Jo’s Monday walk : On the Waterfront, Bristol

Harbourside in Bristol

Harbourside in Bristol

Everywhere looks better with blue skies and Bristol’s waterfront is no exception.  I thought my luck had changed on the last day of my visit, as the skies turned to steely grey and the damp stuff arrived.  But Bristol didn’t let me down.  One cappuchino and a visit to the cathedral later, a walk along the waterfront became a distinct possibility.  So, what are we waiting for?

I have to confess that the photo above was taken from on board the Bristol Packet.  Everything doesn’t always go to plan, and when I turned up for a guided walking tour of the city I was told that it had been cancelled.  ‘Too many people in the city’, due to the Balloon Festival, was the reason given.  Nothing for it but to take to the water.  No hardship there- but I digress!

Bristol’s Floating Harbour is a huge tribute to the resourcefulness of man.  In 1809, 80 acres of tidal river were impounded to begin the taming of the estuary.  Bristol had developed at the most downstream point at which it was possible to cross the River Avon, 6 miles inland.

The tidal range of the Bristol Channel is the second greatest of any in the world.  The tide can rise and fall as much as 14 metres twice a day.  This was an advantage and a disadvantage for sailing ships in the old days.  They could be carried all the way to Bristol on the current, but equally well they could be stranded in the mud when the tide turned.  Bristol merchants had to think of a way of damming the river, allowing the ships that were in the river to stay afloat.  Thus, a ‘floating harbour’.  I found a fascinating video which explains in more detail.

The cathedral is just beyond the Floating Harbour and I headed for Watershed, a good-looking building which now houses the Tourist Information Office.  A series of cafes and restaurants line the harbourside, and behind these are Bristol Aquarium and the Science Centre. Plenty to do on a rainy day, and interesting exhibits outside too.

The water feature was first to attract my attention

The water feature was first to attract my attention

But something interesting was going on in the background!

But something interesting was going on in the background!


There was a solar energy project, and sculptures I rather liked too.  Black and white, for Paula.

A little damp to be a scribe!

Rather damp to be a scribe!

The sky still a little heavy, I returned to the waterfront and continued to follow it inland.  Modern and stylish apartments sit back from the promenade, interspersed with cafes and bars.

Heading around the waterfront

Heading around the waterfront

Life on a narrowboat?

Life on a narrowboat?

Beside the ruins of a former mill

Beside the ruins of a former mill

And in the background, the 'SS Great Britain'

And in the background, the ‘SS Great Britain’

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, was one of the engineering giants of the 19th century.  At age just 27 he was chief engineer of the Great Western Railway, linking Bristol to London.  He then turned his attention to trans-Atlantic travel, and his steam ship ‘The Great Western’ crossed the ocean from Bristol to New York in 1838, a journey of 15 days.

Her successor, ‘SS Great Britain’, was the world’s first iron passenger liner.  At the time of her launch in 1843 she was the largest ship in the world, and had an innovative screw propeller in place of conventional paddle wheels.  She had a long and illustrious career, sailing the world as a passenger ship for 30 years, before converting to cargo.  Old and tired, she was finally recovered from the Falklands and returned to Bristol as a hulk in 1970.  Restoration has seen her take pride of place today as a first class visitor attraction, in the dock in which she was originally built.

'SS Great Britain'

‘SS Great Britain’ visitor centre

Maybe you remember 'On the Waterfront'

Do you remember my friend, ‘On the Waterfront’?

Junction Lock Bridge

Junction Lock Bridge leading to Cumberland Basin

Is anybody hungry?

Is anybody hungry?

I had promised myself a visit to ‘The Pump House’ when I passed it on my long walk home from the Balloon Festival.  The building housed the original hydraulic pumping system for operating the lock gates, and is a beautiful conversion.  As luck would have it the rain was starting again- the perfect excuse.

