Brunel Trail Part 2: Saltford to Oldfield Park

(4 miles; 3.5 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 explore all or part of the trail without having to carry the book along 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/

To get to the starting point by road — as you approach Saltford from Bath, take the first turning on the right, signposted The Shallows. If coming from Bristol, the turning to The Shallows is on the left just before leaving Saltford. Go under the railway bridge, and the Brass Mills are 200 yards ahead on the right.

A few yards east of the Brass Mills, take the footpath leading down to the the river bank and tirn right. The riverside footpath, which is very easy to follow, runs alongside the railway embankment for much of the way to Newbridge. Apart from some splendid scenery, and the trains rushing past on the embankment, look out for some attractive Tudor-arched bridges under the line. The footpath was once a towpath, built when the river was canalised in the 1720s. Barges were usually towed by teams of men rather than horses. About a mile and a half along the towpath, there is a bridge over a small brook. Nearby, some early graffiti, added only a few months after the railway opened, can be found carved under one of the bridges.

Shortly after this, the river, and the towpath, curve away from the Great Western line to go under the Bristol & Bath Railway Path, which follows the course of the old Midland railway line from Bristol to Bath.

If you are returning to Saltford, climb up to the railway path and turn left. After a mile and a half (just after crossing the river for the second time), turn off the railway path into the car park of the Bird in Hand pub. Go to the front of the pub, turn left and walk along the road to the Brass Mills.

To carry on, turn right along the railway path. After half a mile, you go under a bridge. Walk up the wooden steps on the left, turn left at the top and walk along a very narrow pavement as far as the traffic lights.

For those of an adventurous disposition, there is a short diversion here, which involves negotiating a busy road. Cross the road at the lights — with extreme care — and walk up the lane opposite. The overbridge 200 yards up the lane gives an excellent view of the castellated portal to Twerton Long Tunnel. Looking back towards Bristol, the road bridge across the line marks the approximate site of the Roman Villa discovered — and largely destroyed — when the line was built. This area was once the heart of the Twerton coalfield. There was a mine at the bottom of the lane you have just walked up, and another on the far side of the dual carriageway. Owned by Charles Wilkins, they were still operating when the railway opened, but closed shortly afterwards.

Retrace your steps down the lane, cross the road and turn right and head along the Lower Bristol Road towards Bath.

For those wishing to forego the diversion, turn left along the Lower Bristol Road towards Bath. The Great Western line is on the right, obscured by trees, although you should catch glimpses of Twerton’s two castellated tunnels — Long Tunnel (264 yards) and Short Tunnel (45 yards), referred to by Brunel in an early sketch, as Wilkins’ Covered Way. The design of these tunnels, which can also be seen at Fox’s Wood near Bristol, echoes the castellated style used at the entrance to Temple Meads and in the Claverton Street viaduct in Bath. It was adopted by other tunnel builders — George Stephenson at Grosmont (1836) on the Whitby & Pickering Railway, Thomas Grainger at Bramhope (1845-49) on the Leeds & Thirsk Railway, and Robert Stephenson at Shugborough (1847) on the Trent Valley Railway — but nowhere to better effect than between Bristol and Bath.

After three-quarters of mile, the 638-yard viaduct carrying the line through Twerton comes into view. The numbered doorways in the viaduct now lead into industrial units; originally they led into a row of two-roomed houses, replacing those pulled down to build the railway. The houses were fitted with fireplaces; their flues ran at ceiling height to the back of the viaduct, where the chimneys were disguised as buttresses. The only light came from small windows fronting the road. There were no windows — or doors — in the back rooms of the houses. Even by nineteenth-century standards, they must have been pretty grim.

This section of the Lower Bristol Road was built by Brunel when the railway cut off access to the old turnpike road through Twerton. A hundred yards beyond the old houses, cross the road, turn right under the second road bridge, and walk up Mill Lane to Twerton High Street, the old turnpike road.

Turn left, cross the road, continue along the High Street and go under an impressive skew bridge. The buildings of Twerton station, in the Jacobethan style, are on your left. Before the line opened, Twerton was also known as Twiverton. The opening of Twerton station seems to have fixed the spelling for good. However, the renaming of the station as Twerton on Avon in 1899 did not catch on in the same way. The station closed in 1917 as a temporary wartime economy measure. Passenger numbers had been so badly hit by the introduction of electric trams between Twerton and Bath, however, that it was not considered worth reopening after the war.
Turn right and walk along the Lower Bristol Road. As you pass the bottom of Jew’s Lane, notice the low bridge on the right.

Take the next right up Burnham Road and turn left into Inverness Road. At the top of the road, cross the Linear Park (built on the trackbed of the Somerset & Dorset Railway) and turn right, crossing the bridge over the Great Western. The disused bridge on the right carried the Somerset & Dorset uphill on a gradient of 1 in 50.

To the left there is a view of the Great Western line, with yet another Tudor-style bridge. Just beyond it is Oldfield Park station, opened in 1929.Carry on and turn left down Lyndhurst Road. Follow the road as it swings round to the left. Another left turn will bring you to Oldfield Park station

To continue the trail, go to the next section.If, on the other hand, you feel in need of refreshment before continuing, carry on past the station to the bottom of the road, where you will find the Royal Oak pub (www.theroyaloak-bath.co.uk), open all day from noon.