“It’s a bit like Bristol really, you’re either clinging on by your fingertips or looking out to a bright future!” Well, perhaps Banky’s Bristol mural, The Well Hung Lover, is a metaphor for life in the city, as suggested by our street art guide Tina Altwegg of Where the Wall street art tours. Apparently Bristolians approach them all the time during their tours, and this was just one interpretation of the Banksy piece, given to them by a passer by on a previous tour. Our street art tour started and ended with a Banksy, but as we discovered there’s a lot more to the Bristol street art scene than the city’s most famous and mysteriously anonymous street artist.
As we walked down the steps to view the Banksy mural from below, Tina fed us annecdotes about the art and artists we were passing. This Banksy was created at a time when Bristol City Council was whitewashing street art as fast as it could be created, but since it was painted in a very visible but inaccessible position, on the side of a building owned by a friend of Banksy, no-one could touch it. That didn’t stop it being targetted by taggers launching blue paintball splodges which have only partially been removed. Perhaps the theme of betrayal was inpired by the bust-up Banksy had with his manager, or perhaps it’s a reference to the sexual health clinic that once occupied this building.
A little further we came across one of my favourite pieces of the tour by JPS – two cute children doing The Big Deal. The artist from Weston Super Mare uses stencils in a way that is reminiscent and even inspired by Banksy. The Queens Shilling, an LGBT nightclub it’s next to, liked it so much that they asked him to create another piece just around the corner.
This Spartacus mural by JPS is a tribute to the actor Andy Whitfield who was in the TV series but died of cancer. Apparently it’s a favourite photo spot for hen parties – can’t think why!
We moved across the centre to the Radisson Hotel Blu Hotel, not the most obvious location for street art – but here was a piece by Cheo that recreates the local Aardman characters of Wallace and Gromit as cool dudes from the hood. The first mural was created when the Shaun the sheep statues were scattered around Bristol but it became such a talking point that the hotel asked Cheo back to create its partner.
In Corn Street Tina pointed out the The Hatter Cafe who had commissioned a piece by Nick Walker using his familiar character in a bowler hat which we spotted again later along Nelson Street. There are an increasing number of businesses around Bristol that tap into the talent of Bristol street artists – you can stay in a room at the Mercure Holland House inspired by Bristol Street art or sip your cocktail on the Urban Roof Terrace of the Marriott City Hotel.
Turning off Corn Street through Leonard’s Lane was a revelation, with the murals visible at the entrance of this dark passage only hinting at the menagerie of creatures and stencil, mosaic and 3D pieces to be found by those venturing down the alley. Take a look at my photo album for a taste of some of them.
We emerged blinking into the daylight from the passage, at the old old city walls with the spire of St John in the wall above us and the unicorns and lions from the city’s coat of arms decorating the old stone archway – for unicorn chasers there’s also one inside the church.
Now we were on Nelson Street, one of the key street art areas of Bristol. Most of the uninspiring concrete buildings were painted with huge murals as part of the See No Evil Street Art Festival in 2011 and 2012. Look up to find the Madonna-like piece by El Mac based on his girlfriend and baby, using a shading technique created by chilling down the aerosol paints in a bucket of ice. Next to it Nick Walker’s bowler hatted man is painting the town red. A little further up the road, the wolf by Aryz and stick figure by the artist of the same name Stik brighted up the most unremarkable towerblocks. Nelson Street is now under development with a large building site, so some of the smaller pieces from the festival have been lost, but it’s still well worth visiting for the larger murals that remain. The festival was a predecessor of the Upfest festival that now takes place in South Bristol, hosting 300 street artists and 30,000 visitors last July.
As Tina tells us the story behind each piece, I sense a theme emerging. Some of the artists like Stik and JPS had been depressed or homeless and found a way forward through street-art. Others have been honing their artistic talent in Bristol for many years, since John Nation, now a tour guide for Where the Wall, started a street art project at the Barton Hill Youth Club. Artists like Nick Walker and Cheo started painting there before Banksy and, as Rob Dean, the founder of Where the Wall explained, if they have now found success, it’s not before time.
