A quick run down

When it’s come to walking these past months, torpid has been my leitmotif.

But why?

Injury? No. Pressing social engagements? No.  Sudden new calling? Sort of.

I decided to run a marathon.

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The very talented artist, Eglantine Chesneau, was commissioned to illustrate the marathon stories of a dozen first time marathon runners and very kindly chose me. (http://eglantinechesneau.ultra-book.com/accueil)

So I ran and I ran and I ran.

I ran in the darkIMG_1529 (1) and I ran in the light,IMG_1658 (1) when the sun was coming upIMG_1913 (1) and when the sun was going down,IMG_1348 (1)

 

when the waters were risingIMG_2083 (2) and when the floods had subsided.IMG_2300 (2) I ran through a vicious hail storm, soaked to the skin with icy water, when the rough, narrow canalside path turned to slippery mudIMG_2224 (1) and I ran through the strong spring sunshine which burned my nose.

I ran with my wingwoman daughterIMG_1601 (1) and I ran alone,

through scenes of great beautyIMG_2297 (2) and some not so great.IMG_2238 (1) I ran alongside main roads and down ways I never knew existed IMG_2242 (2) and I ran across every bridge I could find in Bristol (and still missed a few).IMG_2748 (1)And then I pinned on my number IMG_3082 (2)and I was away.IMG_3088 (2)

Back on track

Here we are again approaching Sea Mills station, my current second favourite railway station, much loved by me for its quiet, single track sleepiness and its pleasantly unexceptional suburban setting. But most of all for THIS.IMG_0814 (2) River – blah, fields – blah, mud – blah. Yes, yes, but look, there’s a boat mired where the Trym meets the Avon. Now if I were to hop aboard, let the tide rise and then cast off, I could drift downstream to where the Avon joins the Severn and then sail away down the Bristol Channel, into the Celtic Sea and on to the North Atlantic Ocean, deciding on a whim to turn left for Cape Town, straight on for Rio, or maybe I’d keep right for New York.

Obviously this would be insane because a) I don’t know how to sail, b) that’s not a sailing boat, and c) I don’t like getting wet. But it doesn’t stop my heart lifting at the sight.

So there we were for another outing for what I persist in calling the embryonic walking group (with some justification, I contend, seeing as this is only our second meet this year). As it was such a long time since our last outing in April we had rather forgotten where we had got to on our circumnavigation of Bristol, but all agreed that an exception could be made and a path traced along the banks of the Avon instead. We set off along the unexpectedly bucolic stretch set between the river, the railway and the last hurrahs of the A4, a remarkably peaceful spot given all that is going on around it.IMG_0824 (3) After a mile or so of loveliness the bank narrows and the path ends. Nothing for it but to climb back up to the main road and to the traffic for a mile of grot. IMG_0878 (3).JPG Eventually the Suspension Bridge came into view, making all things better, and after rather a lot more mud, we left the Avon and headed for the Floating Harbour (which is basically a giant pound with lock gates at either end to keep the water at a constant level). There’s always loads to see on the Harbourside, whether it’s a view across the waterIMG_0901 (2)

or one of Bristol’s sons in a festive landscape.IMG_0908 (2)

And can you spot Morph in this unintentionally tricksy shot through Aardman’s window?IMG_0915 (2).JPGHeading for Temple Meads station and the train back to the start, we left the water’s edge as L, whose office had once been based in these parts, took us off piste down narrow cobbled streets.IMG_0927 (2) We hadn’t intended to stop at St Mary Redcliffe Church though it is undoubtedly a fine and ancient building (Elizabeth I called it the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England. So there. Mind you, she probably said that a lot). However, the prospect of Treefest, a forest of decorated Christmas trees, did call for a detour. There were some beauties,IMG_0944 (2) there were some cannily placed,

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The WI take the festive spot next to St Nicholas

there were some ingeniously inventive offerings,

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Just don’t sneeze anywhere near here.

there were some horrors (I’ll spare you), and there were many from those supporting the suffering.IMG_0950 (2).JPG There were some that made me laugh,

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Handcuffs as tree decorations?

and then there was the one from Asda.

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Would it have killed you to have found a few more lights, Asda?

And finally, at a bakery tucked into a railway arch beneath the station there was coffee and cake. Splendid.

