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Conham Vale & Magpie Bottom

The Group met up at the Conham River Park on a mild and bright January morning. After an introduction to the area and some of its long and complex history, we set off along the River Avon passing the pumping station, the Bristol Ariel Rowing Club and Beeses Tea Gardens, dating from 1846, on the opposite bank. Shortly afterwards we visited one of the remaining ruins of a copper smelting works and then ascended a flight of 100 steps to the Panorama Walk which was opened in 1957 by the then local M.P. Tony Benn. There were good views at the top of the walk along the river towards Bath. On the way back to the picnic area for lunch, we saw a lady swimming in the river.

After lunch we set out gently uphill along Conham Vale, with its flowing brook, lush vegetation and a winding footpath through wooded areas and gardens. This has been the boundary between Bristol and Gloucestershire for many years and is marked by inscribed stones. Largely due to poverty and lack of most basic amenities, it was an extremely lawless area in past times, a hub for crime and extortion, until the worst culprits were either transported or hanged, and it may have been the influence of John Wesley and his followers which eventually helped the population to become more law-abiding!

Further on we entered Magpie Bottom, previously a mining area, then used for market gardens and more recently becoming a nature reserve with a fast-flowing stream and orchards. From there we climbed out of the valley and eventually reached Air Balloon Road, where a very early passenger carrying balloon landed in the 1790’s, causing the locals much excitement. A former pub, a school and a health centre all commemorate the event.

Our next stop was Troopers Hill Nature Reserve with its iconic chimney, and extensive views over much of Bristol, the Mendip Hills and the Avon Valley. It’s hard to believe that this was an area of heavy industry up until the early 1900’s, with chemical works, mining and smelting all going on. The only vestiges remaining are the chimney itself, the ruins of a mine building and the spoil heaps now covered in acid loving plants such as heather and gorse, with many insects including rare bees, a tangible example of how nature can eventually reclaim ground that has been damaged by human exploitation.

All downhill now, walking along the site of the former wharves on the River Avon and back to our starting point at Conham.

Thank you to everyone who came along and made such an enjoyable day. John and Martin

Postscript. Thanks to our intrepid leaders and all those who came along, for making an enjoyable day.

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