“The artists are now getting recognition for what they are doing rather than lurking in the shadows, which is fantastic – the people who have been doing it for 20 years need to become household names. It’s not so much commercialism as the recognition that they deserve for the hours they have put in.”
The Street Art tours are becoming increasingly popular with school groups, both in Bristol and from abroad and Tina runs the tours in French and German when required. Sometimes the tour is combined with a creative spray session at the end, so that the kids can give it a try for themselves. Art teachers find that it’s a great way of getting teenagers excited by the medium – perhaps inspiring the next generation of street artists.
We move on towards Broadmead past the old police station, now a youth centre and gallery with all sorts of artistic stuff going on. As Tina points out, there’s an irony in the place where they took arrested graffiti artists now being a hub of creativity. On the grimy stonework there’s some ‘Clean’ or reverse graffiti by Moose, created with sturdy stencils and a jet wash.
Heading through the underpass of the Bearpit, we see panels where artists can create murals in an ever changing gallery. This is the starting point for Stokes Croft, the road leading from the city centre which is seemingly one long street-art gallery. Businesses along here regularly commission work from the top street artists, like the Man in the Moon piece by Cheba that we see on the wall of the Full Moon pub and backpacker’s hostel. Tagging and spray-can graffiti is common, but the more respected artists or commissioned pieces stay free of it for a little longer.
We meander through the back alleys parallel to Stokes Croft, as Tina points out some of the more unusual pieces like a paste up piece at kerb level. It’s literally a painting pasted to a wall so it might stay anything from 1 day to 6 months before it’s torn off. At the top of Stokes Croft is the Carriage Works, an old shell of a building where the panels between the arches are a popular canvas for street artists.
Bristol is so well known for street art that many of the top international artists come here to create a piece over a weekend, to make sure they have Bristol on their creative CV. However, even the best pieces may only last a few days before they are painted over by someone else – only remembered on Facebook or Instagram.
Now our tour is nearly at an end as we meet up with Where the Wall founder, Rob Dean who tells us of his plans for the future. The company has recently started a Banksy tour which is proving a hit, even though there are only a few pieces by the artist remaining throughout Bristol. It complements the main street art tour we’ve just done and is an opportunity to give visitors a bit more context about the history of the city. Rob tells us, “I see the street art tours as a great way to go straight into the middle of the creative contemporary culture of Bristol, without having to spend days finding it, or missing it completely.”
The tour company also tries to help local street artists get more benefit from their work, by ensuring it is correctly attributed and that their intellectual property rights are not trampled upon. Last year Where the Wall worked with a calendar company on a project that saw a number of local artists being paid to create murals in the Cabots Circus Shopping Centre, which were then photographed for a Bristol street art calendar.
We discover that our guide Tina Altwegg is also an illustrator and artist, as she shows us her Dancing Polar Bear mural in the underground cycle park of Hamilton House, where she has her artist’s studio. She tells us how she wanted to imagine the polar bears dancing and having fun as a counterpoint to all the depressing news about climate change.
After a coffee in The Canteen, we check out a couple more pieces on the walls of the neighbouring buildings. The break-dancing Jesus is an iconic mural that’s become well known in Bristol and was created by artist Cosmo Sarson following a competition to decide who would paint this very visible space on Stokes Croft. It was inspired by a news story the artist had seen about Pope John Paul II inviting a group of Polish break dancers to perform for him in the Vatican.
On the opposite wall we finish as we started with a Banksy, one of his earliest surviving pieces in Bristol – The Mild Mild West. This one was created in 1999 before the artist moved into a more detailed style using stencils and stopped signing his work. Because it’s a simple black and white piece, painted by hand, it’s been easy to touch up every time someone tries to tag it or send a few paintballs in its direction. Since the mural was painted there have been protests and riots in this part of Bristol so it seems to always have a relevancy in the theme. We Bristolians may be cuddly and easy going but there’s an undercurrent of anti-establishment feeling here too.
