Brunel Trail Part 1: Keynsham to Saltford

4 miles (7.5 miles as a circular walk)

This walk forms part of a waymarked trail from Keynsham to Box, devised as part of the celebrations for Brunel 200. Originally published in April 2006 as an appendix to The Ringing Grooves of Change: Brunel and the Coming of the Railway to Bath, this downloadable version will enable walkers to follow all or part of the trail without having to carry the book with them.

Maps are not included as part of the trail because the Ordnance Survey produce much better ones than we could possibly hope to. OS Explorer Maps 155 and 156 are recommended; alternatively, small sections of these maps can be downloaded for free at www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/getamap/

Although much of what we will see on this walk was either built by Brunel or was there when he built the line, it starts somewhat inauspiciously. Keynsham station dates from the opening of the line from Bath to Bristol on 31 August 1840, but the Tudor-style buildings designed by Brunel were demolished in 1970. However, the station is still open, and provides an ideal way of getting to the starting point.

Arriving at Keynsham from Bristol, turn right out of the station; arriving at Keynsham from Bath, cross the line and turn right.

Cross the road and walk down the hill. The gateway on your left, guarded by a massive pair of pillars, dates from the 1920s, when a siding was built to serve Fry’s Chocolate Factory, which had relocated from Broadmead in Bristol to Somerdale after the First World War. The siding branched off the main line east of Keynsham station, crossed the road and continued through the gate. Beyond were over two and half miles of track serving the factory. The siding survived until 1980.

At the bottom of the hill, turn right into Avon Mill Road. Passing the old brass mills, with their black bricks manufactured from brass slag, turn right and go under the railway. This is Mortimer’s Bridge, built of local stone, with a Tudor-style arch characteristic of most of the bridges on the line between Bristol and Bath, and echoing the design of the hammer-beam roof in the original Temple Meads station. It is a style rarely seen on railways elsewhere, probably because pointed arches are weaker than rounded ones. It is likely that Brunel chose it for this section of the line in homage to the rich late medieval and Tudor architectural of Bristol, which is also characterised by flattened arches.

Once through the bridge, turn right into the park and walk down to the footbridge. High up above you is another bridge — with one of the few rounded arches between Bristol and Bath — carrying the railway across the River Chew. Cross the river, turn left, go under the dual carriageway, and cross back over the river by the waterwheel.

Go through the gate, cross the road, and turn right. At the main road, turn left, go across the roundabout and carry on up Bath Hill. At the roundabout at the top of the hill, turn left along Bath Road.

After a quarter of a mile, turn left down Unity Road, go through the subway, and, just before the railway bridge, turn right. At the end of the road, turn left under the railway at Broadmead Bridge and then right. This, it has to be said, is one of the least inspiring parts of the walk, with disused sidings on the right, and scrubby fields and abandoned orchards on the left.

After half a mile of this, the road swings to the right, but you carry on down the track leading to Avon Valley Country Park. Continue on (ignoring the left turning into the country park) until you reach a cluster of buildings with dire warnings of what will happen if you go any further. The footpath has recently been diverted, so you need to cross the stile in the hedgerow on the right, carry straight on down the field for 20 yards, turn left through a gap in the hedge and walk alongside the fence, heading for the far hedgerow. When you reach it, turn right and head for the corner of the field. Turn right again and follow the hedgerow out of the field. (If this all sounds complicated, it might help to remember that all you actually want to do is get from one side of the field to the other).

You’ve now rejoined the railway, beside one of the most attractive bridges on this section of the trail. You don’t want to cross it, however, but turn left and walk alongside the railway to Saltford. As you approach the village, look out for the 176-yard tunnel, with Tunnel House sitting on top of it.

When you reach the road, turn left to take a closer look at Tunnel House. In December 1838, while building the tunnel, navvies cut through a spring supplying much of Saltford with water. The company was given 21 days to put the matter right, but this proved easier said than done, and water carts had to be used to supply houses in the village for several years.

Carry on past Saltford House down the High Street. No 18, on the right, was, for a brief period, the Railroad Arms Beerhouse. Its attic was converted to a dormitory for 20 navvies. Take the alley (or drungway) to the right of the old beerhouse to rejoin the railway line.

After 300 yards you reach a bridge, which gives a good view back to the tunnel entrance. Notice the measures that have been taken to prevent the sides of the cutting slipping. The lias here is notoriously unstable, and several trains having been derailed by landslips over the years. Below you in the other direction is the site of the old station, closed in 1970, and now a maintenance yard. The original wooden station, opened in December 1840, burnt down in 1872, when a burning piece of coal from a passing engine landed on it. It was rebuilt, but closed less than a century later, on 5 January 1970, a victim of the anti-rail policies then current.

Our route takes us, not across the bridge, but down the footpath to the left of the line. A little way along, steps lead down to the road. Here are more brass mills; inside — not unfortunately open to the public — one of the stones bears the legend “Begun Digging the Rail Road June 11 1836.”

To continue the trail, go to the next section.

To return to Keynsham, turn left and follow the road along to the Bird in Hand pub. The pub car park has access to the Bristol & Bath Railway Path. This follows the railway line built by the Midland Railway in the 1860s, when navvies once more descended on Saltford. It closed in the 1960s. Turn left along the path, and half a mile further on, after crossing the river, drop down to the river bank on your left and take a leisurely stroll back to Keynsham. Upon reaching the main road, a left turn will take you back to the station.