Station: Sea Mills
Trains: Usually every 30 minutes from Bristol Temple Meads. Some services operate from Weston-super-Mare.
Allow: About 1 hour 10 mins
Leave Sea Mills station (1) and turn right into Sea Mills Lane. Turn first right into Hadrian Close just before the Portway viaduct and walk up to the pedestrian crossing (2) at the top of this road.
Cross the Portway passing the excavated foundations of a Roman building (3). Turn right up Horseshoe Drive, parallel to the Portway.
At the far end go down the stone steps and, while on the edge of the Portway, turn sharply left and enter the path going down more stone steps turning to the right into the open meadow area of Old Sneed Park Nature Reserve (4).
Follow the paths to the right, keeping approximately parallel to the railway and cross the bottom end of the reserve. Go through a wooden gate or stile to enter a narrow trackway (5).
Cross the track and go forward to explore the mysterious woodland gardens of Bishops Knoll (6), then taking the footpath up the hill emerging at the same point on Bramble Lane. There is an information board here.
On reaching the top, by either variation in route, turn right along Bramble Lane. Ignore Church Lane and keep going ahead along Knoll Hill and then Seawalls Road, ignoring all side turnings to right and left.
When road markings indicate a swing to the left into The Avenue, do not turn left but go straight on along a narrowing Seawalls Road now signed as a No Through Road (7).
At the far end there is a stone wall with a wrought iron gate on the left hand end, opening onto the Downs (7). Go through this gate turning right towards the wall and fence of Sea Walls viewpoint (8).
As you approach the viewpoint look to the right at the nearest turreted Victorian villa. This is the mock-Tudor Towerhurst, occupied in 1867 by a wealthy owner James Jones who used the tower to watch shipping passing along the Avon. His ghost is said to haunt the tower room.
In the wall next to the public toilets is one of Bristol’s many public drinking fountains. This one was erected in 1883 as Sneyd Park was being developed. The installation of drinking fountains was one of the activities of the nationwide Temperance movement to provide non-alcoholic refreshment. The parapet of this wall is made of the distinctive triangular brass slag coping stones, another long-gone Bristol industry.
During WW2 this part of the downs right up to Stoke Road was requisitioned for the use of the military. The only relic of this occupation is the toilet block constructed for military use. A recent proposal to demolish it and rebuild as a cafe is still making its tortuous way through the planning system.
Below the viewpoint to the right is the Severn Beach railway line with the entrance to the downs tunnel. Before this mile-long tunnel was excavated under the downs in 1877, this railway operated as The Bristol Port and Pier Railway between Avonmouth and Hotwells. To the left is the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Also below us is the A4 Portway, built between 1919 and 1926 and opened 2nd July 1926. At that time it was the single most expensive road in Britain costing £800,000 (approximately £42 million today).
On the opposite side of the gorge is the wooded valley called Paradise Bottom.
On 3rd February 1957, Flying Officer John Crossley staged a one-man protest over the disbandment of the Royal (Auxiliary) Air force. He stole a de Havilland Vampire jet fighter from his squadron at Filton, flew it around Bristol and then under the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Pulling up into low cloud, he stalled his aircraft and crashed near the Portishead railway in Paradise Bottom, where he was killed.
Having enjoyed the view, continue along the pavement, turning away from the gorge towards the head of The Gulley, the wooded area to the right. In the 1860s a tramway was constructed up the gully to the downs carrying tons of spoil from the Bristol Docks improvement scheme and the building of the River Frome culverts, uphill to fill the various old quarries on the downs.
Where the road starts to curve to the right, cross over to a small group of trees and bushes. Amongst them is a Bristol Whitebeam (9) which has its own plaque. This particular tree was planted here in 1973 as part of the Bristol 600 celebrations, marking the 600th anniversary of Bristol becoming a City and County in its own right. The Bristol whitebeams only grow wild in the Avon Gorge area.
Continue walking away from Sea Walls towards a long double line of trees (10) crossing ahead.
On reaching this line of trees, turn right and walk between the two rows until Ladies Mile (11) is reached.
Cross Ladies Mile and continue across this part of the downs, at approximately right angles to the road behind you. This area is studded with trees and clumps of bushes so the line of your walk will probably be not too straight. Our aiming point is the small enclosed Parks Dept Downs Depot (12) on the edge of the downs between the top end of Pembroke Road and Bristol Zoo.
You will notice on approaching the depot that the ground surface here is very uneven with a large depressed area. This is the lip of the particularly deep Pembroke Road stone quarry. Closed in the 1880s it remained in partial use until finally filled in 1925. So long did the infilling take that in 1921 it was suggested that the remaining hole be converted into an ornamental lake.
When the depot comes into view, pass to the left of it and join the small service road that leads to it.
Right next to this track is a small tower. This is the top of a Ventilator shaft for the Clifton Down tunnel (there is a second one in The Gully). When built in 1874, it was adorned with battlements and a turret in an attempt to make it blend in with the surroundings.
Pembroke Road was formerly known as Gallows Acre Lane. The top end of Pembroke Road (13) was for several centuries the scene of many executions until the opening of the Cumberland Road gaol in 1820. One of those executed here was the notorious dwarf highwayman Jenkins Protheroe; his ghost is said to haunt Pembroke Road.
Continue down Pembroke Road, ignoring side turnings, until you reach the first turning on the right.
This is Guthrie Road, named after Canon John Guthrie a popular benefactor of Clifton College. This road leads to both Clifton College and the former Bristol Zoo site.
Do not go along Guthrie Road but note the tall stone tower (14), formerly part of the Guthrie Road Emmanuel Church. The body of this church has been rebuilt as Brunelcare sheltered housing but the tower remains. It was in this church on the afternoon of Christmas Eve December 24th 1914, that 24-year old Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller married 25-year old Captain Archibald Christie of the Royal Flying Corps. The marriage lasted some eight years but Agatha went on to considerably longer fame as a writer.
Keep going down Pembroke Road until you reach All Saints Church (15), on the left, with distinctive needle spire. The original church was built between 1868 and 1872. On 2 December 1940, an incendiary bomb set fire to the building, destroying the chancel and nave of the church. It was rebuilt in the 1960s and the new nave and altar were consecrated on 1 July 1967.
Next to the church, turn left into Alma Vale Road. On the right hand side, just opposite the church hall, is stone and redbrick building (16) with ornate stonework over the central doorway still bearing the name of its original occupant Edgar Edwards, a cabinet maker and undertaker. This building has achieved
minor cult status being the film location as a vampire’s HQ in the BBCs first series of ‘Being Human’.
Continue along Alma Vale Road passing shops, restaurants and the pub/theatre which is the Alma Tavern.
On reaching tree-lined St Johns Road (17), turn left up the gentle rise until you cross the bridge over the Severn Beach line.
Here, on your left, is the entrance to the Downs Tunnel, while on the right is Clifton Down Station
Cross the bridge and turn right, down the old station yard.
To the right of the old station buildings (now converted into more modern use) is a gateway to the station platforms.
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.
Maps © OpenStreetMap contributors