I made the short train ride back to Bristol today to check out the town as I only passed through on my way to Weston and Worle. There was only one bus route in Bristol that took around 45 minutes to complete so I decided to catch it twice around to get a view from both sides of the bus (no repeat of Hamburg here!). Being that I was there on a Wednesday also helped as it was very quiet so there were plenty of seats on the bus.
The tour actually started and ended one stop after I got on at the station, so I missed the part about the station as it moved on to the end of tour announcement when we left the station bus rank. As it turns out though there’s a fellow by the name of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who’s name you will become very familiar with (spoiler alert, very familiar with over the next few days).
The bus made the short journey to the starting point and after a few minutes of waiting started the tour, we made our way up hill past city hall and up Park Street where iconic old shopfronts line both sides of the road. Near the top of the hill we passed the Willis Memorial Building, built by the sons of Henry Overton Willis to celebrate his life and achievements in business (he was a founder of WD&HO Willis that was big in tobacco manufacturing back in the day).
Along the upper end of town were the Victoria Rooms. Named after Queen Victoria as the first foundations were laid on her 19th Birthday. At the top of the hill we were met with suburban housing on the left, and a massive green parkland on the right. This was the downs, Durdham and Clifton Downs. The large green space is known as the “Green Lung” as it is a large spacious parkland that was even used as a boxing arena back in the day where men would be fighting 20 rounds of fights. Nowadays sports are more tame, like Rugby.
We then made our way down past the old schools of Clifton College and Clifton High School. These used to be an all boys and all girls school respectively and have, only in the last 20 years or so, moved to being coeducational. At Clifton College there is a war memorial arch built after World War I that requires students to remove headwear and pass through the gate in respect to the fallen.
We then made our way downhill further into the Avon River gorge, a huge limestone valley carved out millennia ago. As we round a bend in the gorge we come to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. A high set suspension bridge connecting Bristol to North Somerset. It was designed by Brunel when he was just 24 years old however it was not initially chosen as the final design. In a contest held to design the bridge it was declared there was no suitable design submitted, it wasn’t until the competition was held a second time that Brunel’s design was chosen. Though he did not live long enough to see the bridge’s completion when it was eventually started with his design.
We made our way through the Hot Wells section of town, named after the hot springs that rise through the rocks under the suspension bridge. Before heading along the waterfront towards the Aquarium and We the Curious, a science discovery centre which, had I had the extra time would have been cool to go in and check out. We also passed the SS Great Britain. The first metal hulled steam powered propeller ship designed by…? Brunel of course! It was called the greyhound of the seas as it was both fast and elegant for its time.
The bus then made its way through the centre of town to the Bristol Bridge, the first crossing of the original route of the River Avon. It was rebuilt three times to increase the size of the bridge, the fourth resizing was an iron structure adding to the stone bridge of the third reconstruction. The final stone design was designed by James Bridges (which seems rather fitting if you ask me) though he left (or fled) the country before the construction was completed.
We then headed through the south eastern part of town centre back to Bristol Temple Meads train station. This time I got the audio about the station. It was initially designed by… you guessed it! Brunel. It was part of his work on what is now known as the Great Western Railway to link London with Bristol (and beyond). The only restriction he had was that he was not allowed to lay any track within the city walls, so he lobbied the Templar to release some of the meadow land so that the train line could be built close to the city but remain outside the city walls, which brought about the Temple Meads name.
Kind of goes a long way to explaining why there’s a statue of Brunel outside the railway station. He’s Bristol’s Escher (for those of you that remember my entries way back in Zurich).
Plymouth is a seaside horbour town that has a long and rich maritime and war history.
The just over one hour drive down to the Plymouth ends with us seeing the ruins of the old church that was bombed during the blitz in World War II. It has become a bit of a recurring theme that remains of a church were either the result of bombing during the war or destroyed in a great fire.
We walked up from the parking area to the top of the hill near Smeaton’s Tower lighthouse. Which, interestingly, is not the original size for the lighthouse. It was built elsewhere but as part of the process of replacing it it was relocated to its current location but only around two thirds of the lighthouse was rebuilt. There is also a giant war memorial commemorating those who lost their lives during service in World War I and World War II.
We made our way down to the waterfront to catch the tour ferry. It is an hour long tour around the harbour that covers a good chunk of history of the town. We reached the dock as one was preparing to depart, we skipped that one as the ferry looked quite full and decided to grab a bite to eat and a drink. We were lucky we purchased our boat tickets in advance as it gave us 10% off in the restaurant. I just had toast and a hot chocolate to tide me over until lunch.
It turned out to be a good decision not to rush on the almost full boat as the following tour we ended up catching was only around half as full as the previous boat. I ended up recording the entire tour using the Osmo so hopefully the wind doesn’t overcut the commentary but I’m not confident we’ll hear much of that.
