Portway, Bristol

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For the football team of the same name, see Portway Bristol F.C..

A4 road shield

A4 road
The Portway running through the Avon Gorge
Route information
Length: 6.5 mi (10.5 km)
History: Constructed between 1919 and 1926
Major junctions
From: Hotwells
  A3029 A3029 road
A4176 A4176 road
A4162 A4162 road
A403 A403 road
[ M 5  ] M5 motorway
To: Avonmouth
Road network

The Portway is a trunk road, approximately 6.5 miles (10.5 km) long, which links central Bristol, England, with its port at Avonmouth. It is part of the A4 road, which was the primary east west highway in Southern England before the construction of the M4 motorway.

The road starts at the Junction of Bridge Valley Road & Hotwell Road Hotwells and runs through the Avon Gorge, parallel to the serpentine path of the River Avon. It passes through the suburbs of Sea Mills, where it crosses the River Trym, and Shirehampton, before terminating at a roundabout in Avonmouth at a junction with the M5 motorway.


Construction of the Portway started in 1919,[1] partly on the line of the Bristol Port and Pier Railway. In 1924, approximately 200 yards (180 m) of newly constructed concrete embankment slid into the river, posing a hazard to navigation and adding 12 months to the duration of the work.[1][2] The Portway was the most expensive road in Britain when it was opened by the Minister of Transport, Colonel Wilfrid Ashley, in 1926, costing £800,000.[1]

Electric lighting was provided to illuminate the new road, but for one year after the opening the lights were kept switched off following objections from river pilots who argued that they would make it hard to distinguish the navigation lights of shipping and the signal lights on the shore. Eventually the electric lights were turned on at a reduced brilliance.[3]

Rockfalls from the limestone cliffs of the Avon Gorge have caused a hazard to motorists on occasion and every year the road is closed to allow for inspection of the cliffs for potentially dangerous cracks and loose rocks, and to allow remedial works.[4] In 1980, a glass fibre reinforced concrete canopy was constructed over Hotwell Road (just before it becomes The Portway) where it passes under the Clifton Suspension Bridge in order to protect traffic from danger at that point.[5]

In 2001, a 27-inch (690 mm) water main burst near the junction with Bridge Valley Road, causing a major collapse and putting the road out of action for several months. One passer-by was swept into the river but was rescued uninjured.[6]

Other facilities[edit]

Fun runners on the Portway in the 2006 Bristol Half Marathon. The canopy over the road under the Clifton Suspension Bridge is visible in the background.

The Portway Park and Ride is in Shirehampton near the M5 junction.[7] A bus lane on the inbound section of the road from Sea Mills is designed to allow quicker access for buses to the city centre. The railway stations of both Shirehampton and Sea Mills are both very close to the road and there is a proposal to build a new station at the Park and Ride.[8]

The annual Bristol Half Marathon uses the Portway as part of its route and the annual Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride also uses the road which is closed to motor traffic for the day.[9] In June 2009, city councillor John Rogers proposed that the Portway be closed to motor traffic on summer Sundays to allow cycling in a car free environment.[10]


  1. ^ a b c "New Bristol Road". The Times (Times Digital Archive). 3 July 1926. Retrieved 2009-10-23. (subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ "Serious Subsidence Near Bristol: Concrete Embankment In River Bed". The Times (Times Newspapers). 29 September 1924. 
  3. ^ A Correspondent (4 March 1929). "Shrouded Lights: Keeping The Portway Dim". The Times (Times Newspapers). 
  4. ^ "Rock face safety checks close Portway in Bristol for next three Sundays". Evening Post. Bristol News and Media Ltd. 25 September 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  5. ^ "GFRC: recent uses and developments" (PDF). The Aberdeen Group. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  6. ^ "Portway damage could take "up to a month" to repair". BBC Bristol. BBC. 5 July 2001. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  7. ^ "Park and Ride Bus Service - A4 Portway (Service 902)". Bristol City Council. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 
  8. ^ "Portway park and ride rail stop". Evening Post (Bristol News and Media Ltd). 13 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-25. 
  9. ^ "Cycling: Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride - 2009". Bristol City Council. Retrieved 2010-10-12. 
  10. ^ "Portway closure plans for Sundays". BBC News Bristol (BBC). 22 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-23. 

Coordinates: 51°28′35″N 2°38′56″W / 51.47652°N 2.64882°W / 51.47652; -2.64882