Willsbridge Valley Nature Reserve, Bristol


Siston Brook

Secluded, wooded valley southeast of Bristol, centred on Siston Brook, a River Avon tributary; varied habitats, and industrial relics including old mines and a disused tramway
Long Beach Road, Longwell Green; BS30 9UA
Siston Brook is a short tributary of the River Avon, southeast of Bristol, originating from springs near Siston and meeting the river after 5 miles just beyond Willsbridge, north of Keynsham. The lower end flows through a wooded valley up to 100 feet deep, and a third of a mile section is contained within Willsbridge Valley Nature Reserve managed by Avon Wildlife Trust, on account of its woodland and riparian habitats.

There are no particularly rare species here, and most of the woods are recent in origin, but the place is made more scenic than many other reserves by the brook, a relatively large watercourse, surrounded by tall trees that create a rural oasis, completely isolated from its suburban surroundings.

The valley is also of interest for former industrialisation, as several locations were quarried, for limestone, while just to the north was a late 19th century coal mine (California Colliery), linked by tramway to another tramline, built in the 1830s, paralleling the river to the south and enclosed within a 450 foot-long tunnel. At the lower end of the valley was a corn mill, the building still intact, and once associated with a dam that formed a narrow lake nearly a third of a mile in length, though now the stream has mostly returned to a natural state.

The Reserve

Parking is available along Cherry Garden Lane to the east of the reserve, at the Willsbridge Mill Car Park on Long Beach Road, or at the mill itself, off the A431. Paths run each side of the valley, and another follows a small ravine northwards, past the site of the old quarries, to the mill car park. The east edge of the reserve is defined by a bridge over the river, once carrying the tramline from the coal mine. Near the mill are some wildlife ponds and a small garden while the paths generally run close enough to the stream to allow frequent access to its banks. The main tramway, now known as the Dramway, is partly converted to a path, up to a gate and fence proceeding a deep and shady cutting that leads to the (sealed) tunnel. The cutting is eerie and quite photogenic, and it may be reached by climbing down a low cliff on the north side, shortly beyond the gate.