One of the regular features I want to have on this site is visits to lines around the country to assess just how well they are doing in a number of fields - enthusiast interest, atmosphere, visitor facilities etc. For good or ill the Avon Valley was chosen to be the first, mainly because it's just down the road ...
Or is it? Travelling from Bristol there are no road signs pointing it out, and I was practically in Bath before I figured out how to get there. A twenty minute journey took almost an hour! There were no brown signs at all, especially at the important point where we should have headed into Keynsham rather than continuing on the A4.
First signs were good - a very large car park (though almost full even on a diesel-only Friday in April) and a neat and friendly-looking station. The ticket office staff were very pleasant and buying tickets was easy. They offer a disabled and carer discount.
Our next port of call on site was the catering area. It was fairly busy, and only took a few minutes to deliver a portion of chips. There were plenty of drinks and ice creams, but crisps were a problem - there was an empty box of salt and vinegar and otherwise just a box of plain. This isn't really very good as kids hate salt and vinegar and plain! This whole area is due for refurbishment this year, and the plans look like this will become a really classy area in future. Cost will be £250,000!
The quality of the food was very good, especially the (very reasonable) sandwiches.
Another area to be upgraded this year will be the dining area - currently this is all outside, but a covered dining area is part of the redevelopment plan. There were plenty of bins (including recycling bins) but the tables were a bit plain and tired.
Much trade at Bitton is from cyclists who use the excellent cycleway which runs alongside. There were bikes everywhere, and this is one of the principal areas of activity in which the AVR excels - catering for non-travellers.
The whole route is paralleled by the cycleway, which extends from Bristol to Bath. This does detract somewhat from the atmosphere of the railway, but you can always sit the other side! Views are better on the eastern section, despite there being a lot of trees alongside. On the western section to Oldland much of the line is in rock cutting and approaching Oldland there are some very boring modern houses alongside the line. The lineside is also quite tatty with lots of litter and rubbish alongside. It could do with a tidy up! All in all the scenery is rather bland, although the under and over bridges give some interest to the line. The best section is the last bit to Riverside.
The station at Oldland is just a platform. Today was diesel day and the Pullman liveried class 73 looked quite smart.
Avon Riverside is a very new construction so still looks quite stark. The path down to the riverside looked very inviting.
Back at Bitton there is plenty of atmosphere and little touches making it a very pleasant place to spend an hour or two. The lack of covered eating space is being addressed. The shop was a bit boring, half Thomas and half bog-standard tourist and enthusiast fare. I like to buy something from every line I visit, but there really wasn't anything here, so I left empty-handed.
All-in-all a very pleasant and friendly line. However there was one thing I found really difficult to understand - visitors were allowed to smoke on the platform despite there being children around, but the thing that really amazed me was that one of the smokers was a VOLUNTEER! My own line is a totally smoke-free area so I did find this aspect a little disturbing. No doubt it will be addressed soon!