To begin this tour, stand by the stone wall on the viewing point, looking towards the bridge.
Look across the bridge and up to the left where on the horizon you will see a round tower. This is known as ‘the Observatory’. originally a snuff mill, it was gutted by fire in the 18th century but in 1828 a ‘camera obscura’ was installed inside. A system of mirrors gives a 360° view of the surrounding area, especially on clear days. Today it is one of the few such pieces of apparatus still in operation in the United Kingdom. Later a steep, stepped tunnel was dug down from the observatory through the rock into a cave which opens out on the cliff face of the gorge.
Directly across the bridge, you can just see the spire of Christchurch, Clifton. The top of the spire is the highest point in the city.
Many different kinds of rock can be found in the Avon Gorge. The angle of the layers shows how the rock has been twisted and lifted through millions of years. The rock is brittle and continually breaks off so the canopy over the road below the bridge was constructed in the 1980s to protect the traffic.
On the far side of the river, you can see the jetties used by Campbell’s White Funnel fleet of paddle steamers. Look to the right. Set into the cliff face just behind the closest jetty, you can just see an archway and the blocked entrance of the lower station of the Clifton Rocks Railway, which was in action from 1897 until 1934. Trams using water tanks and operated by gravity went up and down the gorge through a steep tunnel to the upper station next to what is now the Avon Gorge hotel, the large white building with the sun terrace. It cost “a penny up and a ha’penny down” and connected to a more conventional tram which ran along the road.