Saturday, September 3rd 2011
Awoken by the alarm, we finished our last-minute packing (anything forgotten now remains forgotten!) and dragged our luggage to the bus stop. When the 205 came, we found the luggage rack free and the seats next to it unoccupied. The bus terminates at Paddington, our departure station, so we could sit back and relax. Saturday London was slowly waking up and starting the day’s business. Familiar sights and landmarks slid past the windows in dreamy succession.
At Paddington we took the escalators to the top floor to the EAT cafe and asked for porridge, croissants and coffee. The porridge wasn’t ready and when it came, it was only lukewarm. We didn’t have time to complain but gulped it down and returned to platform level to study the departure board. Our train was the 0900 to Western-super-Mare, going via Bristol, our destination. As soon as the platform was announced, we hurried to the train. We had reserved seats but we like to choose our own. Also, as luggage space is limited I wanted to make sure of getting space for our bags. We got two "Priority Seats" right beside the luggage rack which was still empty when we arrived. Sorted!
We could relax again for a couple of hours until we reached Bristol and there disembarked to go in search of our hotel. So far it is a grey day with overcast sky and no sign of the sun though it isn’t raining. Perhaps it will brighten up later.
We arrived in Bristol around 11 am. Because we had baggage, we decided to take a cab to the hotel. The cab was similar to the older model of London cabs and may have been one recycled. When we asked about our luggage the driver curtly told us to take them inside with us. So, he had not only adopted a London cab but had also adopted London cabbie manners and superglued himself to his seat. If he was expecting a tip he was disappointed. In my book a tip is given for good service and that was not forthcoming, so no tip.
Checking-in time at the hotel starts at 2 pm but they were willing to keep our bags for us in the meantime. Freed of our luggage, we set out for a preliminary round of exploration.
By now we were looking for somewhere for lunch. We came to Colston Road and found an intriguing parade of shops.
The shop above seemed to sell all sorts of things but they locked the door and put up the closed sign when we approached. The shop opened again when we went away. Draw your own conclusions…
We admired the violin shop with its array of musical instruments…
and the antiques shop with coins and coronation mugs…
and marvelled at the hand-made shoe company shop, surprised that a craftsman can still thrive in such a competitive market.
Lunch turned up in the form of this cafe whose menu was written in a strange mixture of Italian and Spanish. They were able to put together a delicious vegetarian meal for us. (Alioli is apparently a Catalan sauce composed of oil and garlic. So now you know.)
Further down, we came to the remarkably fine and well preserved group of almshouses. A plaque on the gate informs us that they were founded in 1483 by John Foster, then Mayor of Bristol.
Above, the left picture shows the elegant design of the wooden spiral staircase providing access to the upper level, while the picture on the right shows the façade of the adjoining Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, which John Foster also endowed. The said three kings are shown in effigy on the façade.
I am guessing that the sculpture standing in a niche is a representation of John Foster himself. The corresponding niche on the left remains empty but ought perhaps have been used to display a sculpture of Dr George Owen, Henry VIII’s physician, who added to the endowment in 1553.
A little further down is a narrow stepped street now known as Christmas Steps. It dates from the medieval period and is lined with small shops though these are 18th century, not medieval. Derivation of the name is uncertain as the street was originally known as Queen Street and there are rival explanations.
(I cheated with this photo. There was something unpleasant on the steps that I did not want to photograph so I have used a photo from a previous visit.)
Colston Hall was built in about 1860 but has been damaged and nearly destroyed and rebuilt several times. It is currently a Grade II listed building. Its history is complex and I won’t try to disentangle it here but if you want to try, you can look at the English Heritage listing and the Wikipedia article.
Bristol is a city of water and the River Avon runs through it like a shoelace through a shoe. Bordeaux Quay is, as the name suggests, on the edge of the water.
I assume that many of the boats moored here are privately owned craft but this is something I didn’t get around to investigating. Here too is a ferry station.
Nearby is this water feature. It consists of what looks like a flight of stone steps down which runs a cascade of water. The water is pink which, at first sight seems a strange choice but certainly add novelty value and interest.
I assume the colorant is non-toxic as there is obviously a possibility of it being ingested accidentally or on purpose by people and animals. The gulls and pigeons were quite happy to drink it, which I imagine proves that it is safe.
This water feature is in fact the last link in a chain of water features forming part of an agreeable park or garden in what is called by the understated name of The Centre (or The City Centre).
The statue of Neptune punctuates this handsome open space and has some unusual features.
