Walking the White Cliffs of Dover
6 Hours in Bristol England
We spent a good deal more than 6 hours in Bristol England, but the majority of our time was spent in the harbor which isn’t for everyone. This post will cover the things we did on the main land portion of Bristol, for those less interested in boats.
Brandon Hill and Cabot Tower
Brandon Hill was originally grazing lands for the Earl of Gloucester’s livestock, granted to him in 1174. Over the years the land was often used as a local meeting place and in 1843 30 thousand people gathered to watch the SS Great Britain leave port for America. Today is a really lovely park, the tallest location in Bristol it provides views of the entire city, and your vantage point can be improved by an additional 105 feet by the Cabot Tower which sits on the highest point of the park.
The red sandstone tower was built in the 1890s on the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage to America. He made landfall in Newfoundland Canada a number of years prior to Christopher Columbus’ journey to Central America. Not much is known about his initial journey which is thought to be the first European voyage to the American continent since the vikings. Other than it was before his second which was in 1497 and that Columbus references this initial voyage in letters of his own on his first voyage.
We had thought about climbing the town, but while I don’t mind heights I do mind places crowded with people. So instead we chose a nice sadly bench with a great view and bought ice cream from a truck that was perfectly situated as the first thing we saw when we created the hill. It was delicious.
In addition to views and delicious ice cream. The park also has a good number of walking trails which weaves around all sides of the park into different parts of town. We chose to follow a nice tree lined path and then followed a very impressive architecture tower in the hopes of finding out what it was.
The tower we were following turned out to the part of the University of Bristol, which is a very impressive grouping of buildings and includes Willis Memorial Tower attached to the facade of the Law School. Since school was in session we chose not to poke around the building and rather went down Park Street toward the water. We popped in a few shops on the way down the hill and then came across this beauty that is the Bristol Cathedral.
Like all churches in England built early enough, during the reformation they were stripped of all things making them Catholic and often fell to disrepair over the years. This church was handed over to the Church of England and was kept in relatively good condition. Having previously been Catholic Cathedral it is quite large, and blissfully empty when we visited. If you are in the area you should definitely check it out. It is really impressive and really empty. They also have a cafe and gardens around back that looked really nice.
St Nicholas Market and St. Peters Church
Two things I knew I wanted to do in Bristol were to visit the St. Nicholas Market which is a very large outdoor market and the St. Peters Church which is right across the street. Unfortunately for me, while the St. Nicholas Market is open Monday through Saturday, it is evidently closed on holiday weekends so I did not get walk around as planned.
Rather we popped across the street to Castle Park which is home to St. Peters, one of the oldest churches in Bristol the foundation dates back to the 1100s. The building went through restorations over the years but sadly during the Bristol Blitz it was nearly destroyed. Today all openings to the church are understandably bared off but it does look as though a restoration organization is attempting to raise money to shore up the walls so the location can be used for other purposes, even though it would never have a roof again.
Our last stop in Bristol was not a planned stop but one we happened upon while heading back to the train station. A gorgeous little park that used to be the grave yard of the Knights Templar church that was build on the site of the church that stands today in 1130. The knights were suppressed by Henry the 8th and then finally bombed out again during the Bath Blitz. If we walk up to the side door you can peek inside and see the original circular church foundation which is very neat to see. Another charming fact about the church is that the tower leans at a 5 foot angle. Construction of the tower began in the 1390s and quickly started to lean, as such it was never fully completed as to the original plan.
The Floating Harbor in Bristol England
Touring the Cotswolds
Eating in Bath, England
The Roman Baths – Bath, England
The Roman Baths in Bath, England is both the town’s namesake and the main attraction in the city. There is archaeological evidence that the Celts used the area as a natural hot springs even before the Roman invasion. The Romans built the temple between 60-70AD and the baths you can see today were built over a period of 300 years after the original temple was built. The original baths are below the current street level, so what you see when walking around the city are dated from the 19th century.
I haven’t managed to find much about the bath complex during WW2, but over a weekend in April 1942 80 Luftwaffe flew over the city of Bath and bombed it. It is said that most people who saw them coming didn’t duck for cover thinking the planes were headed for near by Bristol. The bombing was the start of the Baedeker Blitz which was a reaction to the RAF bombing and destruction of the city of Lubeck. This resulted in 19,000 building being bombed in Bath alone, 1,100 being seriously damaged or entirely destroyed of which 218 were of architectural significance. St. Andrews church was entirely destroyed and is now a park. St. Johns was nearly destroyed but efforts to restore were completed in the 90s. The names of those lost to the bombing can be found at the War Memorial outside the gates of Victoria Park.