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Never board a train without picking up a coffee and a little something from Harts Bakery (http://www.hartsbakery.co.uk/)

Beating the bounds

The thing about walking is that it can be very sociable. As you know, my excellent friend, A, indefatigable in the face of mud or boulders, has joined me on several strolls, and now a further two splendid women, J and L, have picked up their packs to come with us. We have, it seems, got ourselves a bit of a walking group.

Where to walk then? Not too far away and not too short a route, so that once the decision is made and logistics conquered we can look forward to a summer of walks and chat. Step forward the Bristol Community Forest Path. Yes, it must take the prize for the dreariest, worthiest, least enticing path name ever, but on closer acquaintance it looks quite promising. It’s a 45 mile circuit of Bristol aiming, as far as I can see from the map, to guide walkers around the extremities of the city via public green spaces, woodland, farmland and waterways. Some of it looks very suburban, some very rural; some is already familiar to us, some will be foreign fields.

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Sea Mills

I read that since its inception people have wondered whether it is possible to cover its 45 miles within a day.  [Actually that has never crossed my mind, but do continue]. One of the earliest to show that is was possible was Bristolian conceptual artist, Richard Long who completed a circuit in 16 hours in 1998 as part of one of his pieces. Not to be outdone, hearty types apparently continue to attempt the circuit in 24 hours –  the Green Man challenge – in order to be certified as Woodwose.  (http://www.closertothecountryside.co.uk/gmrouteSept11.pdf)

Each to their own.

As none of us feel any aspiration to becoming Woodwose, we are going to take it in bite sized, conversational pieces, navigating from refreshment opportunity to refreshment opportunity. It’s a circular walk so we could start anywhere but I wanted to end somewhere dramatic and that had to be the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Accordingly we set out on our first walk from The Downs, not very far away from the Bridge. The first few miles did not look at all interesting as the route descends through deepest suburbia, much of which is familiar.

We plunged off down a narrow way between the back gardens of Sneyd Park, squeezed between some rather grand Victorian villas with frustratingly high garden fences, together with some more modest infill homes.  I was probably too busy talking but it struck me as particularly insignificant little path and, as we popped out onto the road at the end of the shady gloom of Pitch and Pay Lane, I was hoping that the walk wouldn’t be as dull all the way.

Pitch and Pay Lane? That’s a name that called out for a bit of Googling later on. I have to say I am a little sceptical about the explanation. The first bit – that this path was once a country lane before the spread of the city – I get that.  The second bit – that in times of disease in the town, country people avoided the markets but left food for the starving townsfolk –  I’ve heard of that elsewhere so OK. And I can understand that this may not have been an entirely charitable gesture and so some form of cash exchange would have been involved. But the scene conjured up by Paul Townsend (and others) sounds farcical – at this pre-arranged spot, they developed the practice of pitching their produce at the waiting, hungry Bristolians. . . while the citizens paid by throwing back the necessary cash. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/2078516414).

Could the air really have been thick with flying turnips and groats?

But before all that, this little backway was better known as Via Julia, the road the Romans built to get from Bath to Caerleon in South Wales. (Inexplicably they failed to invent Bristol and marched straight past without even pausing). Of course, in the way is the River Severn, very wide at this point and with a massive tidal range. Ships were required. And a port. Abonae was its name, after the River Avon on which it stands, just upstream from the Severn itself. Must have been quite a place in its time.

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Abonae today. Better known as Sea Mills

I didn’t know any of this at the time so I happily followed the well signposted way across green spaces, through quiet residential streets, over a golf course,

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Shirehampton Golf Course

and up onto Kingsweston Down, heading for Blaise Castle estate.

Now I love maps and when I am walking on my own I bumble along quite happily but put me in company and tell me to read one and I get cartophile dysfunction. Everything goes to pot. A TV transmitter was marked on the map and we had to make sure we took the path to the left of it. But where was the transmitter? I couldn’t see it anywhere.

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It’s behind you…

Blaise Castle Estate is quite something (yes, Jane Austen does namecheck it in  Northanger Abbey). It’s a council owned site with a 19th century mansion, an 18th century castle, a museum, imaginative playgrounds, cricket pitch and pavilion, cafe and 400 acres of parkland and we all thought that we knew it pretty well.