Take the Where the Wall tour and as Rob says, even if you’re here for just a day, you’ll get straight to the heart of contemporary culture in Bristol and enjoy some great street art from Banksy and many, many more.
Where the Wall Street Art Tours cost £9.20 and there are 3 tours – The Bristol Street Art Tours, The Banksy and Harbourside walking tour and the Bedminster Street Art Tour.
Thanks to Where the Wall for providing me with a free tour as part of a Bristol Bloggers and Influencers Event.
More Art in Bristol
What the other bloggers said
Travel to Recovery – Bristol Street Art Tour
New Mum Online – The Street Art Where the Wall Tour and Colour that Inspired Aeron
Natacha the Franglais – And if we talked about Street Art
Looking for somewhere to stay in Bristol?
Here are some of the Hotels in Bristol that we recommend, which are close to the neighbourhoods that have street-art.
Boutique Guest House in Bristol: Brooks Guest House
Tucked away in a courtyard in the heart of the old city, with 23 stylish and compact bedrooms and retro rocket caravans on the roof which you can stay in.
Luxury Hotel in Bristol: Hotel du Vin
Set in an 18th century sugar warehouse with exposed brickwork and 40 loft style bedrooms, leather sofas in the sugar bar and a French Bistro style restaurant.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
“Buy what you love” is the advice of Bristol artist Abigail McDougall when it comes to investing in original artworks, like those she paints in her studio in Jamaica Street, Bristol. With Bristol’s Affordable Art Fair coming up next week, I spent the morning with Abigail who specialises in colourful watercolours, often of Bristol scenes or the places she travels and is especially inspired by water and reflections.
Abigail showed me some of the Bristol scenes that she has been working on for the forthcoming Affordable Art Fair, which are popular with local people and have led to commissions and solo shows in the city.
“People from Bristol are so fond of the city; it has so much interest with the hills and layers of buildings, the colourful houses, the harbour and the water reflections. It’s a very green city as well. I think people are very proud of Bristol, they tend to move away and then come back again, it’s a city that pulls you back”
Travels abroad have also inspired Abigail’s work and earlier this year she spent a few weeks travelling around Mexico. Around the studio I could also see watercolour sketches from trips to Marrakech, where she loved the patterns and colours of pottery, collecting scarves that incorporated colour combination she found inspiring.
“I do put a lot of colour into my work and I think that’s partly inspired by the time I spent in Italy as a child. When you travel you get to see a whole new colour palate. In Africa and Morocco, the colours are a lot warmer than they are here, with more red and yellow. Even the blues in the sky are warmer, so you get to discover a completely new colour palate. In Morocco you see things in a new light.”
Watch Abigail’s video below about the inspiration she found in Mexico – see it on my article here
Over the years of painting in Bristol, Abigail has found herself drawn more and more to the water and reflections of the harbourside and rivers Avon and Frome. Sometimes she will be found cycling along the towpath at dusk, when the light is getting low, making in-the-moment watercolour sketches of the shadows and reflections on the water. From this love of water, a new more abstract style is developing, taking a close up view of lilies in a botanic garden or mangrove roots reflected in the water of cenotes of Mexico.
I asked Abigail how she prepared for a big show like the Affordable Art Fair, since she has to create a whole new collection of original artworks to show at the fair. She told me that she will think back to the type of paintings that have been popular at previous shows but then challenges herself to experiment and push the theme forward. Now she is trying to develop the medium of watercolour, creating bigger pieces on specially prepared board which takes the colour in a way that is more intense and textured.
“People are interested in the story behind your work, so if you push yourself and keep experimenting, then you always have a story to tell about the work. There are not a lot of people working in watercolour these days and I try to do something modern and contemporary with it. “
For those looking to buy original artworks, Abigail’s advice is to look for something that you love and not something you think is a good investment. If you fall in love with an artist who becomes famous that’s a bonus, but you need to have something on your wall that you can live with.
