Avon Gorge

The Avon Gorge Is Home To The Clifton Suspension Bridge, One Of The Best Known Landmarks In Britain

This 1.5 mile (2.5km) long gorge has been. cut by the River Avon through a limestone ridge just to the west of the city of Bristol in the south west corner of England 

Why the river should cut its way northwards through this east to west running ridge is something of a mystery. It should naturally have made its way westwards to the sea along the southern foot of the ridge. However, scientists guess that its natural path may have been blocked by a glacier.  

Folk lore has it that the gorge was actually cut by two brothers, giants called Goram and Vincent who did it for the love of a lady called Avona. 

The Clifton Suspension Bridge Looking Toward Leigh Woods

Today, the Avon Gorge and its iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge is the major landmark for the city of Bristol. At the point where this stunning bridge crosses the gorge the cliff walls are 300 feet (91 metres) high and 700 feet (213 metres) apart.

The western side of the gorge, known as Leigh Woods, is mainly owned by the National Trust. The eastern side, closer to the city is called The Downs and is owned by Bristol City Council. The upmarket suburb of Clifton, with its large houses and Georgian terraces, nestles right up to the eastern side of the gorge. It is here that the notable Avon Gorge Hotel, with its amazing view of the gorge and the suspension bridge, is located. 

Possibly The Best View Of The Iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge. From The South

In 1952 over 384 acres of the gorge and its surrounding woodland was created a site of special scientific interest.

Interestingly the gorge has its own microclimate and is home to some rare flora and fauna. Notable plants include Bristol Rock Cress, the Bristol Onion, Autumn Squill and Spiked Speedwell. Two unique species of trees are also to be found, they are the Bristol Whitebeam and Willmotts Whitebeam. Peregrine Falcons which became rare in Britain after the 1930`s have now returned to nest and mate in the Avon Gorge.

The mouth of the River Avon is on the estuary of the River Severn around three miles from the centre of the City of Bristol. In history it was easy to defend the city from any seaward attack and three Iron Age hillside forts have been found in the Avon Gorge where the river ran between the towering cliffs on either side.

The Avon Gorge Looking North. The Road Runs To The Right Of The River 

Medieval times saw Bristol beginning to boom as a port and by the 18th century it was second only to London in importance. It had a virtual monopoly with trade to West Africa and the Americas and it played a prominent role in the infamous slave trade.

However, by the 20th century what had led to Bristol's importance as a sea port now began to lead to its downfall. The easily defendable  channel through the Avon Gorge was now too narrow to take the ever increasing size of ships being used.  

However, the gorge is still important for a number of reasons. It is home to the best known landmark in Bristol. This is the Clifton Suspension Bridge which was designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It was opened in1864 after many delays and  today it is part of an important route into, and out of, the city with over12,000 vehicles a day using it to cross the Avon Gorge.

 Avon Gorge With The Eastern Tower Of The Clifton Bridge And The Clifton Observatory Further To The Left

Another, less famous, engineering marvel was also built in the gorge. This was the Clifton Rocks Railway which was a funicular railway constructed in a 500 foot long, inclined tunnel blasted through the rocks of the gorge.

Opened in March 1893, the railway was designed to transport people between the top and bottom of the gorge. Originally it was a great success but its novelty soon faded and by 1908 it was in Receivership. However, both stations, at the foot and the head of the tunnel are still visible today although in a bad state of repair and most people pass them by not knowing what lies behind their crumbling facades.

The Long Closed Lower Station Of The Clifton Rocks Railway

Two more traditional railway lines were built along the bottom of the gorge on either side of the river. On the west side the Portishead Railway was opened in 1867 and although closed in the 1960's it was reopened to take freight traffic. A short tunnel takes it under the buttress of the suspension bridge. A footpath and National Cycle Network cycleway runs beside the track.

On the east of the river a line was constructed between 1863 and 1865 which connected the Bristol suburb of Hotwells with Avonmouth. Part of this line was closed in 1922 when construction of a major road was started. This road, called The Portway, was opened in 1926 and is now part of the A4 and links Bristol City centre to the M5 Motorway.

On The Western Side Of The Gorge, Under The Bridge, Is This Old Tunnel Of The Portishead Railway

The cliffs of the Avon Gorge are popular for rock climbing and have also been used by Base Jumpers. Although illegal in the U.K. this extreme sport is also carried out by daredevils jumping from the Suspension Bridge!