Except I didn’t know that on three days a week volunteers toil away to create a community plot in the old walled garden, long abandoned. And nor had I ever looked through these gates before and seen that an artist is making use of the stable buildings.

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The small rural Gloucestershire hamlet of Henbury grew up at the gates of the Blaise estate, but today the few historic streets have been overwhelmed by the explosion of twentieth century housing which has turned it into a city suburb. Occasionally there are reminders of a past era, but not necessarily a fair or good one.

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Henbury churchyard

After Henbury, we began to feel on less familiar ground and here the discoveries came thick and fast, green spaces never spotted when driving past, immaculately signposted walks through unknown cul de sacs, pony paddock after unsuspected pony paddock. Then a completely new view of the Filton runway, birthplace – as any proud Bristolian, born or adopted, will tell you – of Concorde, that mighty plane which flew so fast (London to New York in under four hours? Yes, really) and fell from favour so quickly. (The good people of Toulouse may also make a claim as to origins but we’ll share the glory).

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It’s a bit of a blurry photo as we were quite a distance away but just look at the slope at the end of the runway. Never knew that before.

Over the M5, with conversation paused for the duration due to the din, and on towards  a Victorian house turned upmarket hotel somewhat marooned by the twentieth century.

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But what’s all this?

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An industrial site of underground tanks, protected by some very serious gates, high fences and CCTV cameras. Not so unusual, but this is completely and utterly anonymous – not a signboard or any hint of its purpose anywhere.

And there was no mention of it on the map.

Later, after a bit of quizzing of those who might know and a bit of Googling, we discovered that here is stored aviation fuel for both military and civil aircraft. Built in the 1930s in anticipation of War, and officially secret until the end of the Cold War, these so discreetly hidden tanks are linked by pipeline to RAF stations as well as to Heathrow and other civil airports. So when you’re up in London and tutting when there’s a delay in refuelling your plane, spare a thought for how far the petroleum has got to come.  (I think that’s the gist of it; there’s an exhaustive – and frankly exhaustingly acronym laden – explanation at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CLH_Pipeline_System)

After this bit of vaguely disquieting mystery, and with the airfield, the tanks, the motorway and all the other signs of the urban only just behind us,  we crossed a field and suddenly found ourselves deep in the most lovely bluebell wood.IMG_5785 (2)No one about. although well trodden path suggests that this is a popular spot but how come we asked, again, had none of us every heard of it before?IMG_5788 (2)The wood gave onto open fields on the top of what had become a very narrow ridge, overlooking the Second Severn Crossing mired in a slurry of industrial sprawl (no, we didn’t know there had been quite so much development out there either)

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and the rather more bucolic original Severn Bridge.

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Look at all those vapour trails burning up the fuel from the tanks we’d just passed.

Soon we were descending to the River Severn’s floodplain past old farmhouses  and the odd restored cottage. We had the Easter Compton pub (and lunch) almost in our sights when we came upon the village church (13th century origins, major Victorian revamp, currently having a bit of repair work to the roof).

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Curiously, apart from the adjacent Church Farm, All Saints Compton Greenfield stands alone. A couple of fields in one direction is Compton Greenfield itself, now just a couple of farmhouses alongside the old rectory, whilst across the fields the other way is Easter Compton, a mostly early twentieth century settlement despite being on the road to the old ferry points across the Severn.

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There’s a spectacular yew tree walk and rose garden in this immaculate but isolated churchyard, but where are the parishioners? From where do/did the worshippers come in this sparsely populated area? No time to go into the Church to have a look as the cold drinks were calling our names but, from what I did glean later on, there seems to have been quite a sprinkling of gentry families in the area back in the day, names which are no longer familiar living in estates which no longer exist. Perhaps it was down to them and their households?

As we sat in the pub garden in the unseasonal heat, we agreed that we were surprised at not only just how much green space there was in what we had expected to be a rather tedious urban fringe, but also how many hidden spots we’d found in what we had each assumed was overly familiar territory. Despite its less than alluring name, the Bristol Community Forest Path delivered a varied and surprising route which bodes well for all the sections to come.

So – well played BCFP. Big tick.

(Of course, in writing this up, my inner geekiness had to come out. Far from circling Bristol and looking in at the city, as I had expected, this first part of the walk underlined the ways in which the place is – and has long been – tied to the rest of the world through global networks. From the way of Via Julia to the contemporary motorway system, the ferry points on the rivers and tidal waterways to Concorde and the aviation fuel stores, in one morning we had crossed paths with them all.

