We’re often taking clients around the West Country but usually it’s to the sweeping Georgian terraces of Bath. We were quite excited therefore when a school event allowed us to spend a weekend in Bristol.
Bristol has about 5 times as many people as Bath but only about twice the number of overseas visitors. Indeed, in our experience far more people enquire about Bath than Bristol. This is a shame as we’ll go on to explain. The situation is perhaps akin to visitors enjoying the charm of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia but missing out on the history and grandeur of nearby Washington DC.
Bristol deserves to be more of a destination in its own right. It oozes history, being a hugely important port for those exploring the new territories of America, it serves up great culture and is renowned as a top destination for food lovers.
Sailors have been making voyages of discovery from Bristol harbour for hundreds of years.
John Cabot set sail from here in ‘The Matthew’ in 1497, indeed you can still see a replica of it in the harbour. Where exactly he landed has been a topic of some controversy, usually reckoned to be Bonavista in Newfoundland, but it is believed they were the first Europeans to set foot in America since the Vikings!
Today, the Harbourside has undergone considerable regeneration and is more of a tourist / cultural area. There are many bars, cafes and family friendly restaurants as well as the excellent Mshed history museum, Science Centre, Aquarium and Watershed Media Centre. It’s a wonderfully vibrant area to walk round and there are often festivals or special events ongoing.
Bristol is a major centre for Street Art rivalling other destinations such as Berlin and the East End of London. Nelson Street, which hosts a project called See No Evil, is perhaps unique in the whole of the UK. To see how some of these drab, concrete structures have been transformed in the middle of downtown is quite inspiring.
Banksy, the most famous street artist of them all, made his name in Bristol. His works now sometimes sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Many well known street artists including Inkie, Kashink, Aryz and many others have plied their trade in the cultural melting pot of the Bristol Street Art scene.
Our daughter certainly seemed very taken by the selection of ‘lollipops’ down at the Bearpit area.
Bristol’s maritime legacy generated great wealth, some of it ill begotten since Bristol was one of the main ports for the infamous ‘Triangle Trade’. The merchants and plantation owners sought the breezy and healthier high ground above Bristol harbour for their residences.
There, great terraces of Georgian mansions, interspersed with shaded green parks, were built from the attractive local limestone that has made Bath so famous.
Today Clifton Village is a delightful enclave full of Georgian mansions (usually sub-divided into apartments now), small boutiques, cafes and food produce shops. We stumbled across this delightful greengrocers / urban farmers market called ‘Reg the Veg’. The locally grown strawberries were to die for.
There seems to be something new to explore around every corner, down every alleyway and this makes Clifton one of the most interesting and popular areas of town to explore as well as to live in.
Clifton Suspension Bridge
One of Bristol’s crowning glories is Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s masterpiece; the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Striding majestically over the Avon Gorge this is a 150 year old local landmark still fulfilling its original purpose.
Although the contest to design the bridge had started in 1829 it wasn’t until 1864, long after Brunel had died, that the Suspension Bridge finally opened.
In a Victorian era brimming with great engineers, Brunel stands as a giant; helping his father construct the world’s first underwater tunnel, designing the Clifton Suspension Bridge at just 24 years old, creating the world famous Great Western Railway and building the largest steamships ever seen until the 20th century.
So, is Bristol really just Bath’s ‘scruffy cousin’ ?
There will always be some who prefer McCartney and some who prefer Lennon. They were both great in their own way. Bath is a stunningly beautiful town, a supermodel of town landscapes. Bristol though is bristling with character. It has an edginess, a sense of identity and variety of attractions that is hard to rival.
It’s only a matter of time before our family ventures back again.