Visiting the Roman Baths
The bath complex is a open air square with the Sacred Spring, Roman Temple, Roman Bath House and museum as well as the Pump Room which is a restaurant and tea room. There is also a gift shop that exits visitors on the main pedestrian street and can be accessed by non museum goers. We didn’t visit the baths themselves. I think had we been in town longer we would have, they look quite impressive. And I love a good historic site. But even being there off season the lines to get in were wrapped around the building and we wanted to see more of the town rather than spend half the day standing in line. If you wanted to go I would try getting there early and midweek if it can be helped.
You can visit the Pump Room without visiting the rest of the buildings and the restrooms in the building are open to the public, one of the only ones I found in the city. The Pump room offers a variety of tea services, which we were considering but we wound up choosing a different location due to price and crowds. But the building is gorgeous and if you want fancy tea in a fancy building with a great view you should really go here.
The other main attraction in this area and perhaps the most obvious is Bath Abbey. Early kings built on the religious site in the 700s. The site was fought over during the Norman Conquest. It was reorganized in the 10th century, rebuilt in the 12th century, dissolved from the Catholic church by Henry the 8th and restored in the 1860s. When I visited they were digging up the floors in sections for more restoration work to improve the in floor heating from the thermal waters in the area. Rumor has it they unearthed 8,000 bodies from the church floors, it should be noted it is an entirely normal practice historically for parishioners to be buried under church floors.
The building of the Bath Abbey that stands today is known for it’s historic significance and architecture, specifically the fan vaulting on the ceiling which was designed by Robert and William Vertue. The brothers designed a number of well know buildings including a similar ceiling in Westminster Abbey for Henry the 7th. Additionally the entire church is made of a butter yellow limestone that is unique to the area, most of the city of Bath and buildings in near by towns are built with the same stone.
If visiting the church is on your bucket list be sure to plan around religious holidays and check for hours. The church is still holding regular services and tourists are only allowed in during specific touring times. Obviously you could attend a service to get in, but the lines for the services are long and you wouldn’t have the freedom to wander the building or take pictures.
Secret Things To Do Near the Baths
Behind the Bath Abbey is the Parade Gardens a walled park on the river front. The parks were rebuilt in the 1930s on the grounds of 17th century pleasure gardens. It costs to get in and it is cash only, but if its a nice day I would say the charge is well worth it. There are also food stands at the top of the gates before you go in so you could always buy a picnic and settle in for an afternoon rest.
To the left of the Parade Gardens over the River Avon is the Pultney Bridge which was built in 1774. It like the bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice has shops built into it and was a very popular shopping district in its day. Though it was still pretty crowded when we were there. There are both restaurants and shops on it now, one of which a quaint little map shop selling original historic maps. If I had enough money to afford such a think I would have bought one, they were gorgeous.
If you walk over the bridge you will notice a small stairway on the right hand-side after you pass over, this stairwell goes into and under the bridge depositing you on the other-side of the river where another lovely park sits along with restaurants with outdoor seating. This stairway is significantly harder to see coming from this side of the river, which is what we did. I thought we were walking into a restaurant kitchen rather than the bridge, though it wouldn’t be the first nor the last time I have accidentally wandered into a busy not public kitchen.
If you continue to walk away from the bridge along the river you see a wonderful view of the city that you wouldn’t get otherwise. This side of the river also hosts a small riverfront park, but rather than streets and cars there are a good number of restaurants offering outdoor seating. Continuing down river from the bridge you get an excellent view of down town Bath and a quite little restaurant on a long boat.
If you follow the river down to the next bridge and then turn east and wander up the hill you run into the most charming waterway and greenspace. It goes on for quite a ways in both directions but along this canal is a series of locks. I couldn’t find an exact date on the lock system. But they are a part of the larger system of locks connected to the Bristol Floating Harbor which was built in the 1800s and the Bath Locks have two bridges that date to the same time period.
They fell into disuse and then were restored in 1968 and are run today manually by volunteer labor via the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust. This was probably one of the highlights of the trip. Watching the long boats come and go, and watching them manually (when I say manually I mean two young men physically move the winches that open and close the locks) manned was very impressive. The volunteers are all very nice and were happy to answer all of our questions.
