Avon Gorge (3)
From the Clifton side of the Bridge it's a short walk up to the Observatory, but on the way there is a very unusual feature to be seen - the Rock Slide.
The Rock Slide
Generations of children's bums have worn this piece of rock to glassy smoothness, ideal for whizzing down the 30ft odd feet slab of rock.
Passing this we come to the Observatory. This was originally built as a Snuff Mill, the windmill was destroyed by fire in 1777, but was rebuilt in 1829 by a Mr West who installed the Camera Obscura. Today, after many years of neglect, it's an interesting place to visit.
In the tower there is a Camera Obscura. This is an arrangement of mirrors and lenses that projects an image onto a circular table. By turning a handle different parts of the city can be bought into view, giving a 360-degree, panoramic view. The circular part of the building houses the entrance to the Giant's Cave. This is a passageway that leads to an opening in the face of the gorge. A metal grating lets you walk out a couple of feet into the gorge which can be very disconcerting.
The Observatory stands on the edge of the Downs. This is 180 hectares (422 acres) of park and woodland that sits on top of the gorge. Originally belonging to the Manor of Clifton the land was purchased by the Merchant Venturers in the seventeenth century. In 1861 it was preserved by an Act of Parliament as an open space for the use of the inhabitants of Bristol, forever. Sheep were grazed here until 1924, the owner of the Clifton Down Hotel even complained that the noise of the sheep disturbed his guests.
Near the Observatory are the remains of a little known engineering feat. The Temple Meads to Severn Beach railway runs under the Downs in Clifton Down tunnel which was opened in 1877 to goods traffic and on 1st September 1885. The tunnel is 1,751yards (just under a mile) long and still in use. One of the ventilation tunnels can be seen in the extreme South West corner of the Downs. more pictures and information of the tunnel can be found at The Bristol Railway Archive site. My thanks to Dr. Martin Adams for pointing out the line is still in use when I originally said that it had been abandoned.
The railway ventilation tower
Around the ventilation tower are patches of very uneven ground, known as the Dumps, this is all that remains of very old quarrying and lead workings. Running across the Downs is Ladies Mile Road, originally named because this was a route used by well-do-to ladies out riding, it later became the haunt of prostitutes.
This page created 26th July 2004, last modified 26th May 2012