I wanted to understand how Abigail would approach a new painting, so she got out her brushes and showed me how she would take a photograph of a boat on the mudflat and create a watercolour image from it. She explained how she would first consider the colours to use, to reflect the subdued tones of the photo with contrasts of light and dark, perhaps adding some contrasting colours to lead the eye around the picture.
Deftly mixing colours from the blobs of paint around the rim of a plate, the tip of her Chinese brush traced the outline of the painting. Next the thickness of the brush was used to wash colour over the sky and water, building up and blending diifferent colours together. From time to time an old hair dryer came out to dry the paint before she could add the detail of the boats and the fine lines of their masts.
Small dots of red added the contrast of buoys and different soft shades the ripples of water and mud reflecting light. Abigail told me how she also likes to work outdoors, making quick watercolour paintings like this on the spot, as the result can be more free when you have to work quickly from real life.
It was fun to see the world in a creative way through an artist’s eyes and I came away feeling inspired and energised by the colour in Abigail’s work. Catch her at the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol, at galleries around Bristol or on her Bristol Contemporary Art online gallery.
The Affordable Art Fair in Bristol
You can buy original paintings by Abigail McDougall and other artists within Bristol Contemporary Art at the Affordable Art Fair which is taking place 7-9 September at Brunel’s Old Station in Bristol. The fair will feature original contemporary artworks from 500 exceptional artists, designed to be affordably priced between £50 and £5,000. Many of the galleries allow you to pay for your artwork over a number of months through the Own Art scheme. Abigail’s original watercolours start from around £370.
Tickets to the Bristol fair are £4 for a day pass or £6 for a multi-day pass if you book online in advance. The Bristol fair includes kid’s activities, live painting by the artists in residence and a cafe by Friska. If you can’t make it to Bristol, check out the other fairs in London – next at Battersea 20-23 October 2016 or in other cities worldwide. More details on the Affordable Art Fair Website.
This article was brought to you in partnership with the Affordable Art Fair
More articles about Bristol
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
On a sunny afternoon in Bristol the harbourside is buzzing. Locals with an after-work pint in their hand spill out onto cafe terraces or soak up the sunshine with their legs dangling over the harbour wall. At the weekend families gravitate to the harbour, dipping into the free museums and galleries or watching the boats on the water, while the creative types hang out over brunch in one of the numerous cool cafes.
Once the heart of Bristol’s industry and commerce, the harbour has been reinvented as the city’s playground. As a local of Bristol for over 20 years I’m here to take you on a walk around the Bristol’s harbourside to share some of the cool places that I enjoy. So let’s start at….
1. Millennium Square
Built in 2000 to celebrate the turn of the century, Millennium Square is a place to hang out, bring the kids for a picnic, watch sporting events on the big screen or move on to one of the many bars nearby for a drink with friends. The veg beds run by Edible Bristol are full of lavender, herbs, yellow sunflowers and a few miniature apple trees. Take a seat next to statues of Bristol’s literary figures like Thomas Chatterton and William Tyndall, not to mention Archibald Leach a.k.a the suave Hollywood star, Cary Grant who was born here.
Mobile getting a bit low? No problem! The energy tree has small solar panels at the end of its branches and there are USB points where you can plug in and recharge. On the other side of the square is a water fountain for you can fill up your bottle – all part of the initiatives that went into making Bristol a European Green Capital. Possibly the best loved spots in Millennium Square are the water features – shallow pools where children splash, pillars with water rippling down them and pools where it spills over the rim. On a sunny day they provide hours of good clean fun that won’t cost you a penny.
Where to Stay? For a modern base in the city with 24 hr reception check out Ibis Bristol Centre which is right on the square or for classic luxury, the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel is just a few minutes walk away on College Green.