When the rain eased, I continued on towards the lock into the Avon Gorge.  The current lock was opened in 1873 and can accommodate the largest ships that can navigate the Avon.  From here it is 6 miles by water to the mouth of the river, where it joins the Severn estuary. Ahead you can see Clifton Suspension Bridge, but beyond this point a busy road runs close to the river, and it becomes less appealing to follow.

A tour boat passes through the lock

A tour boat passes through the lock

The logical thing to do, if you have the stamina, is to cross over the harbour and return along the opposite shore of the waterfront.  You could call in at the SS Great Britain or visit the Museum of Bristol in M-Shed.  The wharves here were wiped out during heavy bombing in the Blitz and this free museum tells the story of the city.

Another alternative is to catch a ferry.  There are numerous ferry stops along the river, and you can travel all the way round to Temple Meads station (another Brunel wonder) if you wish.  It was my last day in Bristol and I wanted to see a little more of Clifton Village, so I rather foolishly clambered back up the steep side of the gorge.  Maybe we’ll have time for a look at the village another day, but for now I’m going to amble back along the quay, in my watery element.

Making the most of the sunshine

Making the most of the sunshine

Now I’m back at my start point on St. Augustine’s Reach, named for the abbey church of St. Augustine (now Bristol Cathedral).  The Reach was the course of the River Frome, diverted into this man-made trench in 1247.  You will see from the Floating Harbour video that the water once continued into what is now Millenium Square and the heart of the city.  I have still to mention Pero’s Bridge (a reference to an enslaved African boy) and then our walking tour is done.

And all ends peacefully

And all ends peacefully

I expect you’re a little tired, but the good news is that I’m missing from the walks for two weeks so you can have a lovely rest.  I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at Bristol as much as I did. And now it’s surely time to put that kettle on!

walking logo

Before I go I have some more wonderful walks to share with you.  Thank you so much for all the support and encouragement I receive. If you have any walks that you would like to link up, now or in the future, the details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Just click on the logo.  Do, please!


I think I spotted a friend on the beach at Le Havre, with thanks to Drake!

Walk on water or almost

Not quite so cheery trawling a graveyard but the company is good.  Cheers, Jude!

Discovering St. Leonards

Nobody does reflection like Suzanne!  Or Impressionism, come to that :

A walk in the gardens

You will not believe how gorgeous these shoes are in stained glass!  Thanks, Jackie!

Bata Shoe Museum

But you can believe that when Amy posts photos of Banff they are fantastic!

Monday walk : Exploring Banff Lakes

Equally beautiful, even with a hint of snow, Ruth tiptoes along a mountain path :

A Walk on Mount Wellington 

Jaspa is back this week with a South American saga :

Exploring Lima’s Historic Centre on foot

And, responding magnificently to the WP weekly challenge….  thank you, Gilly!

Things you see on a good day

Becky has shared a wonderful reminder of why I’m looking forward to the Algarve this week :

Strolling in Silves

Thanks everybody, and that just leaves me to say that bright and early on Thursday I will be heading south.  I hope to catch up with all of you before I go, and there might even be another post.  Look after yourselves, happy walking and I’ll see you soon.  While I’m gone you might like to try a Monday Escape?


    1. Hi and nice to meet you! 🙂 Got a huge job on my hands in catching up and in getting my head around being back in England but I’ll come and read about Mount Brandon tomorrow. 🙂

  1. Very interesting tour of the Bristol Waterfront Jo! With Monsieur Le Chic’s family coming from Somerset I’m very familiar with the city centre and seeing the port from the M5 but have never actually walked round the front. Sounds like there is a lot to do down there! Temple Meads is a fine looking station – have been through it on many occasions and caught the train up to London from there last year. With my family in Yorkshire and Monsieur’s down in the west I’m very used to the Cross Country train route (his sister lives in Cheltenham so I stop off there too!). Hope you’re enjoying some lovely sunny weather in the Algarve and will catch up with Monday Walks when you get back! 🙂

  2. Girlfriend, you have been really busy .. here is something I have to walk more of .. I just did the beginning. What a fantastic area. A pity that I missed out on that amazing fountain and the whales, but they are only temporary, but I’m sure it will be something else by the time I’m back in Bristol. Wonderful walk – I thoroughly enjoyed it .. even if my feet is scream a little. Lovely, lovely.

