When I suggested to my two younger sons that I might take them away as a joint birthday present, one said, Spain would be nice, the other said a cruise would be great and both said, wherever it is, can we fly there.
So you can only imagine their surprise when I announced that we were going to Bristol and Bath for the weekend and could still manage all their expectations. Given their close proximity, Bristol and Bath are a great choice for a weekend break as both have their own unique attractions. Bath is a world heritage spa city with strong literary ties, Bristol has a strong industry and nautical history and a vibrant arts scene
We start our trip with a visit to Bath. A birds-eye view of the city is a good way to get your bearings and the tower at Bath Abbey provides a unique vantage point. A place of worship for over 1200 years the building is very ornate and a testament to the workmanship of its builders. The tour involves climbing over 200 spiral stairs, with useful “get your breath back” stopoffs at the bell-ringers chamber, the famous bells themselves, a visit behind the clock face and the top of the tower itself. It is a dusty, but worthwhile climb. The Roman Baths are just next door and due to major excavation work, visitors can see the parts of the stunning temple and bathing complex. The hot spring still flows to this day, and whilst you can’t bathe in the water, you can taste a sample of it and perhaps gain from its healing properties. In the 1800’s, members of Englands high society flocked to Bath for that very reason. One of those who made the move was the writer Jane Austen. If you look carefully enough, you can see the places and buildings that influenced her writing and, you can even stay in one of her family’s former homes as it has been transformed into self-catering apartments. Many people read Northanger Abbey or Persuasion either before or during their stay in Bath in order that they can see the city through Austen’s eyes. With our trip taking us high above, way below and on the streets of Bath, quite a hunger had built up and part of my cunning plan worked a treat. We dined at Tapas Revolution, surrounded by Spanish music, voices and food and I was able to tick the “Spanish” request off my list.
Now, feel free to picture the scene. As I write this, I am enjoying the view of Bristol’s harbourside, on an actual boat. The sun has just risen and the only noise is created by passing swans, and by local rowing teams as they energetically power up the river. Staying on the Kyle Blue, the city’s only floating hostel, ticked another item off the wishlist. The Kyle Blue is a converted Dutch Barge and offers simple, but very comfortable accommodation. It is ideally located for easy access to all the major attractions the city has to offer. As it is a hostel, there is a self-catering kitchen and really good lounge. Breakfast can be had from Brunels Buttery, an iconic Bristol eatery which is literally at the end of the gangplank.
From my vantage point, the signs are there that Bristol has a rich maritime history, and most of the original dockside buildings have been imaginatively repurposed into Museums, restaurants and independent shops. Close by is Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the ship that revolutionised maritime engineering and world travel. A visit is highly recommended and the attention to detail is astonishing. Exploring the Bristol waterfront could keep you occupied for a couple of days, with an Aquarium, a science centre and Museum of Bristol Life among the attractions. However I was quite taken by the businesses at Cargo 1 & 2. Small restaurants and shops have opened in former shipping containers and have created a great community of independent traders.
The city’s water taxi service is a great way to see around. Whilst it is possible to hop-on hop-off, the 90 minute round trip will take you on a tour around the main sights in the city centre, as well as towards the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Zoo. The Clifton area is elegant, leafy and filled with chic boutiques. The Victorian Arcade is home to some of the most unique shops in the city.
On our long weekend in Bristol and Bath, we only dipped our toes into the vast number of attractions in the area, but I still managed to meet the Spanish, Boat and Plane wishes my sons had expressed.