The last time I was in Bristol was to see the highly spectacular Balloon Festival. It had been my first visit to the city and I was quite keen to take an introductory walking tour. Due to the volume of people in Bristol for the festival, in glorious August weather, the tour had been cancelled. Little did I know then that I would have another opportunity. But this time was very different. The sky was an unrelenting grey, rather matching my disconsolate mood, and my weekend seemed to be unravelling around me.
You see, I had made a surprise visit for an 80th birthday party. I flew into Bristol at 8 in the morning, and had the whole day ahead of me. I had planned to spend it with my lovely friend, Gilly. Not only was Gilly sadly unable to meet me, but I had neglected to bring with me a vital contact number. I had no means of getting to the party.
Leaving Bristol bus station, I wandered into the city, trying to formulate a plan. As so often, my camera came to my rescue and I started to observe my surroundings. Bristol is well known as the birth place of Banksy and the wave of street art that took Bristol by storm in the 1980s.
I’m always ambivalent about street art. Some, I hate. Some, I love. In this case it was a welcome distraction, highlighting good and bad in the city. I especially felt for the semi-derelict St. John on the Wall church, on Broad Street. Posters on the rusted grills covering the windows advertised for volunteers to enable the church to continue to be opened to visitors. 600 years of history hidden from view.
I was hopeful that the Tourist Information office might come to my rescue. The battery on my ancient cell phone was fading fast and I needed somewhere that I might connect to the Internet. The phone number I needed was on Messenger. At 9.30 on a Saturday morning the TI was still closed, but I had a map from my previous trip. The Central Library appeared to be just behind the Watershed, where I now stood. A spark of hope propelled me in that direction.
The sky maintained a dreary grey as I bypassed Millennium Square with its lofty wheel. Bristol Science Centre held promise of an interesting haven from the cold, which I might need later. Crossing over the road I headed uphill towards the Cathedral spires. The Abbey Gatehouse provided a welcoming entrance to the Cathedral grounds and the adjoining library.
10am was opening time for the library. I turned my gaze upon the grand countenance of the City Hall buildings on College Green.
City Hall is a grade II listed building, the seat of local government in Bristol since 1956. I had paid it scant attention on my last visit, when rain had driven me to the bosom of the Cathedral. I still had time in hand for a swift return to the lovely cloisters.
At 10 o’ clock precisely, the doors to the Central Library admitted me. I was totally astounded at what I found inside.
Opened in 1906, the grade 1 listed Central Library was built on land adjacent to the gatehouse of St. Augustine’s Abbey, or Bristol Cathedral. Charles Holden, the architect, has created an Edwardian building that filled me with reverence. Quietly I mounted the sweeping stairs, from the marbled entrance to the reference library. Chandeliers dangled from the vaulted glass ceiling, between 2 tiers of galleries crammed with books. The history of Bristol was all around me.
To my enormous relief, there was an alcove where I could plug in my phone, and in a little while had found the number I needed. There was a temptation to stay cocooned in the library, but it was time to set forth. I had thought I might visit the botanic gardens at the University of Bristol, but the weather was still unsettled. The TI was now open, of course, and there were leaflets outside proposing a number of walks. Banksy perhaps? Just as I was contemplating coffee, I realised that the 11 o’clock walk that I had missed on my previous visit was all set to go. It was meant to be…
The funny thing was that my historic walking tour retraced many of my steps. Back to Millennium Square, where we discussed Bristol and shipping, overlooked by the globe-shaped Planetarium. Up to the Cathedral and College Green, this time with highly informative Ken, who covered the slave trade, imports of tea and Fry’s Chocolate factory. Dates were affixed to the many beautiful architectural details. While I very much enjoyed having company, one thing of significance did happen. I had seen an illustration of a Banksy entitled ‘Well Hung Lover’, about which I was curious, but had no idea where to find it. Would you believe that it was barely two steps from where I had been previously, that morning?
At the junction of College Green with Park Street. You might have noticed that a watery sunshine was beginning to brighten the skies, and my spirits lifted like the prancing unicorn on the top of City Hall.
The tour continued past the huge old warehouses where Bristol Sherry used to be stored, down to St. Augustine’s Parade and the art deco Hippodrome Theatre, beloved of Cary Grant. Back to the Floating Harbour and the incredible story of how the river was diverted to ensure that Bristol’s life force, trade and shipping, could continue to prosper.
Huge Queen Square next, and it’s grand Georgian houses. The Bristol Riots took place here in 1831 and almost 100 of the buildings were burned to the ground. They’re a feisty lot, Bristolians. As we looked towards the Bristol Old Vic theatre, currently undergoing renovation, a tribe of Norsemen and their ladies stomped past.
Past the Welsh Backs, and a wonderful jazz pub, ‘The Old Duke’, honky tonk music tripping off the keys. Our tour ended at St. Nicholas Market, where you can purchase almost anything your heart desires in the lovely old Exchange building, or outside on the busy street.
It was definitely time to take the weight off my feet and I found the perfect venue, The Cosy Club. Yet another grade II listed building, and a former bank, the ceilings romped with art and the music had my toes tapping. A comfortable banquette was my resting place for the next couple of hours. And then it was time to head for the party!
I hope you enjoyed my wanderings in Bristol. So did I, after a bad start. If you saw my Six word Saturday you’ll know how the party went.
Definitely time for a cuppa, isn’t it? I have some wonderful walks to share with you, again. Many thanks to all of you who take part, and to you comfy armchair types too. If you’d like to join me, details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page. I’d love it if you could.
What a privilege to be joined by Tish AND a gardening legend from our past!
And if anyone can put a beautiful post together, it’s Debbie :
Wander back in time with Drake :
Nice to see old traditions still observed, but with a modern twist. Thanks, Lady Lee!
What’s Jackie up to this week?
And where would we be without Woolly? Still serious this week :
Enjoy the gentlest of ‘potter arounds’, with Susan :
And a sequence of reminiscences and beautiful wistfulness, with Meg :
Delighted to be tiptoeing through the bluebells with Elaine. Today I’ll be bluebell-ing in Durham, weather permitting :
While Eunice shows us England’s green and pleasant land in all its beauty :
My lovely friend, Cathy, is walking marathons around Japan, making the most of her time there :
That’s all for now, folks! Hopefully I’m off to count bluebells this morning. Have yourselves a great week!