I’ve had glimpses of the Clifton Suspension Bridge for most of the way as the snaking cliffs open and close, revealing one of the towers (or piers) on the Leigh Woods side of the gorge. But as I pass the junction with Bridge Valley Road, the gorge opens up and the full span of the bridge is revealed.
No matter how many times I see it, I am always in awe of its iron might, hanging 76 metres up in the air. The abutments are also an impressive sight; two red monoliths rising out of the rock and scrub like inorganic growths.
Below the bridge is a tunnel protecting motorists from any falling debris, accidental or otherwise. Between it and the bottom of Bridge Valley Road I see a slim strip of pavement with two gated inlets. They look private, but its evident that people pass in and out on their way to climbing routes so I don’t feel bad about slipping round the gate.
I find two pathways leading left and right through ivy-swamped trees. I take the left, which skirts over a rocky bank and drops down to a pile of broken pallets and an upturned chair. Around a corner and the path leads into a dead end and what looks like the mouth of a tunnel that’s been filled in. A bolted door and a window with rusted bars facing out of it remind me of the Blair Witch Project.
On closer inspection the place appears to be nothing more than a sort of storage facility with more pallets and paving stones stacked by the door. It’s still an uneasy location, though, and wouldn’t be out of place in a Saw movie. Thankfully, a model of Grandpa Smurf perched on a plank goes some way towards lightening the atmosphere.
I retrace my steps and follow the right-hand path, which leads into more open territory. Whooping voices from above make me look up and I see the yellow grill that covers the mouth of the Giant’s Cave, accessed from Clifton Observatory up on the Downs. After this, the cliffs recede into a cavernous alcove and present a view right up to the side of the bridge where tiny heads linger.
Meanwhile, closer by, I notice a rope.
As I drag myself up its knotted loops towards the top of the tunnel I take a moment to wonder if other people do this kind of thing just for the sake of a blog. But then again, I know it’s for my sake as well; I can’t resist a bit of adventure.
A fence has been expertly peeled back and I pass through the gap to find myself in an elevated meadow. Grasshoppers ping out of the way like seed pods as I slide between golden grasses and wildflowers.
Above, the bridge looms and I can see the skeletal framework of its underside. I also gain a strange perspective looking down at the cars through the tall grass as they motor in and out of the tunnel.