Except the railway.

Well, maybe.

There was this…

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Standing just across the path from the Old Rectory in hardly a hamlet Compton Greenfield is what I reckon is a tin tabernacle (Wiki helpfully explains that this is a type of prefabricated ecclesiastical building made from corrugated galvanised iron (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_tabernacle)). With the Industrial Revolution and all that came with it, there was a mass exodus of workers from the land to the burgeoning cities so missions to the newly industrialised areas sought to support (or, yes, control) rapidly formed communities of the young, mainly single, men (and to some extent women) who had left their family ties and strictures behind. Prefab chapels sprang up to minister to them on land donated by benevolent landowners and this is what I think this is. It’s marked on the 1901 map so the timing would fit. 

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1901. Thank you, NLS (https://maps.nls.uk/view/109729246)

 

Except, of course, Compton Greenfield is conspicuously devoid of any trace of industrialisation, then or now.

I can find absolutely no reference to this chapel anywhere online so it is only my conjecture that it was in fact erected to serve the hordes of navvies and brick makers who set up camp a mile or so north east of here to build the Severn railway tunnel. For 13 years they toiled to dig out what was the longest tunnel in the world in 1885 when it was finally completed. As the map shows, the tabernacle is not exactly on the workers’ doorsteps but it is right under the Rector’s nose.

Why didn’t they just go to All Saints on a Sunday? After all, they had to walk past it to get to their chapel.

Maybe they weren’t Anglican.

Or maybe they weren’t welcome.

Victorian social apartheid anyone?)

 

Snow, spanners, and starts

 

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Happy St David’s Day. (Image filched from @megfrombristol. I’ll ask permission next time I see her)

This was not the post I was planning to write today but the not very common (here in Bristol) arrival of snow put a very large spanner in the works.

Yesterday was to have been the first outing with some new walking companions – A, J, and L. A few chance remarks and casual conversations  have led to us forming up, putting dates in diaries, and preparing to set to on the Bristol Community Forest Path. It’s a 45 mile route circling the city of Bristol linking green spaces and replanted and restored community forests and I hope that it will be really interesting. Despite what must be worthiest, dullest, and least enticing name ever.

Bristol is an ancient city which has grown by swallowing up many old settlements in its environs and so I am hoping that even the suburban sections in my neck of the woods (of which there are a lot) will guide us down unnoticed paths and historic rights of way to unknown green spaces which I may have passed countless times without even realising they were there. And then there’s the other side of the city and the places I know vaguely and by name only and finally – because it promises to be the most beautiful part – there are the rural villages to the south. Treading the ground, beating the bounds, invites a very particular knowledge of a space and I am looking forward to learning my place as we circle our city.

So, instead of setting off yesterday, I stayed home in the warm but was transported to the great outdoors by Ursula Martin’s wonderfully written blog, which I have just discovered (http://www.onewomanwalkswales.com/blog). She has a lovely engaging style and I am so enjoying her journeying. And I so enjoy the journeying of many other talented bloggers so my aim for these snow days is to work out how to set up a blogroll to highlight these great writers too.  Watch this space.

 

 

March, march, swing you along

 

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Votes for women. Long delays

Getting a bit late in the day to write about this one (although I’m not quite as far behind the curve as the woman in the crowd who asked why they couldn’t have done it in the summer when it wasn’t so cold), but I joined the Bristol Women’s Voice lantern parade to celebrate suffrage. The date was 6 February 2018, 100 years to the day after the passing of the Representation of the People Act which first gave the vote to (certain) women.IMG_4209 (2)

 

I don’t have much form when it comes to parades and marches but even so this one must stand out as being both rather ad hoc and orderly at the same time. Ad hoc because – obviously – the organisers had never run one before and had had no idea of how many women would turn up. In fact I don’t think I saw a single person with clipboard, megaphone or anything else which might have signified their being in charge; orderly because everyone was in great spirits and many, I suspect, like me just wanted to be there to mark the occasion and not to make any larger point.

Also it was snowing.

So off we went, into the rush hour traffic which necessarily ground to a halt and logjammed the entire city. I don’t know how many of us there were – hundreds certainly, maybe a thousand or so at the start before the cold felled many. There was no police presence to count us and the inane local newspaper report spoke only of lots being there to celebrate all women getting the vote (They didn’t. Not in 1918. Try Wikipedia next time).

