Bristol – Large as Life

Bristol has been a hive of human activity since man first crawled out of the primeval slime (about 60 000 years ago, in Bristol’s case); although being a hub of the slave trade in the 1700s, would indicate that some people hadn’t crawled very far morally. The city was founded in about 1000 between the Rivers Avon and Frome (both were subsequently diverted). Slick environmental engineering resulted in a floating harbour.

A friend, her baby and I observed some of Bristol’s rich maritime history on the Harbourside Walk. (Free maps available in the city also provide brief information about key points.) The iron hull of the ss Great Britain, which transformed world travel and is now open to the public, dwarfs the wooden replica of the Matthew in which John Cabot sailed on his tour of North America in 1497.

The Matthew with ss Great Britain’s flags visible behind

Canal boats snuggle in quiet spots and a swan nests in a reedy garden area. See Whadda Bewdy for a great little harbour vessel.

Note the information posters along the walk at the rear.

 The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery is stuffed (in the nicest possible way) with things to see and do. Last time I visited, I was delighted to find an exhibition about Beatrix Potter. Artist Beryl Cook, much loved for the humour and affection with which she observed everyday British life, is Larger Than Life in that space until 29th August 2011.

We also wandered around the work of a number of artists in the Royal West of England Academy. I found Jeanette Jones’ black and white photographs of ballroom dancing, captivating. She is a master of the fleeting story-telling moment and I felt intimately placed in the world of preparation and performance. For me, this vitality and depth was not so evident in the seven JackVettriano (possibly England’s most popular living artist) paintings which came directly from Jeanette’s photographs.

A must-visit in the city is the toilets under Prince Street. My friend warned me to persevere as they appear a bit dodgy as one descends the stairs. They were marvellous! So quaint. My photos did not turn out well but I’m putting one in anyway. A novel idea, having a glass door on a public toilet, but the frosting probably does the trick. The brass fittings, including flush chain, were gorgeous. The wash basin had its own large cubicle with clear windows.

There is no shortage of interesting sites above ground as well. Wandering home along the river from the Temple Meads train station one day I passed St Peter’s Church – or rather, the ruins thereof. It was gutted in a WWII blitz.

Nearby is the leadshot tower, the first of its kind in the world. Molten lead was poured from the tower, through a sieve into water below, creating round lead shot.

Bristol theatre made use of an aesthetically-pleasing, old exterior in this production of Treasure Island which we stumbled across one mild evening. Another old building provided a platform from which to take this photo.

And that’s the nature of Bristol, things just keep popping up. There’s plenty for next time.

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