Can it really be called tourism, when it’s your home town / region? Probably not, but I was showing around friends who’d never visited before, which often forces you to see a place through an outsider’s eyes. Those of you with long-ish memories will be pleased to hear that this contains a cameo from Mama and Papa Gnidrah – on home territory so thankfully with all the trousers they could possibly need.
The subject of this TFW is Bristol and Bath, in the west of England. This is a helpful map to give you an idea of where we’re talking about.
We boarded the train and we hoped for the best. But the train did not move. No sir, it stayed in Paddington Station for so long that we began to imagine this was our new life. Eventually we did start moving, but then the emergency braking system kept kicking in, forcing the driver to reassure us that nothing was wrong, when it patently was? I had visions of being forced to walk along the tracks, and frankly, I had no intention of appearing in the west country version of Stand By Me.
After such an inauspicious start, the only way would surely be up? Not really, if you want the truth. Because this is Britain, in the summer, and we’ve been having what one might politely call challenging weather. So the best laid plans are about to go completely to shit.
I thought it would be nice to show my friends one of the most important places near Bristol. You might be thinking of Glastonbury, or perhaps Stonehenge, or maybe even Cardiff, but you would be incorrect – it is in fact Clevedon Pier, site of One Direction’s You & I video.
You might also recognise it from the recent film version of Never Let Me Go. It was built in 1869 and is historically very important and interesting and beautiful and as I did you can try to take your friends to have your dinner there and THIS IS ALL WE COULD SEE:
My top tourism tip is, by all means plan something fun, but never for one moment think that you can go out in Britain in August without taking a waterproof, several layers and an extra pair of tights. I recommend Marks & Spencer Body Sensor in 60 Denier. Can’t be too careful.
To the next day! Part of the reason we travelled this particular weekend was because it was the 39th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. The fiesta is part of the DNA of the city. One of my earliest memories is of seeing Norwegian pop legends a-Ha flying into town in a hot air balloon before performing at the fiesta. This must have been in about 1986 or 1987? I know it’s hard to believe that anyone as youthful as me could remember this, but may I assure you that I was very very young at the time and also that I have very good skin.
The only issue is, it’s all rather, shall we say, weather dependent? Too much rain – no flying. Too much wind – no flying. Not enough wind – no flying. There are meant to be three mass ascents and descents on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the fiesta… But you’ve guessed it, Saturday morning isn’t really happening.
So I decided to show the crew around the beautiful, fascinating city of Bath instead. It’s only 15 minutes away from Bristol on the train. If you’re thinking Jane Austen and the Royal Crescent, you’d be right, but there’s really a lot more to see and do here.
It is home to the best rugby club in the world (COME ON YOU BATH) and if you are lucky (and I have been) you might find yourself in a local restaurant sitting next to specimens like this. You don’t get this in football.
I couldn’t just recommend one thing here, so my advice is this: if you visit Bath, you should get out on foot and walk the city. You’ll find lovely cafes with tea and cake, you’ll find little shops stacked to the rafters with books and crafts, you’ll find wonderful architecture and fascinating museums. If you’re in town, shout and I’ll show ya round.
But, oh gnidrah, what of those hot air balloons you were chasing? Well, Sunday morning dawned clear, a great first step. There wasn’t much wind, but the organisers seemed determined that they wouldn’t be held back any further. At 6am, Mama and Papa Gnidrah fired up the charabanc and off we set for Brandon Hill, in the centre of Bristol, the home of Cabot Tower – named after John Cabot, Bristol legend and a man without whom America would basically not exist (I AM JOKING)
And we were not disappointed:
Over 100 hot air balloons were taking part in the mass ascent! I’ve seen it before, but not for a few years and I’d forgotten how magical it really is. If you can be there, I can’t recommend it enough. Local tip, I wouldn’t bother going to the launch site – it’s free, yes, but it’s so busy getting out that I really don’t think it’s worth it unless they come up with a better people management plan.
That pesky lack of wind was a problem though. The balloons weren’t really moving much, not in our direction anyway. At which point, Papa G suggested hopping in the car and trying to find where they were going to land. A man not always noted for his excellent decisions, but this one was a masterstroke.
Just to the west of the city, they were all landing! Over 100 balloons! Some were regular-shaped, some were fancy!
As we drove on, we got chatting to some of the crews who were all racing round the country lanes too, trying to predict where their pilots were going to land. We pulled into a farmyard, and look what we found:
Two crews had put down here, in the weak early morning sunlight and the dew. No one else was around, it was us and them and it was truly a privilege.
We took our guests round the harbour and several neighbourhoods of Bristol after that, including the obligatory Banksys. You can still see a few originals on the walls and even though they’ve been seen a thousand times, it still makes us Bristolians proud that he’s one of ours. The city has a wealth of restaurants, bars and things to do – but as with Bath, I’d advise just putting your walking shoes on and getting out there and finding it.
All in all, a great chance to reacquaint myself with the cit(ies)y that I love. They might not be the ones that instantly come to mind when you think of visiting the UK, but I can assure you, you’ll have a gert lush time!