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Bristol Women’s Voice image. Bristol University lit some of its buildings in green and violet – suffragette colours – to commemorate the event. When women were first permitted to graduate from this university, the male undergraduates discarded their mortar boards in protest. Which is why my Alma Mater’s form of academic dress still features no headgear. Nice tradition, eh?

The organisers – Bristol Women’s Voice – had run workshops in libraries and museums in the weeks prior to the event so people could make lanterns which were ingeniously brilliant in their simplicity and effectiveness. (Too late I discovered that there had even been a session on the train to Severn Beach – a situation so bizarre that it begged to have been seen.) I cobbled one together from the instructions on the website but came up short when I came to deciding what to write on mine. Votes for Women may have been historically accurate but I felt that the event was to be more of a celebration of achievement than a replication of the struggle, Deeds not Words would have got my vote had I thought of it in time. But there were many and various examples to be seen.

Some women were moved to tears by the thoughts of the suffragettes, they said. I struggled to feel a connection to the undeniably brave women of a century ago. As far as I know I can claim no suffragettes or suffragists in the family so I can not make their battle personal.  I thought about my grandmothers – women I have known – one of whom was 20 in 1918, the other only 5. The former would have had to wait until she was 30 in 1928 before she was entitled to a vote, not then being married or owning property, the latter would have grown up seeing her mother casting her ballot for the first few times. That made it a bit more real.

My younger grandmother did not talk about politics. When asked who she would vote for the most handsome man would always be the reply. With a husband involved in local politics she had to keep her views to herself and this was undoubtedly her way of telling a child to mind her own business. But until now I hadn’t reflected on to what extent her stock phrase  – this faux empty headed, fluttery feminine disinterest – hinted at a female disconnect with politics. Although all women were enfranchised by the time she turned 21, she had grown up in a culture where this had not been the case and early expectations were engrained. And I looked at the women around me and began to wonder what in their lives they had accepted as being just the way the things are. Older women would remember being paid less than their male colleagues, their mothers would have encountered the marriage ban. By the time I entered the workplace the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act was in place and, thanks to earlier women’s efforts,  I was able to enter traditionally male fields, albeit in a minority and always in a skirt. Many battles have been won but many remain.

I’ll leave you with these links to a piece composed especially for the lantern parade which may or may not work. I hope one of them does because it was rather uplifting.

http://www.facebook.com/BristolWomensVoice/videos/1641018542631794/?q=bristol%20women’s%20voice

https://bristolwomensvoice.bandcamp.com/releases

A tale of two walks

One longer than looked for, the other shorter than expected. One a stomp through the dreary inner city dankness of a barely light early morning, the other a stroll through the filmic golden tones of a benignly sunny late afternoon. And so on.

This week it transpired that my car was in need of a new gearbox. Not a great state of affairs but my ever reliable local garage sent me off in the direction of an outfit specialising in the very thing, also staffed by the nicest of men, who could fit me in on Wednesday morning. Hooray. And if I had to get it there by first light as requested, then no problem, I’d be there. I would call the whole procedure utterly unremarkable apart from one small detail – my lift home let me down. There wasn’t a taxi to be had for an hour and not quite 7.30 is no time to be ringing round asking friends for favours. And gearbox specialists are shy retiring creatures who hide themselves away on obscure industrial estates in parts of the city where no one ever goes and buses fear to tread.

And it was raining.

So I had to walk. Or more accurately stomp. I was not in the best of moods.

But I have to confess a strange fascination with these industrial workshops where people continue to purposefully make things, even though I have no understanding of what end they serve. I like the way that down this potholed cul de sac, these modest post War buildings, hemmed in by the railway line, house a panoply of engineering output. The street speaks of ingenuity, of innovation and of creativity and, while I am at a loss when it comes to explaining what is precision milling and plastics moulding and the like, I am glad to see that there are some in this little enclave who are pretty good at it.