      1. Good Morning … not that envy really on the your sun … this morning some thunder and it sure will rain … but Mother Nature needs it. You enjoy your sunny days and I promise I will enjoy Berlin, hard not to. *smile

    1. Sounds good, Jaspa! Hope it won’t be too hot? I’m keeping an eye on temperatures in the Algarve. Doubt much walking will be done there, except on the beach. Many thanks! 🙂

  3. I really like that whale sculpture with the plastic bottles. What a great idea to raise awareness. It was a fascinating walk all around, with so much history, so many views of boats and the water ~ always good! Have fun on your holiday, Jo! 🙂

    1. I expect I’ll be out on a boat or two, Cathy 🙂 It’s pretty warm still over in the Algarve.
      I did find Bristol an interesting city all round. Thanks, darlin’.

      1. Just about touched down, Cathy 🙂 Fantastic time and my head’s still back in the Algarve (on one of many boat rides 🙂 ) Hope things are good with you. I’ll come for a catch up soon as I can.

      2. I’m so far behind in answering comments, Jo, that now you have touched down after your time in the Algarve and now you’re off again to Poland! That’s what I get for not being very organized with my time. I know you had a grand time in Portugal, as you always do! Have fun at the Polish wedding on Saturday. xxx

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed your Monday walk through fascinating Bristol. The video is very interesting. My ancestors on my mother’s side were Jessops, but not engineers to my knowledge. 😉

    1. I had read a little of the history, Ann, but I think the video helped to visualise. Quite an endeavour, wasn’t it? Yes- I can see you as being a pioneering Jessop 🙂

  5. The waterfront is certainly beautiful… being by the water always makes me happy! 🙂
    I love the huge whales, what a great idea!

    Thank you for being with us once again on #MondayEscapes Jo 😀
    have a wonderful week!

    1. My week should reach perfection on Thursday, but I don’t have any complaints so far. 🙂 Yes- anywhere with water is a sure bet for me too. Thanks to you for being such a lovely hostess.

  6. What an interesting walk Jo. I was very taken with those wale sculptures and using all those plastic bottles, they made a lovely swirling sea scape. The video was very interesting too, just amazing how they solved the problem of the tides.
    Enjoy your holiday and I’ll look forward to seeing all about it when you get back.
    Safe travels…

    1. The break in Bristol was just long enough to see lots but leave me wanting more, Pauline. The place gave me a very good feeling. And the balloons… WOW! 🙂
      Thank you! We’ll catch up when we’re both in one place again (but not the same one 😦 )

  7. I love the brilliant blue whale art installation! Based on the photos and the stories shared, I think it’s clear I could get quite caught up in Bristol. Maybe someday. 🙂

  8. Beads were great, loved the statues – the boat ride would have been a favorite for me, gray skies or not. Always love your Monday walks Jo!

    1. I had intended to sail right through the gorge, Mary, but they were fully booked. 😦 There were ferries everywhere though, and nothing I like so much as bobbing about on boats 🙂 Thank you!

  9. Love Bristol Jo and your lens has captured it beautifully! In addition to being happy to see that the Shaun’s made your post, I love the Bristol Whales and all the ships! And how ’bout those tides? I sailed for 5 months in the UK in 2011 and understanding the massive tides was key to getting in and out of places and staying off sandbanks :). Enjoy your time away. I am certain that you will miss the UK but be happy to return to Algarve. By the time you return, I may be underway to New Caledonia, but will catch up with you (while enjoying a baguette) when I get there. Cheers!