And if you’re in Millennium Square with the family, why not pop into…
2. At Bristol Science Centre
This hands-on science centre is great for kids and teenagers, with handles to turn, buttons to press, things to build and something to see, smell, touch wherever you turn. On the ground floor it’s all about us and our bodies – test how high you can jump or fit your body’s organs into the body like a jigsaw puzzle. On the other side of the room you can turn the Heath-Robinson style water wheel or make a miniature parachute fly. There’s a whole area devoted to food and where it comes from – you can compare what a sumo wrestler and a farmer in the Andes eat for breakfast.
Upstairs a big section is all about animation, based on the Wallace and Gromit films created in the city by Aardman Animations. You can also blow giant bubbles and find out how astronauts wash in space, which leads us neatly into the shows in the Planetarium – that’s the big silver ball that you see outside in the square. Check out the At Bristol Website
From Millennium Square we’ll cross Pero’s bridge, with horn like weights that balance the bridge when it occasionally opens to let the large ships pass through. It’s named after the Pero, the slave servant of 18th century Bristol merchant John Pinney, who built a home just off Park Street that’s now open as the Georgian House.
Just before the bridge there’s a covered arcade of bars and restaurants where you’ll find the tourist information centre. Next door the Watershed Arts centre has an upstairs cafe that overlooks the water and is popular with creative entrepreneurs who hold informal meetings across their open Macbooks.
On the other side of Pero’s Bridge is a favourite place to catch the evening sun, sitting on the harbour wall with a drink in your hand. Bring your own or buy your drinks from The Grain House run by the YHA or the Arnolfini bar.
Where to Stay: The Bristol started life as a motel and is actually a listed building for the 1960s concrete facade but inside the rooms are stylish and welcoming with fab harbour views. Those on a budget should check out the YHA Bristol with shared dorms and private rooms – you can’t get a better location for the price.
Once on this side of the harbour it’s worth a stop at…
3. Arnolfini Arts Centre
The Arnolfini is one of my favourite contemporary art centres, housed in one of the old stone warehouses and because it’s free I always like to pop in and see what’s going on. Once I saw a group of dancers twisting silently with only those wearing headphones hearing the music they were dancing to. Another time I hopped from one upturned log to another around a room filled with just a few inches of water. The ever changing exhibitions always provoke and question, but don’t expect to find pretty pictures in here. I often pop up to the second floor just for the pleasure of looking back down across the whole harbour at the window by the loos.
Out on the quayside sits John Cabot or Giovanni Caboto, a Genoese explorer who has given his name to a number of parks, towers and shopping centres across the city. In 1497 he sailed from Bristol in The Matthew, a surprisingly small ship to cross the Atlantic all the way to Newfoundland. The replica of the original ship now sits on the other side of the harbour – more of that later.
If you’re inclined you could turn left after the footbridge for a quick detour to Bathhurst Basin where there’s a small marina. It’s mainly a residential area but The Ostrich Inn, once a haunt of sailors and slave merchants, is a fine place to sit outside with a drink on a sunny day. The Michelin star restaurant Casamia recently moved here with the same team opening Pi shop next door serving gourmet pizza overlooking the water.
Where to Stay: The Mercure Holland House is a convenient 5 minute walk from this end of the harbour close to St Mary Redcliffe church, with modern rooms, an indoor pool and is well placed for Bristol Temple Mead.
Retracing your steps, our next recommended stop is the free museum at …
I have memories of when this old warehouse in Bristol’s docks was the Industrial Museum and once attended an amazing play about the life and times of the harbour where the doors onto the quayside revealed a banana boat which formed part of the performance.
Now M-shed is a fantastic free museum that shows off the varied, vibrant and multicultural life of Bristol through exhibits on the ground and first floor and special exhibitions on the second floor. The ground floor covers life in Bristol, our diverse neighbourhoods, transport and a taste of Bristol during the blitz. The vintage double decker bus is always popular with families climbing on board and if everyone seems to be gazing at the floor it’s because they are trying to find their own house on the street map of Bristol.