At the end of the street I was out into an odd area, built up, but somehow empty. The sort of place which has had the bad luck to be blighted by both the Luftwaffe and the City Planners. There was a couple of run down streets of terraced houses, a few stridently coloured warehouse blocks, recent additions and unoccupied, and a row of once grand Victorian shop fronts, crumbling flats above, boarded up windows below, one or two occupied by small charities desperately clinging on, and then there was – hang about – a tapas bar. A tapas bar? Here? And just along the way a pie shop, outpost of an empire which includes Borough Market amongst its outlets. Around the corner and into a broad street, lined with tired old pubs, massage parlours, empty shop windows obscured by posters for niche bands, and yes, coffee shops in which artistic looking types could be seen preparing to open up for the day. Galloping gentrification is not a universally accepted Good Thing; I’m aware of the debates. I know that it is not a panacea for all urban ills but, as I rounded the corner and moved on into the newish shopping quarter (a towering but bland corporate zone occupied by the same retailers that line the malls of Birmingham, Berlin and, for all I know, Brisbane), I was feeling really very happy that something of the ingenuity, innovation and creativity of the industrial estate was now beginning to permeate the barren spaces of the long neglected Old Market area.

By the time I reached familiar streets, well served by bus routes, I had decided to keep walking. Away from the centre and up a road which I have driven many times but never traversed on foot, contending at this still early hour with the waves of commuters on their way to work in the city, then along suburban backways, surprisingly quiet save for birdsong, and finally home.

What had started out as an enforced inconvenience, undertaken in high dudgeon, became a true delight, a fascinating exploration of a patch of my Bristol backyard that is so far off my radar as to be invisible. It took me a little over an hour all told and it was probably one of the most interesting hours of my week.  I have no photos to show for it, partly because it was wet and partly because some areas felt a bit too edgy, euphemistically speaking, to draw attention to myself by waving my phone about, but maybe that makes it all the more memorable.

But I do have a raft of photos of my second walk of the week – a gentle sunny afternoon outing to Lacock with my recently post-op partner.img_1124

Even if you have never been to Lacock you will probably find it familiar for everything from Cranford to Wolf Hall, via various iterations of the works of JK Rowling and Jane Austen and much else, has been filmed here. It’s quite remarkable, albeit a tad twee, as I have muttered before. But still, feast your eyes on the streetscapes.

Our objective was a little mooch about the Abbey grounds and – as it turned out to be open – the Abbey and house itself, which was all very pleasant. img_1045The rather sweet artist’s rendition of a plan of the estate hints at extensive walks but this wasn’t actually the case. No matter, it was the snowdrops which I particularly wanted to see and they did not disappoint. img_1022In the woodland area everywhere you look there are drifts of white, with the odd scattering of crocus here and there, and signs of daffodils promising to burst out in a week or so. img_1080The path ended at a small, but deep, river where under a tree a couple of gardeners were busy digging up the snowdrops and loading them into barrows, ready to cart them away. ‘They’re just off for a holiday’ called one who had the look of  Olivia Colman, were the actor to don outdoor workwear, a woolly hat and a head gardener badge, ‘We’ve got tree surgeons coming for this tree next week so we want to get them safely out of the way of their boots’.

Now I would never call myself a gardener. Plant worrier is about as far as I’d go. I stick things in the soil and if are determined enough, they grow. But I do enjoy gazing upon the fruits (and flora) of others’ labour. I don’t know how big a team of paid and volunteer staff this head gardener has at her disposal, but she has squeezed in some lovely little details alongside the larger task of keeping the estate gardens up together. Leaving tall grasses in the border over winter may be routine but it doesn’t stop them looking delicately exquisite in the late afternoon sunlight.

Flopping hyacinth heads need propping up with twigs but isn’t this nest of catkins, complete with little lambs’ tails, delightful? My favourite tiny touch was this stone and its indentation into which spring flowers have been planted.

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You’ll have to take my word for that there are what I think are aconites planted into that rock – I couldn’t get any closer without treading on the blooms.

 

So that’s two walks which could scarcely be more different but which, in their different ways, each underline the happy opportunities walking offers to see the grain of a place at the human scale.

How about you – have you found yourself walking a route you normally speed along and making delightful discoveries? Are you as cheered as I am at the sight of spring bulbs making their appearance after what has felt like an unusually dreary few weeks?