We heard a lot about the French, as many would be aware there is a lot of conflict history between England and France. Drakes Island used to be a prison island for French prisoners of war (PoW’s) and is now a school adventure island. Royal William Yard contained a building that housed French PoW’s where French Commanders were forced to execute unruly or uncooperative French prisoners. So there is quite a bit of history there.
There was also a few submarines and British Navy tanker in port, many of the submarines are slated to be scrapped and salvaged over the next few years with replacements coming online in the same period. But there was a couple outside the naval walls for us to see, including a small Dutch submarine that was kind of like a rapid attack boat. Get in, fire a few shots, get out, and do it very fast. There was also a medium sized submarine that provided capability to launch divers while the submarine was submerged. Cool feature, not sure why you would need it all the time but it’s there.
There was also some commercial and private things to see, such as the cross-river ferry carrying cars between Devon and Cornwall. As well as the marina where Princess launch their private yachts from. Princess is a company that has existed for many years and are well known for their quality yacht building, bringing a lot of industry and continued investment to the Plymouth area.
After the tour finished we made our way around to the Royal William Yard to have a closer look as the tour only briefly showed things from the water. We were able to walk around many of the old storage warehouses which were now restaurants, cafes, or brew houses. Walked through the wall portal to get an idea just how thick the old wall is, and then made our way around to walk on top of the wall.
It was then time to tackle the peak traffic to make our way back. It took us a little bit longer coming back but not a great deal more.
P.S I will get to uploading some photos from these days I’ve missed them, it’s just a pain in the ass getting the photos off my phone at the moment as that’s what I’ve mostly been using while I’ve been here. When I have moment in the hotel in Heathrow or on the way back in Singapore I’ll get around to it.
Today was a fairly cruisy day checking out some local areas while Scott had a bit of time off. It was lucky he was able to swing some time off in lieu of extra work he had done during a bank holiday (public holiday for those of you reading back home).
We headed out to Cheddar Gorge, the home of Cheddar cheese, though given how much cheese we had already sampled during the Bath and West show the other day I’m not sure either of us were particularly keen for another round of taste testing. I certainly wasn’t. We did have breakfast at a local inn, The Lion Rock Tea Rooms. I had a half-sized English breakfast and I’m glad I went for the half size because I didn’t even get through all of that!
We had a bit of wander around town before playing a round of mini golf at the local course. It there wasn’t anything crazy but seeing their leaderboard it’s impressive someone was able to score a 43 around it. Must have been a few hole in ones!
As we weren’t really sampling any cheeses Scott suggested we head to Blagdon Lake as it was only a short drive away. So we hopped in and made our way around to The New Inn Blagdon to have a pint. We sat there for probably 45 minutes just taking in the scenery over our ciders. I’ve seen some epic views on this trip but this one was just idyllic. Only interrupted by the occasional aeroplane taking off from Bristol Airport around 10km away.
From there we tossed up the idea of heading to Stonehenge as it was only around an hour away from where we were. Looking at the time though we decided against it as it would mean we would be heading back with peak traffic which according to Scott (who has been driving in it a fair bit for work) is not a fun time. So we made our way back to Weston and visited another mini golf venue. This one was indoors and only nine holes instead of 18 but it was still fun as there a few interesting mechanisms and shortcuts on offer.
That was pretty much it for the day. We ordered in Chinese for dinner and continued our viewing of The Mummy film series.
Thought we were done with train trips? You thought wrong!
The West Somerset Railway used to form the bulk of a branch line from Taunton to Minehead. A journey that is just over 24 miles (around 40-45 kilometres) originally, though now only the 20 mile stretch from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead remains operational. The now scenic railway operates regular steam and diesel services throughout the year, along with special event and theme trains. In the Christmas period there is a night train similar to the Puffing Billy Light Train that operates to a Christmas festival in Dunster.
Scott and I arrived early to catch the first service of the day. As we arrived so early there was time for some souvenir shopping. The station building blew a fuse while we were there so there was a bit of hectic action to get things sorted as the power outage affected the ticket stalls for around 10 minutes.
We boarded the train around 10 minutes before the scheduled departure and found some seats in one of the middle carriages of the train. It was actually interesting looking at what was considered luxury at the time and also what creature comforts we take for granted these days.
As much as I have enjoyed blazing along train tracks at 300kph in modern electric trains there’s certainly something special about steam trains. I suppose it will be the same for people who like internal combustion cars in an era where EV’s are starting to take over.
The train departed on schedule and we wound our way along the track towards the coast. We passed a diesel service heading back to Bishops Lydeard, the older Diesel Motor Units (DMU’s) show how far that technology has come where they can now fit a diesel unit under a train carriage that still allows passengers to board a carriage above it. Much like comparing older VLine services hauled by diesel locos to modern VLocity trains back home.
