After reading an amazing blog about the Bristol Balloon Fiesta last year, I decided that I had to see Bristol and experience its amazing landmarks. This city has a huge appeal, with one of the top universities in the UK, (teenager daughter applying) and strong links to Banksy, the famous graffiti street artist.
I love the way that Banksy art has evolved from street graffiti and stencilling to spray paint and now his art is being sold at auction houses around the world. Having previously viewed his exhibition in Amsterdam, I was keen to find more of his earlier street art.
The identity of Banksy is still unknown, however, many locals believe that he lived 12 miles away in Yate. Some of his works have been preserved and the famous Grim Reaper is on loan to the M Shed, a fabulous museum on the waterfront documenting the lives and times of the people of Bristol and the growth of the city.
photo Lou Armor@shutterstock
My second curiosity with Bristol was the floating harbour. What on earth is a Floating Harbour?
Bristol grew up around a point on the river Avon six miles inland. The tidal range of rivers in this area is the greatest of any in the world and for merchant ships trading around the Bristol Chanel they could either be carried all the way to Bristol by the tide or if they timed it wrong, the larger ships were stuck in mud, sometimes for a week.
This often meant that the city port was blocked or completely congested by stranded ships, waiting for the tide to turn. Trade was being lost to Liverpool and this prompted the wealthy merchants at the time to devise a plan to make the river non tidal.
William Jessop devised a plan in 1802 which amalgamated other previous proposals to dam the river and implement the use of several Weirs to control the water flow. This created the floating harbour.
Look out for details of the Bristol harbour festival, an annual event that celebrates the maritime history of Bristol. (Dates are not yet online). I spent a whole day exploring this part of the city because there is so much to see. Street food, music, entertainment and of course the fabulous SS Great Britain.
This amazing ship took years to bring back from the Falklands where she had been scuttled. Raised from the sea and towed to the exact place in Bristol that she had been built, SS Great Britain was restored to her former glory. The longest steam ship in her time, she travelled the oceans for 30 years before being battered of Cape Horn.
Brunel, an English mechanical and civil engineer created history by building a ship fitted with a 1000 hp steam engine and a screw propeller. She is a sight to behold and the history and determination of individuals to restore her to her former beauty, makes this one of my top attractions in Bristol. The tour of this ship is excellent, with costume actors and an opportunity to climb the rigging on the top deck.
The biggest challenge currently facing the ship is rust. A glass ceiling covered with water was created, based on the research at Cardiff University on corrosion. A humidity control system also helps preserve the hull of this unique piece of British history.
The entrance ticket for this museum is valid for a year, if you don’t get to do all the tour or if you need more time, pop back another day. Details on ss.greatbritain.org
Oh my goodness, I am still no where near talking about the Balloon Festival. A quick mention to the creators of the Wallace and Gromit trail, Gromit Unleashed 2. These life sized statues (67 in total) have been placed all over the city to raise funds for Bristol Children Hospital and it is great fun trying to find as many as possible. There is an app that you can download on the App Store and the trail runs from July 2nd to Sept 2nd.
Day one was jam packed and it was not over yet. I had the choice of going on a lovely cruise up the River Avon or finding somewhere to eat. I had to choose the food option as the Balloon festival was going to be a long evening, but I would definitely come back and try the Afternoon-tea River trip.
The Balloon Festival is a free event and is easy to reach by bus from the city centre. The shuttles run constantly all day and evening. That is the easy part. Once you get off the bus I had no idea how far you had to walk. It’s a good 25 mins up and down slopes, past fields until you reach a huge open space filled with children amusement rides and food carts. Thousands of people had already laid out picnics and brought their own chairs. These people clearly had pre booked car park spaces. Lucky things.
Undeterred I found a space next to a young family with a girl in a wheelchair. The man I stood next to was also a keen photographer and actually helped me adjust my camera settings as the light dwindled. I was here to see the night show and it did not disappoint. Sadly the crowds on the grassy bank all stood up and the young lady in the wheelchair could not see a thing. I abandoned my camera and filmed it, showing her each stage.