Upstairs on the first floor it’s all about the people of Bristol and the commerce of the city. See the metal tables or ‘nails’ where merchants did their business, leading the expression ‘Pay on the Nail’ and learn about Bristol’s slave trade on which the wealth of the city was built.
One of my favourite views is from the second floor balcony where you look out across the harbour and get a birds eye view of the cranes that are part of the museum’s industrial heritage. Sometimes you’ll hear them speak out and tell their story.
A little further along the quayside, you’ll find another part of Bristol’s history in …
5. The Matthew
I mentioned earlier about John Cabot, who Bristolians like to claim as their own but who was actually from Genoa and sailed to Newfoundland in his ship The Matthew. Sadly the original Matthew is no longer around, but a replica was made in 1997 to sail across to Newfoundland and mark the 500th anniversary of the original voyage. The ship is now based in Bristol harbour and if you see her moored close to M-Shed you can generally go on board and have a look around.
It’s difficult to believe that a ship this small would have made it across the Atlantic – the life of a sailor in those days was certainly a pretty perilous and uncomfortable existence! It’s free to go on board for a look around and they also run regular 1 hr sailings around the harbour as well as special fish & chips or afternoon tea trips. Check the Matthew website for upcoming events.
By now you may be ready for a stop at one of the many …
6. Cool coffee shops
Bristol Harbour abounds with places to stop for a coffee, snack, after work drink or delicious meal and there are plenty of independents that you won’t find on every high street. I’ve made a bit of a list below of all my favourites so that you can find a great place to stop wherever you are in your walk around the harbour. In the spirit of full disclosure I haven’t necessarily eaten at all of these but have selected those I would happily try based on their style, menu and reputation.
Around Millenium Square
The area immediately around the square is mostly the province of chain restaurants which are popular with the after work crowd for a beer and bite to eat. These are larger establishments and you’ll often find happy hour or other offers, so best to walk around and see what catches your fancy. I also like the upstairs cafe at The Watershed for lunchtime or early evening meetings as they serve tasty, healthy food and you won’t feel self-consious getting out your laptop, plus there’s a great view over the water.
Around Anolfini and M-shed
Arnolfini Cafe – The cafe for the free contemporary art gallery that I already mentioned serves coffee, cakes and sandwiches, salads and charcuterie platters. They have a section of tables by the water if you want to eat outside or grab an after work drink. Open 10am – 8pm
Mud Dock Cafe – I haven’t been here for a while but it’s best known for the cycle shop on the ground floor and roof terrace above that overlooks the harbour. It’s always packed on a sunny day, serving coffee, brunch, tapas from 10am-6pm then dinner until 10pm.
The Ostrich Inn – A taste of the old Bristol of sailors and pirates who frequented the inn in the 18th Century. Inside it’s traditionally atmospheric although the seating space isn’t huge, but comes into its own in the summer where there is loads of outdoor seating overlooking the water.
Pi Shop – The Michelin star Casamia restaurant recently moved to the new General development beside The Ostrich Inn, and they’ve also opened Pi Shop next door. Run by the same team it serves sourdough pizza made in a wood fired oven and home-made ice cream with a casual ‘Napoli meets Bristol’ feel and some outdoor tables overlooking the water.
From M-Shed to SS Great Britain
Just behind M-Shed is Wapping Wharf, which as I write is nearing completion with many of the restaurants now open. Once it’s all complete there will be even more food vendors operating out of shipping containers in the Cargo complex, but to tell you about what’s there already…
Pizzarova * – serving take-away pizza freshly made in their wood-fired oven in the shipping crate which you can eat on the tables outside or on the wooden benches just opposite beside M-Shed. I tried one of their pizzas which was good value, tasty and I liked their easy going approach of letting your choose whatever combination of toppings and the price is the same.
Wild Beer – If you’re looking for an after work or any time beer, the freshly opened Wild Beer offers around 20 draught beers from their own Somerset brewery among others, together with a connoisseur’s version of fish and chips.
