Snuff Mills Park lies on the River Frome just north of Eastville Park. It is a narrow linear park alongside the River Frome. This rises on the Cotswolds on the A46 by Tormarton, and it enters a steep sided gorge at Frenchay, and descends very rapidly to Eastville. It has a large catchment area in South Gloucestershire, and its level rises very rapidly after rain. It was a key source of power for our ancestors, with water mills all downs its course, and it powered all the early mills involved in the brass industry at Baptist Mills. At Snuff Mills the original mill wheel can still be seen and, as its name suggests, it was used to grind tobacco into snuff, a powder which was sniffed to give an instant high, which was one of the ways Tobacco was used in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The sound of the water pouring over the weir dominates the walk up through steep tree-clad cliffs on either side of the river going up from the car-park. The modern house that replaced the old mill has created a wonderful garden alongside the river, full of native plants, and a wonderful show in summer, despite the fact that it is regularly flooded. There are some steps down to the river’s edge and when the level is low there are rocks which often have little white droppings on them. This is a sure sign that the pair of Grey Wagtails that nest behind the water flowing over the weir are in residence. They are easily missed but their wagging tails, grey backs, smart black chins and bright yellow under-parts make them readily identifiable.
Above the weir the water is still and Moorhens make nests in any piece of old branch, dislodged by a flood, that has got stuck in the bank. Ancient alder trees line the bank on both sides, their dark cone shaped nuts prominent on the branches in winter. They slowly release seeds that Redpolls love to eat. The seeds float, and are spread down stream. A Heron will notice your approach before you notice it, and will lazily lift into the air and make its way upstream. The steep rocky face on your left is covered in Harts Tongue Fern, and because little light gets into the Gorge until mid-summer, there are few plants below the trees. As the valley floor widens, suddenly there are a group of towering black poplars ahead. There was a fashion forty years ago to plant Poplars in odd corners to be sold to be converted into match sticks, though I suspect the bottom has rather dropped out of this market.
In spring the woods are alive with the songs of Robins, Wrens, Blackbirds, Blackcaps and the harsh warning cries of Jays. Great Spotted Woodpeckers will be drumming in March, and Nuthatch calls may be heard at any time. When you reach the footbridge look closely at the water tumbling below. This used to be a part of a Dipper territory, and they nested under the steep bank on the far side. They have dark backs, white bellies, and dip up and down on stones in the river bed. Kingfisher’s too have a territory here, and a sudden flash of electric blue as they hurtle six inches above the water is all you are likely to see.
Snuff Mills is a great site in every season.