Have you ever fancied 48 hours in Bristol? Over a decade ago when I explored the streets of Bristol on a weekend, the streets were slick with rain and it was long before we had Google maps guided our footsteps. A rain-drenched Kiwi wandered through the twirling lanes, with an England Lonely Planet guide in one hand and the other hand tucked in her pocket.
Whilst I wandered all those years ago I still managed to fit in a few of the city highlights before I left on my train back to London, but I knew that I hadn’t quite captured the zeitgeist of this city.
Fast forward to the present day, and the opportunity to actually explore Bristol presented itself, so I… also managed to fail to fully plan. But, this time with the aid of my pocket computer, my friend and I covered Bristol on (mostly) on foot – enjoying a bevvy of boats, brunches and bridges in the city that Isambard Brunel put on the world map.
The weather was better, to begin with – we had beautiful blue skies between showers that had us slipping into local coffee shops (which is no bad thing) between checking out the city.
We enjoyed a few pirate-esque shenanigans, boarding the beautiful ‘Matthew of Bristol’, a replica of the 15th-century caravel that John Cabot sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497.
We discovered some of the amazing street art that Bristol hides in plain sight – and luckily whilst we were in town, a special graffiti festival lit up the urban landscape with extra and live painted canvasses.
We nibbled a cracking bite of brunch or two at Spicer and Cole and then returned to the next day for quiche & cake it was so good. My friend enjoyed the ridiculously delicious vegetarian breakfast, complete with garlic fried potatoes; while I thouroughly enjoyed a fresh basil and brie stuffed croissant which was the perfect savoury start to a Saturday.
But, the jewel in the nautical crown was the few hours we spent exploring at the SS Britain, a former passenger steamship which was advanced for her time. She was the longest passenger ship in the world from 1845 to 1854. She was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), for the Great Western Steamship Company’s transatlantic service between Bristol and New York. While other ships had been built of iron or equipped with a screw propeller, the SS Great Britain was the first to combine these features in a large ocean-going ship. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic, which she did in 1845, in the time of 14 days.
We wandered along gangways, admired chandeliers, were impressed by the lifelike recreations of life aboard the ship and watched a brilliant presentation for kids, presented by a fellow who thoroughly enjoyed impersonating Brunel – replete with top hat.
It was an amazing experience, top to keel.
The SS Great Brunel dominates the dock, and with good reason. This innovation put Bristol and the UK on the travel map – and Brunel’s clever invention is still used today.
Call me a dork, but I thought it was super cool.
We wandered amidst the beautiful Clifton terraces…
…before making our way to admire the infamous suspension bridge, a beautiful engineering feat that sits high above the Avon Gorge.
On the Leigh Woods tower, near the Visitor Centre, the bridge carries a Latin inscription: SUSPENSA VIX VIA FIT, which translates as “A suspended way made with difficulty” – an accurate description of a project which began in 1754 with the death of Bristol wine merchant, William Vick and was not completed until 1864.
On 1 April 1979, the first modern bungee jumps were made from the bridge by members of the University of Oxford Dangerous Sports Club. In 2003 and 2004, the weight of crowds travelling to and from the Ashton Court Festival and Bristol International Balloon Fiesta put such great strain on the bridge that it was decided to close the bridge to all motor traffic and pedestrians during the events. The closure of the bridge for major annual events has continued each year since then.
On 26 November 2003, the last ever Concorde flight (Concorde 216) flew over the bridge before landing at Filton Aerodrome. In April 2006, the bridge was the centrepiece of the Brunel 200 weekend, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The weekend we visited it was a little quieter but no less impressive.
Bristol is such an interesting city, with a curious history. It’s definitely explorable in a single day, but we loved our leisurely strolling over the 48 hours we were there (we also managed to fit in a leisurely stay at a spa hotel – but more on that soon.)
I do so love travelling within the UK – it’s a special isle even in the rain.
Have you explored Bristol?
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