    1. It’s the sort of city where I feel sure that something’s always happening, Lisa. It had a great feel to it, and i even liked it in the rain. 🙂 Happy and safe sailing, sweetheart! I look forward to the wonders you will have for me when I get back, but once I’m in the Algarve I forget about everywhere! 🙂

  10. Oh for once, I have actually explored the waterfront at Bristol, so great to see it through your eyes! Although the whales weren’t there when I visited last. What a gorgeous day you have for your walk!

  11. Ooooo some more Shaun photos. What fun! I love the boat with the shark teeth decor. That should clear the canal I think. Thanks for the walk Jo. Looks like such a wonderful spot to visit.

  12. Lots to see along the waterfront. The whale is wonderful. I don’t think I’d like to live on a narrowboat but I do love that photo of them. Glad you ventured out, dark skies and all. You’ve got me thinking about the places I’d like to visit right in my own area, Jo. Thanks for the inspiration.

  13. What a fantastic tribute to Bristol Jo. Sorry I have been lagging behind, but it is hard to keep up with a gammy foot. You have made a visit to Bristol look most desirable. I’m afraid driving through the city centre wasn’t that appealing, but as usual you find the heart of a place. I shall miss you whilst you are away sunning it up in Tavira, but I shall look forward to some new places of discovery from you on your return as you are sure to have one or two 😀

    1. If I can prise Michael off the beach, I will! 🙂 I have a few ‘thoughts’ and there’s a Medieval fair on at Castro Marim next weekend which should be great.
      Thanks for the kind words, Jude. I thought you could have a quiet sit in the cloisters and admire the stained glass. 🙂

  14. Thanks for all your recent posts on Bristol. I live only 15 miles from the city but like most places when they’re local to you, I don’t very often go to visit – it reminds me that I really ought to go more regularly and with my camera.
    Alison x

    1. Hi Alison 🙂 For some of the time I stayed with some good friends who live in Yate. They only ever go into the city to see a show so I know exactly where you’re coming from. But it really is a lovely city. 🙂

  15. What a fascinating walk, Jo. Thanks for braving the wet weather and taking me for lunch at The Pump House. 🙂 The Bristol Whales exhibition is very thought provoking indeed. Love those bench sculptures. They’ll also do well for Jude’s October series. Have a great trip. I’m sure you’ll come back with lots of photos. xx

    1. I took over 700 in 5 days in Bristol, Ad! Not expecting that many over our two weeks because I’ve taken so many before but… maybe one or two 🙂 Glad you’ve enjoyed Bristol with me.

      1. October? What happened to September? Surely there has to be a Tavira bench or a Polish bench? September is metal. October is people or things on benches 🙂

  16. lovely waterfront walk, Jo! bristol has plenty to offer, lots of interest and charming spots abound. the bristol whales exhibit is awesome! enjoyed it very much! thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Amy 🙂 I seem to get later! I obviously need some time off to get up to speed again 🙂
      I thoroughly enjoyed Bristol and it’s been a pleasure to share. Many thanks for your walk!

    1. I keep reading worrying things about plastic bottles too. What a world this is! But we can be so resourceful and amazing when we put our minds to it 🙂 Thank you!

  17. I’m beginning to think that Bristol is a bit of an underrated gem in your country.
    And imagine cancelling a guided walk for tourists because there are too many tourists!!

    1. I did think that a little strange, but I very much enjoyed my little boat trip so it worked out ok. And I walked most of the historic part myself, or with Viveka. I do quite like being ‘talked at’ though 🙂

  18. Thoroughly enjoyed this walk along the Waterfront with you Jo, and now you have given me the shove I need to get going asap to get back to the beautiful city of Bristol. Wonderful Bristol Whale art installation and of course your lovely narrative as you take us along the sights and sounds as we walk with you. I can see now why everyone says how much it has improved and changed over the years.
    Have a wonderful holiday Jo. You’ll see from my post up shortly that I’ll be away from blogging for a while, so I won’t be able to visit you for a while, but I will get back here the first chance I get. I’m a bit sad about it, but it has to be done as you’ll see, and not for bad reasons. I had some posts I’ve had to let slide so will get back to when I return, and a walk for you most definitely. Look forward to that!
    Take care and see you soon 🙂 xx