The statue is lead-covered and was produced in 1723 by a founder called Joseph Rendall. I don’t know who the original artist was. Originally erected on the site of the old reservoir in Temple Street, it was moved to Bear Lane (1787), then to Church Lane (1794), then to the junction of Temple Street and Victoria Street (1872) and, finally, was re-erected at the present site in 1949 (information found on an attached bronze plate).
Bristol is one of those cities that once you start exploring them draw you endlessly on, bombarding you with wonders at every turn, such as the intricate carving above. The dark side of this is that the wealth that financed this display was generated by the slave trade.
The expression “cash on the nail” – meaning immediate payment – refers to these brass tables outside the Exchange. They were called “nails” and on then merchants did business and passed over the money.
Then there is the famous automaton clock with figures that strike their bells every quarter of an hour. This is built into the façade of a historic church (see here) whose name is rather a mouthful, Christ Church with St Ewen, All Saints and St George.
This man with three dogs encumbering the pavement attracted some bemused attention from passers-by (and from me) but I never discovered what he was waiting for.
In Horsefair, we came upon John Wesley’s first ever chapel, built in 1739 and rebuilt in 1748. After being used for other purposes for a while it once again came into Methodist ownership in 1930. The courtyard with flowerbeds is quite a pleasant place to sit.
This sculpture in the garden reminds us of how John Wesley travelled far and wide on horseback, preaching along the way. No one knows what the horse thought about it.
In another part of the site we find John’s younger brother Charles, apparently in the middle of a sermon.
We stopped off for refreshments in this pretty coffee bar and tea room which occupies an old almshouse, built in 1701, and provided for 9 needy inhabitants by the Guild of Merchant Tailors. The glass structure visible behind it is one of Bristol’s many shopping centres, this one called The Galleries Bristol.
We afterwards passed through Cabot Circus. I found this an extraordinary construction. It is a huge shopping centre or mall, but not only that. It is also a place where people people meet in the many cafes and restaurants or just in open spaces. Over the whole thing is an immense glass roof, formed of many overlapping sections. Designed by Nayan Kulkarni, it is a wonder in its own right.
Around 5 pm we returned to the hotel and reclaimed our bags. In this hotel, a Premier Inn, reception has been reduced to a single desk or lectern, attended by one member of staff. Arriving guests are supposed to check themselves in using one of the machines with touch-sensitive screens in the lobby. These are similar to the machines at railway stations from which you buy train tickets. Our room is on the fourth floor (the hotel has at least 16 floors) and when we entered, we found the air-conditioning was running full pelt, making the room feel like a fridge. We switched it off, of course, and I am writing this lying on the bed with my jacket zipped right up. I expect the room will warm up eventually.
The first task on arriving in the room was – as you no doubt already guessed – to make tea! British hotels (and some foreign ones now) provide an electric kettle in the room. They also supply a few tea bags and sachets of instant coffee but we bring our own provisions. Tigger has her jar of lemon tea and I have brought some Russian Caravan which can be brewed in a mug with a nylon filter basket for easy disposal of the leaves. It’s almost like being at home!
We also brought with us from home those items of food which would have been outdated by the time we returned London. So we made an early supper of these. On the menu were Mozarella Pearls, a packet of Cheddars (small round savoury biscuits) and a packet of Jaffa Cakes. Oh yes, and as starters, two of the small-size Babybel cheeses each. A slightly unconventional meal, though not particularly unusual for us when we are travelling. We have the rest of the year in which to be sensible. (Not that we are, of course…)
Later we went out for another walk and some night photography. The place was loud with merrymakers. It all seemed good-humoured enough but I preferred the quieter places.
We revisited some of the places we had seen earlier in the day, including the gardens in the Centre where I snapped this pink fountain which I think was clear earlier in the day.
We wandered along, following different sights that emerged out of the darkness to tempt us along until we arrived at Pero’s Bridge.
A plaque explains the the sculpture as follows:
IN MAY 1497 JOHN CABOT SAILED FROM THIS HARBOUR IN THE MATTHEW AND DISCOVERED NORTH AMERICA
THIS STATUE WAS CREATED BY STEPHEN JOYCE FINANCED BY BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL AND ACCES, (MSC). ("Access" mis-spelt on the bronze plate.)
It was around 11 pm when we returned to the hotel and I was glad to arrive. We had covered a lot of ground and it had been a long day. We have visited Bristol before and know that it is a city full of delights for the visitor. Despite familiarity, it has not disappointed us.