The long boats that run up and down the canals can be rented for day use or overnight. We almost stayed on one, I think it would have been a hoot, but having seen them in person there wouldn’t have been a ton of privacy sitting up here on the canal. There is also a small restaurant and ice cream stand up near the top which would make a nice little rest stop should you need it.
Crossing the river at the last of the locks brings you back to the Bath Train Station and right near the aforementioned St. John’s church. The church is near the bath complex sitting along the river, in fact if you walked the opposite side of the river you probably saw the back side of it just down river from the Pulteney Bridge. It isn’t as impressive as the Bath Abbey but it is still very impressive, especially compared to modern American churches.
My favorite thing about this location was the are stations around the inside walls describing the history of the church. I don’t see this a lot and was happy to read about the history in the location rather than later after I had toured it. This church like most in England was originally Catholic but dissolved during Henry the 8ths reign. St. Johns was also nearly destroyed during the blitz and the signs do a nice job discussing the damage and restoration efforts which were extensive.
Royal Crescent – Bath, England
Bath is a town in Somerset England, settled in the valley of the Avon (one of several) at the foothills of the Cotswolds. It was known to early human’s for it’s naturally hot spring waters and was later developed by Roman’s in 60AD as a spa town. The town continued to play an important role of the settlers near the area, having served as a religious center in the 7th century it continued to thrive and fall to despair only to be rebuilt again and again over the years. The most recent rebuild was after the Bath Blitz during WWII and the city was finally was pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
Perhaps the most well known residence was Jane Austen, though she never completed a book here, rather she drew inspiration from the town and the people that spent their time in the gorgeous city. Many films have been made here including: The Other Boleyn Girl, The Duchess and Vanity Fair. Obviously the surrounding lend itself to a more historic atmosphere, and usually highlighting the Royal Crescent a unique curved townhouse building overlooking extensive gardens of the Royal Victoria Park.
Things to See Near the CrescentThe Royal Crescent itself is quite the site. Built between 1767 and 1775, people looking to invest in the building would buy a length of the facade and then employ their own architect the build the rest of their portion of the house. It remains today a townhouse, as it was always intended to be. At the eastern end of the house however is No.1 Royal Crescent, a historic house and museum open to the public. We were short on time and didn’t get a chance to go through it, but if you are interested in the house I would say it would be a great place to stop in.
The Royal Victoria Park is 57 acres and boasts a botanical garden, bowling greens, duck pond, tennis and skateboarding areas as well as a cafe among other attractions. It was dedicated in 1830 by Queen Victoria but rumor has it she was insulted by a local resident and never returned. However there is a obelisk in the park commemorating her.
This side of Bath is also home to the Circus another set of circular Georgian style townhouses, but rather than the large half moon shape of the Royal Crescent this set is four smaller sets that make up a full circle with a road in the middle. The area is also home to the Museum of East Asian Art.
Hidden Things To SeeBig popular sites are all well and good but I like to find the hidden gems of every place I visit. One such places is a small restored Georgian Garden located on the Eastern edge of the Royal Victoria Park. Directions indicate you are looking for a small footpath in the garden. So that is what we were searching for. It took us about 20 min to find it, we had walked past the painfully obvious walkway multiple times. If you walk to the eastern edge of the crescent and turn right, you will see before you enter the Royal Victoria Park a small footpath on the left which takes you along the backs of some houses. The maps for what ever reason seem to indicate that it is both in the garden and some sort of small gravel hard to find walkway. It is not, it is large, wide and most certainly paved.
Part way down the not at all gravel walkway on the left you will find a garden gate that is open to the public. This is the Georgian Garden. This small garden was restored after the own of the building was repairing part of the house and accidentally unearthed the original garden walls from the 1700s. Several restoration groups jumped into action to restore the garden to it’s original plans and it is now open from 9-7. It is a quick stop as it is a small garden but to garden lovers I think it will be well worth the detour.
After leaving the garden continue down the footpath to the left. This will open up to the street with the larger garden’s main gates which as guarded by bronze lions just to the right. Just outside the main gates is the Bath War Memorial that commemorates the lives of Bath residence lost in several different conflicts.
Places to Stay Near the CrescentThere are loads of places to stay near the Royal Crescent. But I can personally attest to the service provided by Bath Holiday Rentals. I found them on a booking site, and I wish I would have just booked with them directly. The cost is lower and the individuals working with the company are incredibly helpful and kind. There is an apartment managed by them that is on the block of townhouses in the Royal Crescent itself. As well as a number of others within just a few blocks. We stayed a few blocks from the area in the River Street Mews location and loved our stay.