Bristol by Foot. Claire Higgins travels the city.

Monday, 6 June, 2011

Bristol is famed for many things: Brunel, Banksy, Drum and Bass… But public transport is not yet on the list. So, when in Bristol, put your best foot forward.

I have lived in Bristol on and off for the past ten years, and like many other young people, find cycling the most effective way of getting around. But Bristol has many hills, each one providing a view and a challenge. So my preferred mode of transport has to be my feet. People outside of Bristol are often astounded by the lengths that Bristolians can walk. Well, with no tube, an overpriced bus network which avoids the most popular routes, and trains which skirt around the centre, what choice do we have? Besides, you won’t hear us complaining, as walking is free exercise and free entertainment. Take one weekend as an example.

After work on Friday I was enticed by the sun and a visitor from Cambodia towards the Avon Gorge hotel, and cycled down to Clifton from Stoke Bishop. Here I met my visitor and a couple of friends, and we celebrated the end of another working week sipping cider and overlooking the resplendent Clifton Suspension Bridge. We then decided to eat at the Thali Cafe in Clifton, winner of the Observer Food Monthly’s ‘Best Cheap Eats’ award 2010, and Radio 4‘s Food and Farming ‘Best takeaway’. This Thali Cafe, unlike my local Montpelier version, serves fish, and I began my walk back home with a happy belly. We stopped off for a pint at The Bell on Jamaica Street, which was buzzing with Friday night vibrancy, and continued onwards.

Sunday was another fine day, offering us the opportunity to trek across north Bristol once more, to fetch my friend’s car. We started in Montpelier, near the Star and Garter pub, passing the graffiti on Ashley Road, and back onto Jamaica Street. This part of Bristol has recently begun to refer to itself as ‘The Cultural Quarter’, which is a name not entirely undeserved. Stokes Croft is an area full of old run down buildings which have found new life as massage parlours, squats and studios; large warehouse style nightclubs provide the finest of Bristol’s underground music scene; independent shops, eateries, bars and galleries abound; and some of the best off licenses you could hope to come across serve way into the night. Stokes Croft even has a Post Office which has a cash point, sells beer, and is open past 10pm on a weekend. Graffiti art plays a large part in the culture of Stokes Croft, as the huge Banksy mural and designated graffiti wall (or ‘outdoor gallery’) encourage many to make their mark. The ‘People’s Republic of Stokes Croft’ headquarters can be found on the corner of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft (an area known as ‘Turbo Island’), selling postcards of the constantly changing urban landscape. This week saw an incongruous addition, with the opening of a Tesco on Stokes Croft, much to the dismay of the majority of locals who voted against its presence.

Emerging at the other end of Jamaica Street we hit the edge of Broadmead shopping centre, and passing the BRI hospital, we continued on to Park Row. Ahead is the imposing and quite magnificent Wills Memorial building, home to Bristol University’s law students. Next to the building we discovered that the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery is open until 5pm on a Sunday, and as it was showing the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, we wandered in to take a look.

From here we continued on to the Clifton Triangle, which is, as the name suggests, a triangle; marrying Park Street and its independent shops, with Whiteladies Road leading to the Downs, and Brandon Hill Nature Park complete with Cabot Tower, usually providing panoramic views of the city, but currently undergoing repair work. We left the triangle just around the corner from the Victoria Rooms, arguably the most beautiful university music department in the country, finding ourselves at Park Place, a delightful corner of Clifton containing the Quinton House pub, the abandoned Pro Cathedral, and Swanton’s barbers. We passed Manor and Goldney student halls, finally reaching Clifton Village.

Just walking distance from our start point we felt in a completely different space, as Clifton is a beautiful array of Georgian terraces, cafes and rich people, with very little graffiti to be seen. The diversity within Bristol is amazing; every corner providing a new outlook on city life. As it is such a sprawling, culturally and historically rich city, with plenty of water and green space, there is much more of the city to be covered. In my opinion, the best way to take it all in is on foot, allowing a closer look into the depths of our city.

(c) Claire Higgins 2011

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