Clifton Wood

IMG_0321.JPGThe other day when I was out taking a turn around my favourite harbourside route, I realised that there is a large chunk of that pleasing vista across the water which I have never, ever explored. Clifton Wood – home to strings of multi-coloured streets clinging resolutely to the cliff edge – is a foreign field to me. It’s a jumble of Georgian and Victorian streets, many fairly modest, all apparently built  on top of one another without much thought to vehicular traffic. That they’re too old and the land is too steep would probably account for it, but whatever the reason the result is a quiet but colourful enclave, criss crossed by a maze of paths and passages.

I started out at a very familiar spot. No one can come to Bristol and not be aware of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge. It dominates the city skyline and  visitors come from far and wide to gaze upon its graceful lines. Here it is.IMG_0437 - Copy.JPG I’d like to have taken a better shot of it by moving a little way to the left but then there would be a lamp post slap bang in the way. Yes, well played City Lighting People for ruining every tourist’s photo opportunity. Being charitable perhaps it is not a good idea to have snappers  cluttering up the pavement just there and a viewpoint has been provided down the way, but you just can’t get the whole bridge in from that angle.IMG_0436 - Copy.JPG See what I mean? Anyway, let’s quit the moaning and move on. Imagine if you will what lies across the road – behind me in the first bridge shot above – an elegant terrace of large white stucco Georgian houses. Not so long ago one changed hands and the new owners set about a project of modernisation. Amongst the renovation team was a roofer who told me a lovely tale of how he was working away on the roof one day when a bus pulled up across the road and out rushed a stream of tourists. Who promptly formed an orderly queue, not to take selfies in front of the bridge but instead to avail themselves of the builders’ Portaloo in the front yard…

Not far from here is another Bristol landmark – Royal York Crescent.IMG_0469.JPG Allegedly the longest in Europe if anyone is counting and superior to that one they’ve got in Bath, if you ask me.  Trouble is they’ve taken more care over there, tighter planning restrictions and rather more open space in front and the like, so I have to admit that their’s has the upper hand, lookswise. But this one’s not too shabby, is it?

From here I headed off into uncharted territory, following paths and passageways that looked promising.

Occasionally I found myself somewhere familiar although I have to confess that I have been trying to erase this particular spot from my memory ever since a research interview I conducted in one of these homes went spectacularly pear shaped. You’ll note that I am standing quite a long way away from them. It’s a bit of a long story so feel free to skip on if you prefer.IMG_0496.JPG

Still with me? OK, so my interviewee, an artist I hoped would provide me with some reflections which could be key to my project, is a well known name in the field and I am going to start by saying that it was generous of him to agree to see me at all as he is undoubtedly inundated with students’ requests for his time. He chose the place, date and time: his home, 3pm on a Sunday afternoon. I accepted with alacrity but alarm bells were beginning to ring. I don’t know how it is in your house, but at that time of day we’re either busy doing something which needs doing or sunk in a post lunch torpor, neither state being conducive to receiving a visitor with a list of questions. To add to my unease, he’d picked 23 December – the day which (if you are having guests for Christmas) you probably want to keep clear for last minute preparations. Anyway, I spent a lot of time preparing for the discussion, going over his work in the field, planning the directions I’d like to take the conversation and so on. I was as ready as I could be when I knocked on the door on the dot of 3 o’clock and met a man who clearly wished he’d never agreed to see me. Sunday papers scattered on the floor in front of the armchair by the blazing fire spoke of a nap curtailed, an ironing board piled with crumpled linen and a Christmas cake part iced at the other end of the open plan room told of a wife disturbed in her plans and dispatched out of the way but not before, if her husband’s mood was any indication, sharing her displeasure at this considerable inconvenience. So this wasn’t a great start. But, to give him his due, the interviewee did not show me the door (which would have been understandable) but kindly offered me a cup of tea. Unfortunately, the kettle had barely boiled before it became clear that not only had he moved on from the field in which I was working (and which I had outlined fully in my email), but that he no longer had any interest in it and indeed did not want to talk about it. He was happy to speak of his current work but, as this was not pertinent to my research, I had only the haziest notion of it, an inadequacy he soon discovered and which did not improve the atmosphere. I tried to soldier on, rattling through my carefully prepared enquiries, receiving terser and terser replies, until I could down my still scalding cup of tea and exit as quickly and as graciously as I could and leave him in peace. It was such a gruesome experience that I couldn’t even bring myself to transcribe the tape. Not, that is, until more than a year had passed and I was polishing up my thesis and looking for a killer first line with which to begin.

