Shipshape and Bristol fashion

I hardly know Bristol.  I did stay there for the night, maybe 40 years ago, with friends who lived near the zoo.  It was thrilling to be woken in the morning by the lions roaring as they rose from sleep to greet the day. But our South Gloucestershire stay included a day-trip to the city.  With no chance at all of doing such a big place justice, we decided we’d spend the whole day exploring the harbourside area.  If I’d gone there during my first visit to Bristol I’d have found an industrial zone, its glory days over, unkempt and unwelcoming to the casual visitor.  Now the harbour is  a vibrant, shipshape and attractive area, busy with locals and tourists alike.

An early view of the harbour
An early view of the harbour

We planned to go to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain, an early passenger steamship, the first to cross the Atlantic, back in 1845.  But it’s so worth an extended visit we decided instead we’d spend a whole day there, next time.  Because there will be a next time.

Old and new.  A view of the Lloyd's building from the Matthew
Old and new. A view of the Lloyd’s building from the Matthew

Instead we climbed aboard a replica of the Matthew, a caravel in which John Cabot sailed to America with a crew of some 20 men, in 1497.  It’s unbelievably small.  With little space for the men, no privacy, uncertain kitchen and sanitary arrangements and positively no computer-assisted stabilisers, it’s hard to believe that there were sailors willing and able to undertake the voyage.  But they sailed forth, and reached land – perhaps Newfoundland – some five weeks later.  They got home too, though somewhat confusingly via Brittany.  Their travellers’ tales are unrecorded.

The Matthew
The Matthew

Besides boats and ships of all kinds, there were the working trains of Bristol Harbour Railway shunting back and forth, trailing unlikely trucks of what looked like scrap and jumble There were museums, to most of which we gave a reluctant miss .  We did visit, though far too briefly, M shed, which gives a lively account of the history of Bristol and its role in the slave trade.  I don’t quite know how we managed to avoid visiting the Arnolfini gallery: probably because we know we must go back.

View of the harbour from the M shed
View of the harbour from the M shed

There’s something very exciting about being near a working waterway: because we did see boatbuilding and other water trades going on, despite its being a Saturday.  And we saw Nick Park’s place too, Aardman Animations, and peered through the windows in hopes of catching a glimpse of Wallace – or Gromit.

Peering in to see Wallace
Peering in to see Wallace

And we had coffee stops, and lunch stops, and afternoon tea stops.  Because it was that sort of lazy day. But having failed to visit SS Great Britain, we felt it only right to finish the day by allowing ourselves to be astonished by Clifton Suspension Bridge, which Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed when he was only 24, though it still wasn’t completed when he died almost 30 years later.

I couldn't take the whole bridge in at one glance
I couldn’t take the whole bridge in at one glance

Now however, it’s used daily by more than 11.000 vehicles daily: rather different from the light horse-drawn traffic he had in mind when he made his design.  Our day was complete when we spotted another form of transport drifting lazily over the bridge: a hot air balloon. Bristol, you did us proud.

Hot air balloon over Clifton Suspension Bridge
Hot air balloon over Clifton Suspension Bridge

Why ‘Shipshape and Bristol fashion’?  Here’s why

 

11 thoughts on “Shipshape and Bristol fashion”

  1. half a hour from me…..it’s a fascinating city and the bridge at night lit up and reflected in the Avon below is a sight to behold.

    Like

    1. Sorry our timetable was so squeezed and we couldn’t get to see you – or even some friends who loive in Bristol itself – but it sounds as if we’ll have to come back and do Bristol By Night, as well as all the friends we failed to see

      Like

  2. looks like you are making your days count in so many ways! I have often wondered about the explorers who made their way in the 15th and 16th centuries to the New World – these folks were incredibly brave and driven, where would they fit in our world today? How much longer are you going to be in the UK? I look forward to reading more – BTW the trip to the Arboretum was just what the doctor ordered, thank you!

    Like

    1. Ah – the England trip is over, and we’re back from Spain too – blog later. Thank goodness for modern transport though. I wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in those small ships from centuries ago.

      Like

  3. life is full of coincidences! Andrew’s uncle (also his god father) lives in Bristol and was one of the founders of The Matthew Society, helping to sail it to various exciting places and still on the board of trustees.

    Like

  4. What a lovely day out. Mr OC has wanted to see SS Great Britain for years so we must make the effort to go. He went to Bristol for a work meeting and was impressed with the city. Time to make plans then…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s