left parallel to the motorway, that will lead you to the White Horse pub at Redwick, while just after crossing the M4 if you turn left at the road junction you’ll come to the slightly nearer Red Lion (17).
At this road junction turn right and head back towards Severn Beach. Before the climb to cross the M49 there is an alternative path (18) back to Severn Beach. Again, the author has walked this path. It skirts the emergency access point for the Severn Railway Tunnel but appears to be little used and partially overgrown with Blackthorn bushes. At its junction with another footpath it turns right to cross the M49 by footbridge to re-enter Severn Beach from the east.
Ignoring the alternative path and crossing the M49 by the road bridge, on the other side is a minor crossroads. The detached house on the left here is called Crossings House (19) and was originally the crossing keeper’s residence for a level crossing on the Severn Beach line as it headed towards Pilning.
Here, either turn left and then immediately right along Gorse Cover Road, or continue straight ahead along Beach Avenue.
Both will eventually come to Station Road and the station for the train journey home. The original track-bed of the Severn Beach line lay between Gorse Cover and Beach Avenue roads, their positions of these roads reflecting the curve of the former track-bed. You could also turn left at Crossings House and return along Little Green Lane, but as it is a narrow road with no footpath, the other routes back make for safer walking.
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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