We arrived in Dunster around 4 minutes behind schedule. But who needs a schedule with these trains?
Dunster is a traditional medieval village at the base of the Dunster castle. Every Christmas they host a massive festival where a light train (similar to Puffing Billy train of lights) runs to bring people to the festival. The main streets get closed off and turned into a massive winter market with food, drinks, and crafts.
For us though, it’s not Christmas so we were seeing the town in its day-to-day life. It must be strange to live in a place like this knowing that people are coming to visit it as a tourist attraction. Certainly would be a good motivation to keep up with the garden maintenance! We had lunch at one of the pubs, I had a traditional lamb roast. As someone that hasn’t had a decent roast since leaving home it was certainly no disappointment to see that was the only thing on the lunch menu.
As we finished lunch we checked the train schedule for departures so we knew how much time we would have to look around. It was either just over an hour or just over three hours. I think having our time again we might have opted to stick around for the later train but hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it?
Catching the earlier train meant we were rather time limited so did not opt to pay to go into Dunster castle itself, we attempted to wander around the outside but part of the northern area encompasses the watermill that falls into the castle grounds that you have to pay to get into. So we just wandered around the medieval village, found a set of scales that we paid the 20p to check our weight (I’m suss on the reading but more on that another day) and then went and bought ice creams for the walk back to the station.
From the coastline section of the line you can see across the Bristol Channel to Wales. The town of Barry can be seen on clear days, it was a bit hazy but we could still see it today. At Watchet there’s a boat museum. Blue Anchor is a seaside holiday resort town, one of the areas that initially grew as a result of the train line running through the area.
That was pretty much it for the Sunday, we made our way back from Taunton area and had a light dinner as most places close early on Sundays. We picked a few items up from the supermarket and called it a day.
We were up early to head to the Bath and West Royal Show. I would summarise it by saying it is what Royal Melbourne Show would be if it were mixed with the Whittlesea Show’s agriculture community aspect. While Melbourne Show still has agricultural stuff it has very much become more a focus on the entertainment (rides, sideshow alley) over the agricultural stuff for most people.
Sarah and her sister Emily ended up spending most of the day watching the events on the main arena as that was were the bulk of the equine activity was taking place at the show. Scott and I, meanwhile, wandered the event and checked out the offerings of gin, rum, vodka, and cheese. We also checked out the market stalls but that wasn’t as important as the food!
We also tried our hand at air rifle target shooting. It took some adjusting to the scope as (rightfully so now I think about it) the instructor advised us not to put the eye all the way up to the scope due to the recoil. Anyway, I feel like I did pretty well, pulled the shots a little to the right but still had a good grouping in the 9-10 range.
We had a pint at the Thatchers bar, this time I tried Thatchers Haze. They make some pretty good cider let me tell you. We thought about having some food but opted against it as they were still serving the early menu and there were plenty of food trucks around the event to purchase food from.
Walked around a bit more, then it was time for lunch. I ended up having Pad Thai. Scott had a pulled pork burger. A Blues Brothers tribute band was playing on the live stage as we were eating. Some good tunes. We walked around some more, then watched the doggos do their main arena event. Then to finish off the day there was this event with ponies. Juniour riders do these challenges on ponies as practice for ridership (including mounting and dismounting) where they have to pick things up from tables or on the ground then drop them off in another location. A lot of skill and precision involved, it was quite interesting to watch even though I understand very little of the art of horse riding.
After that it was basically time to call it a day. We picked up some fresh cinnamon donuts on the way out but then Sarah forebode us from eating them in the car. So Scott ate all of his before we got to the car, except the one Sarah eventually nabbed off him.
Woke up this morning and my ankle was sore again. Just when I thought it was all recovered the pain has returned. Not quite as bad as it was the day I could barely walk in Lucerne but still quite painful.
Not wanting to do much with it I hung around Scott and Sarah’s place for the morning. Sarah came home at lunch time to work from home for the remainder of the day so I endeavoured to get out for a bit of a walk to leave her in peace for a while and also test out my ankle.
It wasn’t the worst it’s been, but it also wasn’t the best. I did a small loop around West Wick, doing just enough to get me close to 10k steps so that whatever was planned for dinner that night would get me over the line.
Scott and I ended up having dinner at the St Nicks Night Market in Bristol, Sarah dropped us off and went to do her own thing for a couple of hours while we had a wander around the market and a bite to eat. It was a slow wander and enough to get me over 10k. Our only regret was not having more of a wander around before picking on food as we found more food joints past the markets after we had already eaten. The burger I had was nice but there was an interesting looking Taco joint I probably would have opted for instead had I known it was there.
We stopped at a bar by the waterfront, watched a couple of party boats expertly handle the narrow channel, had a pint, and made our way back.