Bristol is a beautiful city. Located in England’s South West with a population of over 460,000, it is bigger than I thought it was. It is also a city that has been associated with Banksy, the famous yet anonymous street artist that apparently lives nearby.
Getting off the train from Southampton I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the city was. The glorious weather helped too.
This was a very quick visit as we arrived late morning/ early afternoon and my mum, sister and I were catching a flight back to Newcastle. We were due to fly to and from Newcastle however our flight down here was cancelled and rescheduled on the evening from Edinburgh. Thankfully this return journey remained scheduled to Newcastle which meant a much shorter journey home.
So this post is pretty much about one thing. The Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The bridge spans the Avon Gorge, and has done for almost 150 years. According to their website (I have linked at the bottom of this post) it is entirely funded by tolls. These tolls have paid for its upkeep since 1864.
The bridge was built to a design by William Henry Barlow and John Hawkshaw. Despite having some changes, these designs were based on earlier ones by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The website has a dedicated ‘Our Heroes’ page, and lists the following people:
William Vick (1707 – 1754)
The wine merchant who left money in his will to fund a bridge across the Avon Gorge.
Marc Brunel (1769 – 1849)
A respected engineer. Inventor of the production line and father to Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Sophia Kingdom (1775 – 1854)
Survivor of the French Revolution and mother to Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Thomas Telford (1757 – 1834)
An internationally acclaimed and self taught British engineer, often referred to as ‘the Builder of Britain’ and the ‘Father of Civil Engineering’.
George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758 – 1834)
The First Lord of the Admiralty, Fellow of the Royal Society and Knight of the Garter. Friend to both Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel and ancestor of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.
Sir John Hawkshaw (1811 – 1891)
A distinguished civil engineer specialising in piers, canals, tunnels and railways who helped to complete the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
William Henry Barlow (1812 – 1902)
A distinguished civil engineer who designed St Pancras Station and helped to complete the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Davies Gilbert (1767 – 1839)
An English mathematician and theorist, founder of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, judge of the second competition to design a bridge across the Avon Gorge.
Thomas Guppy (1797 – 1882)
Successful merchant turned engineer, a friend and confidant to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Instrumental is setting up the Great Western Railway and a partner in the development of the Great Western Steamship Company.
Captain Christopher Claxton (1789 – 1868)
Naval captain and first Managing Director of the Great Western Steamship Company and Secretary to the Clifton Suspension Bridge Company. Harbourmaster at Bristol Docks.
I had to get a selfie here.
On top of the hill right next to the bridge, a cafe and observatory allow you to grab a coffee and gaze out over the structure and down the River Avon.
The views are great.
Now who has heard of the famous duo Wallace and Gromit? Some readers will be too young I am sure, although they are pretty much household names in the UK. A great memory I have was watching this with my family as a young child in the early nineties, and how much my dad loved the show. I am not sure if the show was aired outside of the UK, a claymation of a lovely homely man and his dog that loves Wensleydale cheese and crackers going on the odd crazy adventure. I tried to see what the link was with Bristol after seeing Wallace grinning before the bridge, it seems there was a charity event in the city not too long ago called Gromit Unleashed 2. This was the second of two award-winning sculpture trail’s, the first consisting of 80 Gromit sculptures in 2013. Gromit Unleashed 2 also starred Wallace, and one of the sculptures is still standing (well, sitting) here today.
Moving further up the observatory, the views improve and a very cool camera sits at the top. Clifton Observatory was established in 1766 and consists of Giants Cave and the Camera Obscura.
This one of only three Camera Obscura’s operating in the UK, and was set up in 1828. The natural optical phenomenon occurs when an inverted image is projected through a pinprick hole and displayed on the other side of that hole, whether it is a screen/ wall etc. In this room the image appears through a hole in the roof of the building, and displays the light on a large circular base in the middle of the room below it. This only works in a darkened room, which made photography pretty difficult with a phone camera. This must have been pretty amazing to view at the time of its creation, with the image being so clear. And the camera, like CCTV of today, is able to move around using a handle above the image. I enjoyed viewing Bristol from an angle I didn’t know existed!
Views of the surrounding areas, from the top of the observatory.
If you look closely below, not to the very horizon but the last dark row of trees before it, the top of another bridge can be seen. Seems like Bristol likes its bridges!
And now all the way back down, and further. Giants Cave or Ghyston’s Cave takes you 200ft along and down a tunnel to an opening in the cliff face, 250ft above the gorge and 90ft below the observatory and cliff top.
It is not for everyone with some narrow sections and steep stairs, however this is the scene when you reach the bottom. A glow from the cave opening, great views of the Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge and another scary floor that you can stand on and see right through.
And after a good fifteen minutes or so we decided to head back up. Obviously this way was more of a workout, but not too bad. That is if you take the right path, this stairway seemingly leading to nowhere.
I wonder where it did lead to…
And that is it from Bristol! After this quick trip we headed back to the airport and north to Newcastle. I am glad I can tick Bristol off the list of UK cities I have visited and would have liked to have spent more time here. But it is safe to say the city is great, and the surrounding towns look stunning.
I hope you enjoyed the post, and will see you tomorrow with my next adventure. Edinburgh for a night with my sister (and seeing a certain movie being filmed in the city) before flying to Berlin to explore the city and see Muse live at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
I have a busy week of blogging ahead!
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