Somewhere Between a Rock and a Truly Wild Place – part two

I leave the rusted fencing behind me and return to cruise mode, following an easy right-hand curve beneath arching trees. To my left, the woodland gets higher and steeper and then suddenly the first set of cliffs known as, Seawalls, announce themselves.

A giant ramp of rock juts up towards the sky, joining a ragged vertical face that peaks at around 70 metres. I spot a couple of climbers, their bright vests and stretched limbs marking them out like strange crabs against the limestone.

I hop off my bike and balance on the kerb, waiting for a gap in the traffic, when there is movement in the air. I double take as what I can only assume to be a Peregrine Falcon, swoops lazily across the road and disappears behind the trees. ‘Tis the season I am soon to discover (see photos).

Across the road is a grassy bank and I trudge over it, losing sight of the road. Then the cliffs are all about me, magnificent and daunting.

I spy more climbers attached to the rock at impossible angles while others teeter about near the bottom. Towards the far end of the area is a gravel car park with a few cars and a mini-bus parked there. Ropes are strung up next to it, leading youngsters with mandarin-coloured helmets up and down the shorter part of the cliffs.

Back on the Portway, I find another enclave, labelled with the less adventurous title of Main Wall. However, this one appears much less tamed than the first. A Co-operative lorry and a line of cars are parked in a lay-by, all driverless. Behind them a mound of earth lies where a red barrier has long since been raised and left for dead.

I clamber over the earth and find myself in the remains of another car park. White lines painted on the tarmac get lost in fantastic carpets of orange moss while greater heaps of vegetation create corridors down which I wander.

There are odd remnants of human activity scattered about; a crash-landed radio controlled plane, a wildlife research project and a memorial of lanterns and flowers at the foot of the cliffs. I stop here a minute for some cool reflection and look up at the rock. It glares back at me unrelentingly, with a face even more extreme than the last in its concave shape.

 

Somewhere Between a Rock and a Truly Wild Place – part one

I make a quick stop at the viewpoint on the Downs and join the tourists and lunchtime strollers as they gaze into the hollow of the mighty Avon Gorge. It’s an epic sight, not least because of the majestic limestone cliffs and wooded banks that rear up from the riverside, but also due to its location right around the corner from Bristol city centre. In fact, I’m fairly sure that within ten minutes of passing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge that hangs across the mouth, it’s possible to find yourself in a pub with a nice harbourside view.

I keep that thought in mind as I ride off, turning down Seawalls Road into the genteel neighbourhood of Sneyd Park. Here is a land of pristine hedgerows and perfect driveways and more than a few properties that border on the castle variety. There also seems to be a distinct lack of traffic, which might have something to do with there being no obvious way to the river and I  follow any road leading downwards in the hope of eventually finding it.

Then all of a sudden, secluded wealth is swept aside and replaced by gritty 1960’s housing before the Portway makes itself known; a fast and furious carriageway that runs/ruins the entire length of the gorge. Being a Sunday, however, the traffic is relatively calm and I’m able to get to the other side unscathed where a cycleway runs adjacent to the river.

I start riding and find the pavement wide enough (just) for two cyclists to pass each other without getting sucked into the tailwind of a freight lorry or toppling over the fence and into the mud, but it’s no less a humbling experience. Everything about the surroundings makes me feel small, from the huge expanse of water flowing past to the banks of trees that start to rise up on either side.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing particularly eye-catching on this initial stretch until my urban decay radar picks up something across the road. A rusted fence lies half-collapsed and mangled, opening the way to what appears to be an abandoned sports ground.

I chain up my bike and make a dash across the road. There is a barrier that stands between a gate and the fence, but I easily push it aside and squeeze through. A ramp leads down to an area of bare concrete where some long-extinguished fireworks waste away in the sun. To my right is a stripped out hut full of rubbish while to the left are two basketball courts. In the first, masonry lies strewn about like broken slabs of chocolate while the second is empty all but for a sorry-looking bike ramp made of chipboard. The only thing keeping the place alive seems to be the fresh-looking graffiti that decorates the walls.

Over Steps and Stones

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I’ve just finished the last chapter of my project, exploring and writing about the Christmas Steps area of Bristol! You can read it and the rest of the chapters here.

I’ve got more urban journeys lined up for the Spring including a trek down the Avon Gorge and an amble around the new business district that calls itself The Enterprise Zone, so stay tuned!