The St Mary Redcliffe Pipe Walk takes place today. Anyone who wants to join in should meet at St Barnabas Church in Daventry Road, Knowle, at 9.30am for a 10am start. “What is the St Mary Redcliffe Pipe Walk?” I hear you cry. I was not sure either, but then I decided to find out more.
The two-mile walk from Knowle to St Mary Redcliffe follows the route of a pipe first constructed in 1190 and has the important purpose of checking that the water in the pipe is still flowing. It starts at a fresh water spring on the Northern Slopes off Daventry Road, marked by a stone well-head.
This was what many centuries ago was the Ruge Well, but what is now hidden among allotments in the area that locals call the Bommie after a bomb known as Satan dropped onto Beckington Road but did not go off on January 3, 1941.
When I went to find the well-head yesterday afternoon, nobody I spoke to had even heard of it until I found the wonderfully helpful Joy and Mark at The Park, who made a few phone calls resulting in me arranging to meet Steve from the Knowle West Health Association by the entrance to the allotments off Tavistock Road.
The allotments were only reinstated here a few years ago, and the well-head is hidden among one of the plots. Here it is, with the relatively new addition of a metal grill rather than the small wooden door that used to guard its entrance.
Even an allotment holder who I had earlier spoken to by the entrance gate did not know about the existence of the well-head. It is particularly well-hidden, but like all of the Northern Slopes has wonderful views across Bristol towards the Suspension Bridge:
Following a few stone markers, two miles later the walk, led by St Mary Redcliffe’s churchwardens, will arrive at the church. The Pipe Walk, similar to a Beating of the Bounds ritual done in other parishes, is an ancient custom, revived in 1928 after what is only recorded as “a lapse of some time”.
Here is one of the stone markers, in the same allotment as the well-head:
Steve told me that a priest is rumoured to come and wipe his bottom on this particular stone marker every year for good luck, although Steve has never seen this strange occurrence.
One tradition that definitely will continue today is giving the bumps to first-timers on the walk – which includes clergy as well as parishioners – near another one of the markers.
Other stones with the inscription “S.M.R. Pipe” can be found from the source to Victoria Park playground, where there is a water maze designed by Jane Norbury and Peter Milner, built in 1984 as a copy of a roof boss in St Mary Redcliffe at a point where a new sewer crosses the old pipeline.
In around 1810, when the New Cut was dry, the pipe was diverted along York Road, under the original Bedminster Bridge and up Redcliffe Hill to the water trough below the balustrade walk on the west side of the church.