Mokoko Bakery and Cafe * – serving an delicious selection of cakes and pastries with a few quiches to order with colourful salads. You can eat them inside, on the outdoor tables or buy to take away with an excellent coffee.
Better Food – It’s local, organic and ethical at Better Food which is half an enticing grocery store and half a cafe selling organic lunches, fresh juices and teas and coffees. In this and their other Bristol stores they stock local producers and artisans, to support a ‘shop local’ philosophy.
Brunel’s Buttery – a short walk along from Wapping Wharf is Brunel’s Buttery, the die-hard Bristolian’s favourite, serving steaming mugs of tea, bacon butties and cones of chips from a small brick kiosk halfway between M-Shed and SS Great Britain. All the seating is outside and the seagulls will swoop down for anything you don’t finish.
Around Underfall Yard
The Cottage Inn – a local’s favourite on Baltic Wharf, this Victorian stone pub has an outdoor terrace by the water for a pint of local ale on a sunny evening accompanied by some classic pub grub.
Pickle Cafe at Underfall Yard * – One of my ‘new’ discoveries this small cafe is inside the Underfall Yard visitor centre and offers stylish breakfast specials and sandwiches, with a tempting selection of cakes and excellent coffee. There are a few tables inside but it’s mainly one to sit outside on a sunny day right beside the harbour.
Between Underfall Yard to Millennium Square
Spoke & Stringer *- Right opposite SS Great Britain (you can get the ferry across) this is possibly my favourite harbourside cafe. It’s connected to the shop next door selling lifestyle surf and bike gear, with a couple of Harley Davidson’s parked outside and a thriving Instagram account to hammer home the style credentials. The food (brunch dishes by day, pintxos by night) is both delicious and beautiful and it’s fun to be inside or outside – but outside is a real suntrap and you get the view of the SS Great Britain and harbour.
* The ones marked with a star are my personal tried and tested favourites
Now you’re fully refreshed, we’ll walk along the harbour to reach Bristol award winning harbourside attraction…
7. SS Great Britain
I love the stories behind the SS Great Britain. Launched in 1843 as the first iron steam ship it was designed by the great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the man behind the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Temple Mead Station. The ship ended its days as a rusty hull in the Faulkland Islands and was brought back to Bristol in 1970 to start a lengthy restoration process on the journey to becoming the splendid visitor attraction, with all flags flying, that you see today.
If you start your tour below the water covered glass that surrounds the ship you can see the hull below the waterline and pass through the museum with plenty of interactive exhibits explaining the maritime history surrounding the ship. Once on board you’ll find out what life was like for the different classes of passengers who sailed in her. While the first class passengers enjoyed elegant dining, you’ll also see the cramped bunks in steerage that would have reeked of stale ale and sweaty laundry. The sights, sounds and even smells of life on board have been recreated, right down to the rats running around (luckily enclosed) and the cow on deck to provide fresh milk.
For the daring there’s the chance to Go Aloft in the ship’s latest activity where you climb up the rigging to the crow’s nest and then inch your way along the yard-arm – rather you than me! For more information check the SS Great Britain Website.
From here you can easily take a detour to Spike Island creative hub which provides a work and exhibition space for artists and small creative businesses. They often have exhibitions and the Spike Cafe serves organic dishes and drinks.
And there’s a Banksy too! It’s not so easy to find if you didn’t know it was there, but if you find your way to the streets at the back of SS Great Britain, you’ll find it off Hanover Place close to The Orchard Inn, painted on the back of the Dockside Studios. It’s actually marked on Google Maps. Search for Banksy’s ‘The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum’.
From here walk along the harbour-side path until you reach the end of the harbour and …
8. Underfall yard
The pumping station for the Bristol floating harbour is another authentic part of the city’s industrial heritage that has recently been restored to make a fascinating visitor attraction. It’s a working shipyard where beautiful wooden boats are brought to be work on – take a peep into the door of the big shed to see the hull of a ship taking shape.
