Over and Under the Clifton Suspension Bridge: A Self-Guided Walk
Start on the Clifton (Bristol) side of the bridge. The Clifton toll booth will be on the left as you face the bridge. Walk onto the bridge through the old turnstile. As you walk past the Clifton Tower, you will see a plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of the laying of the 1836 foundation stone. This is a good spot to look across the river at the enormous red-brick Leigh Woods Abutment.
When you reach the gold-coloured double nuts in the middle of the bridge look out to see the old jetties for the White Funnel steamers that used to take people for day trips to Newport. As you come off the bridge at the Leigh Woods abutment, look back for a good view of the gorge. On the far side of the river are the elegant Georgian houses of Sion Hill sloping gently down towards The Avon Gorge Hotel, a large cream building often with sun umbrellas on the terrace.
Just before the chains disappear into the ground, where the wall on your left rises slightly, look over the wall and to your left you will see the remains of the Leigh Woods side of the suspended traveller. You can also see the new path to the vaults inside the Leigh Woods Abutment.
Continue walking along the pavement. Opposite the zebra crossing, you will see the Visitor Centre. The exhibitions in the Visitor Centre explore the history and engineering of the bridge, its social context and the natural history of the area. Entry is free and the Centre is open daily from 10am-5pm. The Centre has toilet facilities and a shop selling books and souvenirs. You can also pick up a local map.
Walk past the parking bay and turn left down Burwalls Road. Follow the road downhill until you reach the entrance to Leigh Woods, (5 minutes). Go in past the bench and information panel and follow the path down to the river (5 -10 minutes). The path divides at some points but all routes join up again. (Please be aware that there may be cattle roaming in the woods.)
Once at river level turn left away from the road, cross the railway bridge towards the river. At the river turn left and walk towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge. You are now on Route 41 of the National Cycle Network – so look out for bikes. Through the trees, you will see glimpses of the Floating Harbour. About 5 mins after you have passed a square of metal railings there is a clearing in the trees where you can see the lock gates and the river heading for the new cut (far right). The modern bridge is a swing bridge to let boats into the Floating Harbour at high tide.
Walk for a further 5 minutes and you will see the bottom station of the Clifton Rocks Railway next to the Colonnade. This funicular railway runs through the cliff. The top station is just below the Avon Gorge Hotel.
Continue along the path and when under the bridge look up to see the maintenance cradle and timbers. Look across to see the climbers’ cave which holds a visitors’ book dating from the 1970s. To locate this look down from the left-hand side of the bridge about halfway down on a seam in the rock – it resembles a belly button!
Continue along the towpath until you reach the brick arch railway bridge which is the entrance to the part of Leigh Woods known as Nightingale Valley. (From here you could continue following the Avon Trail to Pill, Avonmouth or Portishead or double back and follow it along the Chocolate Path to the city centre.)
Go through the gate into Nightingale Valley. Follow the path uphill for about 20 minutes (slope and steps) when you will see the wooden gates and style leading out on to North Road. Go through and turn left. Follow the road for about 10 minutes until it rejoins Bridge Road. Turn left for the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Visitor Centre.
With thanks to Annabel Storrar for researching and writing this guide!