I don’t know about you but when it comes to the Winterval – that peaceful time between Christmas and New Year when time stands still and pottering about becomes an engrossing occupation – undemanding is the order of the day. Which is why, when the teeniest twinge of cabin fever struck, I turned to one of my favourite walks, one which I have walked, run, pushed a pushchair round for going on 25 years, rain and shine, solo, with friends and en famille. Were the stakes not quite so high I could probably do it blindfold. But that would be a shame because the whole point of this familiar route is that there is always something new to see.
Enough of the build up, where are we? In a word or three, we’re on Bristol’s Floating Harbour embarking on a turn around the harbourside. Beginning at a swing bridge at the entrance to the harbour, we’ll walk up the north bank to the next bridge, cross over and come back down the south side – about 45 minutes at a push, considerably longer at a saunter. Off we go.
Even though it was getting on for mid morning by the time we had got ourselves together, the fog was still clinging to the water as we set off, casting a romantic mistiness over the scene, lending a noble air to Gromit’s profile on the prow, and turning our mighty SS Great Britain into a ghostly apparition. When I first encountered Bristol docks in the late Seventies, it was a heavily polluted industrial wasteland on which the city had turned its back and where, on my first time at the rowing club, I was warned that if I fell in I would have to have my stomach pumped. (Over exaggeration in the face of an impressionable newbie or not, I never went back to find out). Times change and the water is now clean and much of the old port infrastructure has been cleared away for housing, all of which is pricey, some of which has been carefully thought out to add to the attractiveness of the cityscape. And there’s a waterborne community here too.
In amongst all of this, towards the centre of town, is a corporate headquarters which is also making sterling efforts to add to the gaiety of nations. Well played, Lloyds Bank, for taking the circular theme and running with it to such pleasing effect.
No surprise to hear that there is an abundance of spots for a coffee or something stronger,
along with several museums, galleries and other places to take a look at.
All very good in their way and this renovation of a once redundant urban space is hugely popular with visitors for good reason. But that’s not what draws me back. What keeps me returning are the small signs of maritime life, past and present, that have survived the heritagisation (I just made that word up) of the harbourside. The ferry steps worn by centuries of passing feet, the cranes and rail lines that, though now museum exhibits, still etch their presence on quayside and skyline,the old boats being restored in the dry dock or winched up onto the slipway, the new ones taking shape in the boat builders’ workshops and the orderly jumble of the marine engineers’ yards – all tell of individuals and their lives in this place.
And this is why this view of my home city, which has evolved through the residents’ bold colour choices, will always be my favourite.
Come and see for yourself.
And tell me please – where’s your favourite walk? What’s the place that keeps drawing you back?