The new visitor centre which is staffed with enthusiastic volunteers has a room sized map table of the harbour and hands on activities that show the engineering that went into keeping the harbour free of silt, so ships could enter and Bristol’s trade continue uninterrupted. Ask to have a demonstration of the Human Accumulator where you and your friends are lifted slowly up to provide enough force to turn the sluice paddle. The visitor centre also houses the highly recommended Pickle Cafe for coffee, cakes and sexy sandwiches with names like Hot Chick and Killer Courgette. More information on the Underfall Yard website.
You’ve made it to this far to the end of the floating harbour, so you may like to walk a little further to the Create Centre which is mainly open on weekdays. The centre features events and exhibitions related to the environment including a purpose built eco home to give practical ideas for greener living.
If you don’t fancy walking all the way back to Millennium Square you could take …
9. A Boat trip around Bristol Harbour
There are a few different options to get to around the harbour by water – it’s the original and best way after all. Bristol Ferry Boats provides a regular service throughout the day around once an hour, taking visitors and commuters from City steps at one end of the harbour (just beyond Pero’s bridge) to the Pump House at the other (by Underfall Yard). If you’ve just shlepped all the way along the route I’ve described and can’t face the walk back then getting the ferry by Underfall Yard (Nova Scotia stop) will save your legs.
They also run public trips around the Avon Gorge or along the River Avon that will give you an enjoyable few hours on the water spotting wildlife or seeing the harbour’s iron bridges and architectural features. Bristol Packet Boat trips run similar regular tours around the harbour and have a kiosk just beside SS Great Britain where you can see what’s on and buy tickets for their next trip.
For a short ferry ride that crosses the harbour at a convenient point, hop on the 7 Boats ferry by SS Great Britain which takes you to the landing stage near Spoke and Stringer on the opposite side for 90p one way. No timetable – it just goes constantly back and forth so you’ll never wait long for the next one.
If you’ve taken the short cut by ferry from SS Great Britain to the other side, it’s not too far to walk back to Millennium Square, past a lovely reed bed which makes a habitat for ducks and other wildlife.
But if all this walking seemed a bit tame to you, perhaps you’d like to try…
10. An adventure out on the water
Stand up paddle boarding is the latest craze to reach Bristol harbour and you’ll often see a few people paddling around the harbour. SUP Bristol run regular weekeday evening and Saturday sessions where you’ll be shown how to paddle safely and spend a few hours having fun on the water.
If you’d rather try a canoe, The Adventurous Company offer guided trips around the harbour in an open Canadian style canoe that takes 2-3 people. Finally Cycle the City offer daily guided cycle tours around the harbour on a comfortable and stylish Pashley bicycle and also hire bikes (need to book in advance) from No 1 Harbourside which is by the Watershed and Tourist Information Centre.
So now we’ve made a circle around the harbour and are back where we started at Millennium Square. Of course it would be rash to suggest that you can do justice to all the places I’ve mentioned in one day. Instead I’d enjoy the walk and just stop at one or two that catch your imagination, fortifying yourself with a few coffee and lunch stops along the way. If you’d like to make a weekend of it and combine your day in the harbour with some of Bristol’s other fine neighbourhoods, my recommendations for places to stay are below.
Where to stay around Bristol’s Harbourside
I’ve mentioned all of these hotels in the article, but here they are again ranged from budget to luxury.
YHA Bristol – for budget travellers with shared dorms and private rooms – you can’t get a better location for the price.
Ibis Bristol Centre – a modern base in the city with 24 hr reception check right on Millenium Square.
The Bristol – started life as a motel and is actually a listed building for the 1960s concrete facade but inside the rooms are stylish and welcoming with fab harbour views.
Mercure Holland House – close to St Mary Redcliffe church, with modern rooms, an indoor pool and well placed for Bristol Temple Mead station.
Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel – classic luxury, a few minutes from the harbour on College Green.
Visitor Information for Bristol
For more information on what to do in Bristol and what’s on when you visit, check the Visit Bristol website