Walk: Sea Mills to Shirehampton

Map of Sea Mills to Shirehampton walk

Station: Sea Mills
Trains: Usually every 30 minutes from Bristol Temple Meads. Some services operate from Weston-super-Mare.
Distance: 4km
Allow: About 1 hour

This walk follows a section of the extended Severn Way from Sea Mills railway station round Horseshoe bend to Shirehampton station.

You might see the occasional way mark in the form of a small blue Severn sailing trow. It is a path easy to follow but has a series of wooden stairs both up and down taking you through old earthworks above Horseshoe Bend in the river Avon. These earthworks were created either in the construction of the (then) Port and Pier Railway of the 1890s (more recently, the Severn Beach line) or The Portway in the 1920s.

The Walk

This walk starts at Sea Mills simply because there are better walk end facilities at Shirehampton. Leave Sea Mills station (1) turning right into Sea Mills Lane, with the crumbling C17th harbour in the mouth of the Trym to your left.

Go under the arches of the Portway viaduct, turn left over the footbridge (2) then, following the path left again back under the Portway and the railway bridge on the other side of the harbour. The path now curves to the right along the now overgrown mud banks of the River Avon.

It is interesting to compare the present-day landscape here with old photographs of the same stretch of this river. It would appear that less than 100 years ago this channel was a lot wider though presumably no deeper.

Walking along this path towards Shirehampton, the River Avon curves to the left into the then notorious Horseshoe Bend (3) while the railway on your right follows the curve of the Avon and enters cuttings through the rising ground in front.

As you follow this section of the path you will encounter a series of large bollards, some dated 1930, near to the path. These bollards were installed here in response to a series of shipping accidents on this stretch of the river. Lacking present day safety devices such as radar, on Saturday 2nd November 1829 the descent of a sudden thick bank of fog caused five large ocean going vessels, five tugboats and numerous smaller vessels to be grounded between Horseshoe Bend and Sea Mills on a single tide.

Luck was with the mariners on this occasion and all were refloated by the following afternoon.

The danger to a stranded ship in this river was severe. On a falling tide in a narrow channel, a ship could be swung by the tide across the river. With only the bows and stern supported, the unsupported weight of the hull could cause the ship to break its back with the total loss of the ship and total blockage of the river until cleared. This had happened on several occasions.

The bollards were sited here so that a stranded ship could be lashed to fixed points on the bank and prevent a swing across the river.

As this grassy area narrows on approaching the Horseshoe Bend, the path turns sharply right up over a low sloping wall towards the railway (4). Do not attempt to go straight on or you will end up in the river or its mud.

Go through a gap in metal fencing and pass under the Severn Beach line by a large bridge. The path turns to the left up rising steps in a wooded area to the level of a playing field behind fencing on the right. There is a small gate here giving access to these fields which could be of use as an alternative route if a walker coming in the opposite direction encounters an unusually high tide on the River Avon.

A little further up this rising path there is a wooden stairway leading down to level boardwalk. At the end of this section of pathway yet another flight of wooden steps up to the bottom corner of a large grassy area of meadow (5). Keep to the left hand path following the hedge-line, beyond which is the railway.

From here you can see the Old Powder House atop a high stone wall that drops to the river. It was built around 1776 when an Act of Parliament required the offloading of stocks of gunpowder and other highly inflammable materials. Ships picked them up again on their outward journey, a crane on top of the high wall being used for the transfers.

Climb to the top of this slope but pause occasionally to admire the panoramic view of the Avon behind you.
At the top of the meadow, enter more woodland and follow the meandering path at times quite close to either the Portway or the railway cutting. Near the top of this small hill, descend yet another flight of wooden steps and then emerge into a large lay-by (6) just off the Portway. Five park-style bench seats here are adequate provision for the weary who want to pause and admire the view.

When rested, walk to the other end of the lay-by and go through a gate and along a limestone chipping path that soon comes to steps up the low railway embankment which starts the long, straight and gentle descent towards the western end of Shirehampton.

When the end of a row of houses becomes visible, the path widens and continues between the railway on your left and allotments to the right.

The footpath widens into a vehicle access track for the allotments till it joins Woodwell Road (7). Go through the pedestrian gate to the right of the main metal gate and immediately turn left over the Severn Beach line.

On the other side of this bridge, turn right and downhill on Nibley Road to the junction with Riverside close. At this point take any of the turnings (to left or right) that lead on down to the grassy parkland area (8) behind the houses in front of you and head to the right along the bank of the River Avon. This grassy area with some trees is succeeded by a fenced off playing field. The footpath is to the left, between the playing field fence and the river.

On the opposite bank (9), are the inlet of Chapel Pill, Adam and Eve and the low cliffs of Hung Road.

Chapel Pill

The name “Pill” means a tidal inlet or harbour. Ham Green Pottery kiln was excavated some time ago and was located in the fields above Chapel Pill. The pottery was made in the period from 1100 AD to 1250 AD and was exported from Pill by boat.

This pottery has been found and identified in archaeological digs from the Algarve in Portugal to Iceland.

Adam and Eve

This a small curved white building with two towers and a gate between them. Built mid C18 as a water gate for Ham Green House which is located behind. Set either side of the gate are two statues, a man and a woman.

Hung Road

Larger ships were once moored at Hung Road and their cargoes taken by barge to Bristol docks: The ships were secured by heavy chains from large iron rings embedded in the stone cliff. As the tide, fell these ships literally hung there until the water rose again. The chains were removed in WW1 but the rings are still there.

Once past the playing fields, follow the path slightly away from the river and past a play area for children. The gap in a group of trees opens out into the end of Station Road. On your right is The Lamplighters public house (10), to the left of which Station Road will take you up to Shirehampton railway station (11).

On the left are the premises of the Shirehampton Sailing club whose riverside landing stage was, until the mid 1970s, the site of the ferry across the Avon to Pill. Pill was traditionally the residence of the Bristol Channel pilots, who would guide ocean going boats though the sandbanks and channels of the Severn estuary up the Avon and through the Avon Gorge to the Port of Bristol. Each Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter carried one pilot and was crewed by a man and a “boy” with fierce competition to get their pilot onto an approaching ship. They often ranged as far as Lundy Island.

Pill was, in its heyday a wild and lawless place once home to 21 public houses. So proud were
pilots of their skilled and often dangerous job that, if you visit their parish church today, you find their occupation carved into their tombstones.

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

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