    1. Hi darlin! I’ve checked over at yours a few times and there have been no new posts so I thought something was brewing. Just happy it’s a good thing. Big hugs and we’ll catch up when we can xxx

  19. I haven’t been to Bristol, but your posts have intrigued me so it’s now on my list. Maybe some day! I know you’re away for a while but I’ve pinged you my latest – if it’s too early just ignore it. We did loads of walking on Orkney and Shetland so there’ll be plenty more to come. Have a great holiday!

    1. Thanks a lot, Anabel 🙂 I didn’t know what I was expecting of Bristol but I have to say that it is a lovely city. I’ll read and share your walk today, as always, but the link won’t go on my post till I’m back. It’ll be a quick turnaround because I have a wedding in Poland a week later 🙂

  20. I was offered a job in Bristol but ended up in London instead. Bristol did look interesting even back then, and looks lovely from these pix. Love the old ship. Was that a Ploughman’s at the Pump House?

    1. It was indeed, Kate, and a very nice one too! (and at £7.50 I didn’t think it expensive for a Michelin starred place). It’s a very characterful city and I do like that. And you know I have to have water nearby 🙂 How are you doing?

      1. I did look at the menu, I usually follow links, especially foody ones. I’m probably living in the days when a Ploughman’s was 19/6, everything in the UK shrieks £££s these days.
        It wasn’t a veg friendly place though. No mention of whether the cheese was vegetarian. Let alone vegan … but still your meal looked ok.

        So so, thanks.

  21. I’ve spent an afternoon in Bristol after driving there from Bath! I explored a lot of the waterfront and do remember the Tourist Information building! Loving those sheep as well…they look cute!!

      1. Oh no…I’m live in Greece. I just visited Bath while visiting friends in the UK. It’s a lovely city and I also spoiled myself with spending a whole day at the spa!

  22. Your post is a real treat .
    I’ve never been in Bristol , but I’ve heard a lot about it , though never so detailed and interesting , from A to Z !
    A big Thank You for these accurate shots and notes……

  23. What a fascinating walk Jo. I had no idea Bristol was so interesting. I may be there next week for a day or two so I’ll be sure to investigate, weather permitting!
    Have a great time in the Algarve and I hope the wedding goes well.

    1. Hi Debs 🙂 You will love Clifton! In fact I liked the whole city, and such a friendly place too. Thank you very much for the walk. I’m not long back from Guisborough. One of these days I’ll find a home for all my photos. Oh- you thought I had! 🙂 Hope you’re taking it easy.

    1. He reminds me very much of your sculpture photo, Paula. They could almost be twins 🙂 🙂 Thanks. darlin’. I wasn’t expecting a link to yours. I just actually thought that they might look good in black and white. (though never as good as yours 🙂 )

  24. You have absolutely sold me on Bristol (especially since Shaun x far too many is not a permanent resident – I do love being Ms Scrooge). Some lovely places and a very dignified waterfront. You’ve excelled yourself with history too, and well and truly earned a two week break, during which time my week will lack a major organising principle. Enjoy your other home, my dear friend.

    1. There is very much more to the city than I could have expected, Meg (although Ms Scrooge suits you better 🙂 ). I don’t know if you had time to look at the Floating Harbour video but I found it fascinating (and I have the attention span of an undernourished gnat! Must have been the watery connection 🙂 ) I’ll be over to bask in your prose before I go 🙂

  25. Gorgeous walk – I’ve arrived in Bristol by boat, staying in (or is it on?!) the Floating Harbour for a couple of days. Still have very happy memories of that narrow boat trip.
    Have a glorious 2 weeks in the Algarve Jo

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