Saturday, October 23, 2010

ENGLAND : Bristol

Caffe Clifton  Banksy

I’m not really quite sure which county Bristol is in. It was a county in its own right, but then became part of the new county of Avon, named for the river that divides Somerset from Gloucestershire. If you’re trying to find pet-friendly accommodation around here than you have to work out whether they’ve got an Avonshire, or have opted for splitting it between Somerset  (in SW England) and Gloucestershire (in W England) – or it’s forgotten altogether, lost between the ever-changing divisions of the British map.

I get a bit frustrated by some of these sites which don’t help visitors to the area. We are unlikely to know where these boundaries lie, and certainly are not up to date with the tensions between the historical country divisions and the modern boundaries created for administration and postal deliveries. ( This is not a problem restricted to Bristol – even trying to find one’s way around a London demarcated by postcodes SE1, N1, W5, .. or borough/districts Southwark et al or counties Middlesex, Surrey, … can be very tricky. )

As a boy I first encountered Bristol as one of the English settings of R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island, especially Long John Silver’s Spyglass Tavern. Thirteen years ago, it was the first English city I walked about in ( as distinct from being shuffled from one plane to another at London Heathrow), flying in after a week of business in Dublin, and then whisked off in a train for a week in rural Devon.

BRISTOL - John Cabot statue lower left

Bristol’s maritime history goes way back before Stevenson’s pirates: the Italian navigator Giovanni Caboto, better known and commemorated in these parts as John Cabot, set out from here on the 1497 expedition which discovered North America, or more precisely Newfoundland. It was obviously time for a big dog from the new world to return the visit.


A proper dog in the spyglass

It’s quite common for people to point at malamutes and say “ah, a proper dog”, not caring if they shame the poor creature quivering on the end of their leash. I heard it used in reference to Munson many times to day. However at the end of the day as I was leaving a supermarket, the security guard pointed to Munson and said “He’s not a proper dog is he? He’s a wolf!” Poor malamutes, lost between the cracks of canine/lupine genealogy.

I woke up with a bit of a head cold this morning, but when you’ve got a sled-dog to run you don’t hang out in a hotel room beside the motorway all day. I did a quick web-search for cafes with some hope of decent coffee, set the GPS and delivered us into the heart of Clifton. Thankfully Caffe Clifton delivered both a proper flat white and permission for Munson to sit inside with me outside of the drizzle. In fact as I walked around the area I found that every single shop I went into had no problem with Munson being there – very dog friendly indeed. There was one place where the manager came out and ummed and ahhed, but after about a dozen people spotted him through the doorway and came in to say hello (and shop!), he was asking if he could rent Munson out as window dressing.

Weatherwise it was a mixed bag of a day. Sunshine and clear skies were mingled with periods of gloom and driving icy rain where we’d have to huddle under an awning somewhere. Well I did, Munson would have been more than happy to prance around in his elements.

PA230301  PA230300

The river waterfront of Bristol is the scene for one of those bland urban development projects that you see next to water (river, sea or canal) all over Britain. I look at them and see uninspiring architectural detail that dated last Tuesday and surface finishes that don’t look like they’re going to see out the year, let alone match any of the surrounding old buildings for durability and character. It’s the dreary Beaubourg version of a shopping mall, with all the Pizza Express guts on the outside. At least it’s not the red-brick and green tubing nightmare that Lincoln has around its historic inland harbour.



The day brightened up considerably after 4pm as we walked through the parks lining Avon Gorge where the city’s iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge is strung at a height of 75m, the design of the 24yo Isambard Kingdom Brunel. While he went on to many great things such as construction of the Great Western Railway and building great steamships, he died five years before the bridge was actually completed in 1864.





  1. Hi I was sent your link from Khyra and Phyll. I came to look see where you were travelling as it seems I am putting on similar destination photos at the minute.We were though further down in Devon. Great journey you are having. Are you taking in Yorkshire at all. Carol and GJ x

  2. Hi Ginger

    Bondi and I travelled up in the north several years back. See the Yorkshore link in the green tag cloud on the left of the blog. Thanks for stopping by!