It was very atmospheric and I really enjoyed the excitement of the evening and the crowd reaction. I would be more prepared next time with a warmer coat, which could also double up as something to sit on and I would wear more comfortable shoes, for the walking. The light show is basically a circle of tethered balloons that are lit up in time to a music sequence, followed by a fireworks display. Its great fun but next time I am definitely going up in a balloon. That looks amazing. Dates for this free event are 8-11th August 2019
TIPS FOR BALLOON FIESTA BRISTOL
The Balloon fiesta is dependant on the weather and no balloons were airborne early morning on the Friday due to the wind and rain. It is advisable to check the weather forecast before setting off for one of the early morning flights which must be booked well in advance. The Balloon rides start at £125 and are available to book from bristolballoons.org
I have been recently informed by Laurence from Independent Travel Cats that there is a disabled viewing platform at the bristol Balloon Fiesta and disabled parking. Both need to be pre booked. His balloon fiesta blog is an excellent resource for families.
Price & Location The event is free and during the day they have character balloons and loads of entertainment for families. The event is held in Ashton Court and the shuttle bus only takes about 20mins but lots of people walk across the Clifton suspension bridge and go that way. The bridge however closes around 6pm and you cannot return that way. I took the shuttle bus at 7pm and I had plenty of time for the night display which started around 9.20pm. I even managed to grab a very tasty burger at the show. Toilets are a bit of an issue. Not enough and extremely busy.
Transport: Taxi and Ubers are another option but I found the Uber to be constantly on surge price rates due to the sheer volume of people and after a particularly expensive ride I took a local taxi back to my hotel which was considerably cheaper. I think because he was not following a google map and knew quite a few short cuts and dropped me at a bridge. A difference of £4. The same thing happened on the way back to the airport, so be aware of the surge prices and try the local bus and taxi services.
I arrived into Bristol by the airport shuttle bus which was very cheap and the driver was most helpful as no one seemed to have a clue where they were going! You can buy a ticket at the airport machine or pay the conductor £7.
Other great attractions in Bristol city. To see my video clip collections of Bristol click here: www.pond5.com/artist/mature.
I think one of my favourite sites in the city of Bristol, was the Clifton suspension bridge. This amazing bridge spans the Avon Gorge and is a stunning piece of engineering. There are free tours on the bridge at 3pm, Sat/Sundays and Bank holidays from Easter to October. There is a visitor centre and a Hard Hat Tour of the Leigh Woods Vaults. These hidden chambers designed by Brunel were only recently discovered. Details on all tours at www.Cliftonbridge.co.uk.
Photo available at Lou Armor@shutterstock
I, of course was still searching for Wallace and Gromit and guess who had the best views? Look up from the bridge and you will see the Observatory on the hillside. Kids will love it up here as there is a swing park. If you are feeling brave, there are tunnels through the hillside to a viewing platform overlooking the Gorge. “The Giants Cave”. Not for me, but if small spaces don’t bother you, the views would be stunning.
Places of Interest: I had the best intentions of visiting the Aerospace Bristol, the new home of Concorde but I simply ran out of time. If you or your family love aeroplanes, satellites, missiles and everything about air travel, then the opportunity to climb into Concorde, should appeal.
All details on the website, www.aerospacebristol.org. Open 10am-5pm, 7 days a week except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The Concorde hanger is closed a few days a year for private functions, call in advance or email: 01179 315 315 or email the box office.
The reason I missed the aerospace was due to my Banksy trail. I could not leave before finding one of my favourite pieces, the girl with the earring, except this one in true Banksy style has an alarm box for an earring. Follow the harbour walk past SS Great Britain and its on a warehouse wall. I loved it.
The Museum of Bristol has the Paint pot angel, a collaboration with the museum and Banksy. This can be found in the entrance hallway and this is another free venue.
The best way to see this city is on foot. I walked from Stokes Croft to the museum and then Clifton village, and on to the suspension bridge. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and beautiful coffee shops to stop and grab a refreshment.
Don’t take my word for it. Easyjet fly into Bristol city or take a direct train links from London or most parts of the UK.
Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time and enjoy Bristol. Bath is pretty close by if you have time combine both. Any other great places that I missed please leave in the comment box.
Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time.
Film clips available on my travels view on iStock here.