Ship shape and Bristol fashion!
Bristol is Southern England’s second largest city (after London), and its rich maritime and social history make it a fascinating place to visit. It became the first city in the UK to win the European Green Capital award in 2015, and is also a Fair-Trade City. Oh, and it’s my favourite city in the UK, so I really wanted to share our (fairly) recent visit with you.
I’m actually nearly from Bristol. My parents lived there for years, before moving to Sussex and having me. It’s meant that I’ve had the opportunity to visit Bristol over the years, and I took full advantage of our planned trip to Bath, suggesting that we make it more about Bristol (this backfired when it turned out Bath was brilliant and we didn’t have enough time in either, but hey-ho, they’re not a million miles away, I’ll be back).
A bed for the night
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which was conveniently located within walking distance of Temple Meads station and the city centre. You know what you’re getting with a Hilton – it was nice and modern, if a little bland. It’s situated on a dual carriageway, so rooms at the front might be a bit noisy. Our room was at the back and overlooked Temple Gardens, which was lovely and peaceful.
The walk through Temple Gardens into town is short and pleasant – it’s home to Temple Church, which was bombed during WWII and now only the shell remains. It’s named for the original church which was built on the site in the 12th century by the Knights Templar. When we passed through on a warm Friday in May, the park was full of office workers enjoying the sunshine on their lunch breaks.
Our first stop was for a lunch break of our own – we headed to Three Brothers Burgers, which is located on Welsh Back, on the side of the River Avon. Aside from the burgers, it’s also home to a fine selection of craft beers and ciders. The menu was great and there were some good deals to be had. It was slightly more fast-foodie than I’d anticipated, but everything was delicious and very good value, so I’d highly recommend it.
Time for some history…
After lunch we strolled across to Spike Island, where we found M Shed, a museum located in an old transit shed which tells the story of Bristol and its people. We’d only planned to have a quick look around, but we both found this museum fascinating. There was a real feeling of celebration of the local community, and while it covered the history of the area, the mood was unashamedly modern and future-focused. I couldn’t get enough.
The riverside is a lovely place to wander, and is filled with quirky touches – outside M Shed, there are two cranes having a chat with each other about their memories of the area.
We continued walking and eventually reached Brunel’s SS Great Britain, which also surprised us. It cost £14 each, which would normally put me off, but we decided to go for it and we felt it was well worth the money.
Our trip started in the dry dock – the purpose of which is to keep moisture away from the iron hull of the ship and prevent corrosion. Hearing about the dry dock is one thing, but experiencing it is another – the ceiling is glass, and has water running across it, which makes it feel like you’ve slipped underwater. The shadows of the ripples running across the hull are beautiful and it’s a strangely peaceful place to walk around. The air down there is incredibly dry though, so it’s also pleasant to get back up to ground level and suck some moisture back into your husk of a body.
After the dry dock comes a trip around the museum, which gives you a complete history of the ship starting from the salvage operation of the 70s, when the ship was returned from the Falkland Islands, going all the way back to the launch of the ship in 1843. Oh, and there’s a bonus dressing up section!
From the museum you can head up to the ship herself. There are audio guides available from the deck, but we somehow missed those and just wandered round getting a feel for the place. Dressed as if for her launch in 1843, the ship is magnificent. The restoration has been painstakingly done. Walking round, you can see what life must have been like, thanks to the models they’ve put in place and the smells they’ve somehow managed to pump onboard!
As of 2018, there will be an additional museum on site about the life of Brunel, and that can only add to the whole experience.
After taking a trip back to our hotel for a restorative nap, we headed out for a cocktail or two at Harveys Cellars, which is tucked round the back of the Hippodrome. It was quiet when we went in, so the friendly barman gave us a tour and told us a bit about the history.
Located in the birthplace of Harveys Bristol Cream sherry, this bar is home to a small museum featuring artefacts, including a wall of the classic blue glass bottles. Denmark Street was levelled during the Bristol Blitz, but the cellars survived. From the 60s to the 90s, it was home to a Michelin starred restaurant, and now it’s a cocktail bar which is also available for hire for events and as an exhibition space. They sometimes have live music and I can imagine the acoustics would be fantastic.
I’d found something online about a night market at St Nicholas Market, so we decided to head over there to try and sniff out some tasty street food. It was packed by the time we arrived, but after squeezing through all the crowds we settled on food from Angus and Mitchell (who have sadly now called it a day) – I had a cauliflower cheese bun, and Ben went for something porky. Both were delicious and provided the energy we needed to stumble back to our hotel for a well-earned sleep.