Hung Road, Bristol

Hung Road is a strange name for a short section of the bank of the Avon, but it is a fascinating place. It is close to the ancient village of Pill on the Somerset bank of the Avon but it can only be seen from the Shirehampton meadows.

At this point the Avon has cut into a rock outcrop, and there is an almost vertical cliff which drops right down into the river. The cliff face is covered in trees, and where it reaches the water it is covered in seaweed. This is because it is very close to the junction with the Bristol Channel, and the water is far more salty than it is closer to Bristol.

It is said that if you look carefully you can see a few huge rusty chains hanging down among the brown seaweed. Now a Road in nautical terms is a place where you can stay or anchor safely. However because of the huge tidal rise and fall of the Severn, and the speed of the tidal currents, the only place where a ship coming up the Avon can stay in safety, is Hung Road. Because the river alongside the cliff face is deep, and there is no muddy bank, in former times ships that knew that the tide had turned and that they had no hope of reaching Bristol Docks until the next tide, would tie themselves up to the chains hung on the cliff face, and stay afloat and upright as the water level fell. As soon as the tide began to come in they would slip the rope, and be carried up into the city docks without a problem.

But Hung Road is also fascinating today because it has become a Heronry. Herons nest very early so the best time to count their nests is now, before the leaves come out. Herons are very large birds, and build huge bulky nests usually in the tops of tall trees, and sometimes a long way from water. They are very awkward moving clumsily among the branches, but they nest there because they are safe. At Hung Road they don’t nest in the trees at the top of the cliff, but on trees that grow close its foot. This has the result that they are completely invisible from the Somerset side of the river, and can only be counted from the Bristol side.

On Saturday I found eleven herons, and what may have been seven nests. A lot of the Herons were just standing around, looking as if they were guarding the nest sites, and there may have been birds incubating, but they were too far away to be certain. The nests are in the stumpy tops of trees covered in Ivy, which creates a lot of camouflage. There was also a Cormorant roost, with seven Cormorants on an old stag-headed Oak. Their droppings had whitened the trunk and the Ivy below.

One of the fine old lime trees at the top of the cliff had a very large old Mistletoe growing in it. There used to be a Rookery in these trees but this vanished some years back.

There was a curlew probing the mud near Pill Creek, and two Oystercatchers flew by. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming on a branch in the wood- the first I have heard this year. Woodpigeons were displaying and two Stock Dove were chasing one another.

The riverside path from the old Lamplighters pub, which, alas, is closed and boarded up and for sale, was pretty muddy but there were a lot of new Mole hills in the soft earth. I first saw molehills here fifty years ago, and probably they have been here for ever. Now is the best time of the year to spot moles, and they are quite widely distributed in the city. The path is part of the Severn Way which runs from Bristol through to Avonmouth and then all the way up the Severn to Gloucester. Much of it is poorly maintained and there are few signposts, but it is well worth finding..