And there it was…fullsizerender

Briskly turning out of Anecdote Alley and leaving Memory Lane behind, I meandered on until I came upon the first of the coloured houses.img_0528 Rather subtle this row, but they soon got brighter and brighter.IMG_0599.JPG And they went on and on. Here are a few more

IMG_0640.JPG I think these are my favourite but I wouldn’t rule out changing my mind if the sun was in a different direction.

The place was deserted, apart from builders (natch), and the pub was closed in the middle of the day, but doesn’t this look like a perfect place for a sundowner?img_0614

Definitely somewhere to come back to.

 

Floating the boats.

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. img_0237Off 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, IMG_0247.JPG lending a noble air to Gromit’s profile on the prow,img_0249 and turning our mighty SS Great Britain into a ghostly apparition.IMG_0257.JPG 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. img_0277Well 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,

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A kid height window into MShed museum. Anyone know what the clanger is doing amidst the ships?

along with several museums, galleries and other places to take a look at.

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Bristolian John Cabot (who allegedly beat Columbus in the first European foot on North American soil stakes) surveying the scene halfway around the walk.

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,IMG_0254.JPG the cranes and rail lines that, though now museum exhibits, still etch their presence on quayside and skyline,img_0312the old boats being restored in the dry dock or winched up onto the slipway, the new ones taking shape in the boat builders’ workshopsIMG_0329.JPG and the orderly jumble of the marine engineers’ yardsIMG_0325.JPG – 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.img_0326

Come and see for yourself.

And tell me please – where’s your favourite walk? What’s the place that keeps drawing you back?

Goings on in the graveyard

A cemetery that’s licensed for weddings?   I mean, yes – churches are often surrounded by graveyards, so that the newly matched emerge to the sight of the long dispatched, but marrying in a municipal burial ground? img_8616

Arnos Vale is the place, a high walled Victorian cemetery not far from the centre of town, just along from the station and slap bang on an always busy arterial road which at this point is home to a selection of tattoo joints and massage parlours. You can see why I was a stranger to the place.

But the other Sunday, I was up early, the sun was shining and so I thought I may as well go and see what there was to see. From the website I gleaned that, in a nutshell, Arnos Vale was  a privately owned ‘garden cemetery’, inspired by the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, which served the city well for over 150 years but by the end of the 1990s it fortunes were failing and its gates were closed.   To prevent the site being levelled and redeveloped, in 2003 Bristol City Council took over the 45 acre site and handed it over to a charitable trust as custodians. (Have a look at their website for more info  https://arnosvale.org.uk/discover/heritage/friends-history-arnos-vale/ )

I have to say that I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. It’s still a working graveyard, albeit no longer a crematorium, so my first impressions were of neat rows of highly polished granite headstones, many graves adorned with flowers.img_8462

I’m ambivalent about cemeteries; I’m drawn to them by a fascination with the inscriptions and the monumental masonry but at the same time I’m reluctant to draw too close to such sites of sadness. The recent graves, still tended by those who are left to mourn and leave mementos, have about them an almost tangible miasma of grief and, for me, to linger amongst them is to intrude upon another’s loss.

So I moved swiftly past these newer interments near the entrance to the cemetery and turned off onto a winding path that led up a steep hillside. Here the stones mark the now forgotten, so long departed that nature is reclaiming their space. img_8473Time, tree roots and subsidence have rearranged the once precise plans to the extent that it feels more of a woodland than a graveyard, the odd headstone rising out of the wildness while the others sink gently back to earth.img_8523

There was barely a living soul about and yet it did not feel remotely spooky being alone amidst the graves. Instead it was all rather beautiful and comforting. It was oddly quiet too. The noise of the city on the other side of the wall faded into the background as the rustle of the leaves and the calls of the birds took over. img_8595

As the morning went on, others were drawn in – an exhausted looking young mother pushing a finally sleeping baby in a pushchair, another with excitable children and dog racing through the woods. By the time I got back down to the café housed in part of a striking modern glass extension to one of the mortuary chapels, the place was busy.

And as a place to get married I can see it now. Either in the contemporary extension or up on the hillside where a large rustic shelter, attractive in its simplicity, stands in a clearing to offer a setting for a woodland wedding. A bit dark and dank for me in October but it would be magical in  midsummer.