Orpen Gateway

The Orpen Gateway links Orpen Gardens to the Lockleaze playing fields on Purdown. It is part of a mainly off road route linking Horfield Parish Church and the parish church in Stapleton. This route is, in turn, part of a 23-mile, long-distance path called Green Victory in Book 3 of the Crossing Boundaries Series, which is an extended version of Bristol Ramblers’ South Bristol Circular.

For the general walker, the 8.7-mile section between Southmead Road and Stockwood is probably the most useful, because the end points are linked by the relatively frequent 54 bus. This part of the route uses mainly traffic free paths to link Horfield Common, Muller Road Recreation Ground, Lockleaze Playing Fields, Purdown, part of the Frome Valley Walkway, Eastville Park, Royate Hill Local Nature Reserve, St George’s Park, St Anne’s Wood/Well/Nature’s Garden, Nightingale Valley, Victory Park and Stockwood Open Space Nature Reserve.

This is an excellent example of that connectivity between parks and open spaces, which Jennifer Mackley (Parks and Green Spaces Strategy Co-ordinator) agreed was important at the PROWLG meeting on 10th Sept 2009. It also presents an opportunity to “enhance the use of PRoW…including Promoting Routes, Increased usage and Maintenance,” as mentioned in her presentation.

Orpen Gardens, like most of the streets in Lockleaze is named after a painter, namely the Irish painter Sir William Orpen (1878-1931). Orpen made his reputation as a portrait painter, much influenced by Manet and regarded by John Singer Sargent as his (Sargent’s) natural successor. However, his work as a war artist during the First World War is probably more important, both for his standing as a painter and for the relevance of Orpen Gardens to a route called “Green Victory.”

The importance of Orpen Gardens as a gateway was brought to my attention on Thursday 26th November 2009, when I was prevented from using it while out running with Town and Country Harriers by a locked gate armed with spikes along the top. We were able to get round the obstruction by retracing our steps to Romney Avenue and descending the road to an alternative entrance to Lockleaze playing fields, where there used to be a children’s play ground. However, this is not a satisfactory diversion as it is not advertised on the gate for the benefit of strangers.

I have discovered that the gate was put in place by the Garage Strategy Team, who are dedicated to knocking down garages owned by the council and building houses on the cleared sites. The gate is said to be a temporary expedient to keep fly tippers and drug dealers off the site, and indeed, the way from Orpen Gardens will be needed to access the proposed houses, if they are built.

In the meantime, it is possible to access Lockleaze playing fields from the garage site through a kissing gate by using a path from a neighbouring square called Haydon Gardens (named after an English romantic painter).

The kissing gate provides evidence that Bristol City Council meant to dedicate a public right of way onto the playing fields. It is the understanding of Mr Stephen Rice of 12 Orpen Gardens, that the dedicated way goes from Haydon Gardens through the garage site to the kissing gate, and that the way between 12 and 13 Orpen Gardens was just meant to be an access road to the garages. However, he admits that before being prevented by heart disease, he himself used the way to access the playing fields.

I started to use the route from Dovercourt Road over the pedestrian bridge across the railway to Brangwyn Road, across Romney Avenue into Orpen Gardens and thence onto Lockleaze playing fields some time in the early 1980s, both on my own and leading groups of children from Ashley Down Junior School to see the anti-aircraft gun site among other things. It is difficult to be precise about when this started, but it cannot have been later than 1984.

Since then I have used the route regularly, particularly during the 1990s, when I was using it at least twice or three times a month. Latterly, I have used it less frequently, perhaps six or seven times a year, either on my own or with groups of runners.

I do not think there is any reason why the building of a few houses on the garage site should interfere with the public footpath from Haydon Gardens onto the playing field, and, once that path is acknowledged, there is no reason why the route from Orpen Gardens should not also be acknowledged as a public right of way.  However, if it is true that the playing fields are owned by builders and not by the council, it will be necessary to claim the path across the field to join FP145 on Sir John’s Lane as well.

If you have used these paths at any time during the past twenty years, please get in touch with me chris_bloor@tiscali.co.uk .

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