Bristol Floating Harbour
Torrential rain woke me at 3am hammering on the roof trying to get in. I checked all the windows were closed and climbed back into bed. By 3:30 the outside world had calmed down so sleeping could continue.
No alarm clock, we had a lie in and enjoyed a cuppa and the Saturday newspaper in bed. It’s been a while.
A quick tidy and brush up, another load of washing and we were ready.
Two giggling 52 year old teenagers walked down the side of the boat. I knew exactly who they were.
Charlotte and Rachael two of my old school friends from York. Charlotte is a teacher and lives in Bristol and Rachael runs a plant nursery near Malvern. These two ladies were Goths back in the 80’s. They wore black head to toe and had spiky hair, where as I wore all red and occasionally crimped my hair.
They had a good look round Oleanna and met Tilly, although she’d rather have gone out! Then we headed to Wetherspoons for some lunch and a drink. There was lots to catch up on, poor Mick coped very well.
I last saw Charlotte at my 40.5 birthday party. We used to keep in touch until we moved onto the boat, then Charlotte moved house several times around Bristol and we lost touch. I luckily found her on Whatsap a couple of weeks ago. Rachael on the other hand I hadn’t seen since we left school. She went off to train as a Stage Manager, performed in a circus act and lived on a coach in Sheffield for a while. She then worked at Askam Bryan, an agricultural college near York, and now designs gardens for people.
Several life times have passed, we caught up on gossip of friends all across the globe. It was a very lovely afternoon with them. We hope to all meet up again when we reach Birmingham at the beginning of next year.
There was still enough daylight to go for a walk and help wear off the lunchtime drinking. So Mick and I decided to walk round the harbour to see what else there was to see.
By the 1760’s Bristol had become such a popular port for cargo ships it was struggling to accommodate all the ships. In 1765 the idea of a floating none tidal harbour was put forward by engineer John Smeaton. But no progress was made until 1790 and by 1802 William Jessop was engaged to come up a scheme. He put together various ideas from earlier proposals.
The River Avon was dammed at Rownham and at the bottom of Totterdown Hill, near Temple Meads, impounding all the water of the Avon and Frome between these points. A weir at Netham controlled the level of the Harbour water, channelling water along a Feeder Canal and allowing excess to spill back into the tidal river Avon. A half tide basin was constructed with locks to the river and the harbour.
We walked down to the River Avon past Junction Lock, Cumberland Basin (the half tide basin) to Entrance Lock which takes vessels down onto the tidal river.
Standing between the lock and the weir we could look down the valley towards the River Severn, Clifton Suspension Bridge sitting high above everything. Lines of coloured houses brightened up the greying skies.
A pool under the Plimsole Swing Bridge was playing host to teams playing Canoe Polo, highly energetic and wet.
At Underfall Yard there is a museum where models demonstrate how the level of the floating harbour is kept constant and how they scour out the silt that collects. Notice boards around the harbour warn you of days and times that this process takes place.
Plenty of boats are moored up, some with all the services and other with little other than a ladder to gain access to your boat. Past the Harbour Masters building and along the south side of the harbour.
A clock tower on a 1920’s building glowed in the late sunshine against the bright blue sky. Down the side of the building at the end of an alleyway an alarm box had been put to artistic purpose.
Banksy in 2014 painted his version of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earing. This is called the Girl with a Pierced Ear. The spatters and dribbles make this piece, we did wonder if the central heating flue had been added after the girl was painted or before.
Signs of the Bristol Old Vic Scenic Workshop and Aardman Animation. Theatre and Wallace and Gromit close neighbours.
We’d considered visiting the SS Great Britain, now it was too late in the day and the £17 entrance fee put us off. Instead we looked at the stern through the fence for free, not quite the same as going round, but considerably cheaper!
From here railway lines criss and cross what was the docks.
Four electric cranes still stand at the waters edge, the only remainers of the 40 that had existed in the 1950s. What a different place this would have been 70 years ago. No museums cafes and bars then.
We crossed back over to the north bank on Prince Street Bridge then over Peros Bridge and towards Millenium Square. Here cascading water sculptures reminded us of Sheffield station.
The biggest mirror ball gave me opportunities to take our photos before we looked at the electric generating tree. Below this you can charge your phone whilst enjoying the aroma of the rosemary bushes as a statue of Cary Grant watches you. Millenium Parade brought us back to the boat for some play time with Tilly.
The cruiser that had been moored near us had left, so we decided to give the other boat left on the moorings a bit more space. We pushed over to the next pontoon, which was one of the wobbliest I’ve ever tried walking on, more like a fairground ride than somewhere safe to tie up to. The wind blew Oleanna away as I clung onto the centre line, Mick waiting for me to pass it back to tie us up. I stayed put trying to keep my balance until we were tied up, reducing the number of sides I could fall off to one.
0 locks, 0 miles, 2 old friends, 2 much to catch up on, 3 burgers, 1 quinoa salad, 1 portion of halloumi fries, 1 Punk IPA, 1 Swift 1, 1 wine, 1 coffee, 5 mile walk, 4 cranes, £17!! 1 tide out, 1 more day without friends, 1 boat almost blown away, 40ft of wobbliest wobblyness.