Avon Stories podcast 12: Abona and the Romans in Bristol

Bristol isn’t a city famous for links with the Romans, like Bath, York, Gloucester or London, but the Romans were here for around three hundred years, and built a port on the Avon, Portus Abonae, which became the town of Abona, which is now Sea Mills.

In this podcast, Gail Boyle, the Senior Curator for Archeology at Bristol Museums, told me about Abona, the other Roman sites in the city, and what we know about who the Romans in Bristol were, where they came from, and why they were here.

She told me about the Roman remains in Sea Mills and the Kingsweston Roman Villa, and how a lot of what we know is thanks to teenage archeology enthusiasts in the 1950s, and how local teenagers were involved in the recent interpretation of the site.  She also told me what we can visit today, and I’ve included links below, and photos of what they look like.

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Exploring the Avon – Pill to Sea Mills, and following in Roman footsteps

One of the things I want to do with this project is to use it as an excuse to go walking, and exploring places I’ve always thought about – and last week was an adventure I wouldn’t have had without it.

I’ve known Tracy Homer for nearly 12 years, when we met at the first Bristol flickrmeet.  Back when flickr was this amazing social media site, we were part of the Bristol flickr group, and there was this moment when some of us went to a pub to take it from online friends to In Real Life, which branched off into going for flickrwalks to take photos together. Some of my best friends in Bristol are people I met that way, and I still go to a pub once a month or so with some of them, even though we now arrange through different ways, and flickr has gone from being about social media to being somewhere I just upload my photos to.

I liked Tracy from the moment I met her, and I’ve got so many good memories of talking mile-a-minute with her, taking photos, discovering new places, and always laughing a lot.  It’s one of those friendships where we can go years at a time without being in touch, but start where we left off, and she’s the best company for photowalks.  There’s something about not needing to explain why the walk will take twice as long as it should, because we’re stopping for photos, with someone who’ll get exactly what I mean when I’m over-excited about the light on the mud, or the way the grass curves, or whatever it is, and will understand the need to take the same shot on three different cameras, because she’s doing exactly the same thing.

Last week we went for a long walk, one I’ve been wanting to do for ages:  from Pill, up the Avon to the M5 road bridge, then down the north side of the river to Sea Mills, to look for echoes of the Roman town of Abona, and then up the old Roman road to the Downs.   All walks with Tracy tend to start with frantic texting and laughing at ourselves right from the start, and this was no different.  Could we manage to meet on the same bus from different stops?  Of course we could!

This is the map of our route, with my photos on it, and there are more in my flickr album.  I had four cameras with me – my Canon DSLR with a 50mm lens, my Olympus XA2 point & shoot film camera (though I ran out of film, stupidly), my iPhone, and the last of the £1 disposable underwater cameras, and there are some from each on the map, plus a mini film.

I’ve also put photos in the blog below.  It’s a long one, because it was a long walk (that’s my excuse, at least!)

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Avon Stories podcast 11: How Bristol nearly lost the Harbour, and other Planning stories

One of the main features of Bristol is the Floating Harbour that meanders through the city, lined with boats, from tatty barges to three-masted sailing boats, right up to floating nightclubs and restaurants.  But did you know that in the late 1960s there was a plan to close the Harbour to navigation, and build giant roads over it? And that a City Docks Act was passed in Parliament to make it possible, and it was only the global recession of the 1970s that prevented it?

Richard Holden worked in the Planning Department at Bristol City Council for 36 years, and he told me all about that, what would have happened if the road plan had happened, and more of the stories about the Harbour, including how the M Shed cranes were saved.

We also talked about the good, the bad and the ugly in Planning, how some of the developments came about, and how the best Planning work is essentially invisible.  He also told me about the current threats to the Harbour – nothing as extreme as a giant road, but developments that really do risk destroying some of the wonderful things that are emblematic of the city.  Scroll down for what everything can do to try to prevent these, and other, threats.

Richard sent me some photos of what parts of the Harbour looked like before redevelopment, and I’ve put them on this map, under the red icons, along with pictures I took about places we talked about, which you can also see in this flickr album.

Of course, you can find all kinds of other photos of the Harbour in the past on the Know Your Place website, and there’s more about that in my first Avon Stories podcast.

If you want to help shape the future of Bristol’s infrastructure and planning, there are things you can do:

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An Avon meditation film

It’s the Bristol Balloon Fiesta this weekend, and they’re notorious for not saying whether the mass launches will happen or not – so I set the alarm for 5:30am (ugh) yesterday to try to see the 6am ascent, but fell asleep before they confirmed it would happen.  Then the evenings have been too windy for the launches, so I made myself get up for the 6am launch today.

I’ve been dreaming about getting a film of something we experienced a few years ago – a stream of balloons floating along the Avon.  I’ve seen the mass ascent from the Fiesta once, and it’s fine, but I really want that river-of-balloons echoing the river, and to record the roaring of the burners.

I was so pleased with myself for being up early, in the beautiful morning light, and watching the balloons from Vauxhall Bridge felt great, I was convinced it was going to happen… until we realised the wind was taking them east, away from us.

I had that really crappy FOMO feeling (Fear Of Missing Out), and I feel for Vik and Matt, as I was also having low blood sugar and literally didn’t know which way to turn – chase the balloons?  Find a different spot?  Try to find breakfast?  Luckily Lockside was open early and I recovered my equilibrium – and then on the way home, there were these gentle-looking streams from the Outflow into the river, with clouds of silt.  The incoming tide was a fast one, but the force of the outflow was pushing the stream far over the water.  I only got 5 minutes of this, but I love it, it’s my perfect meditation film:

The only thing was wanting about 15 cameras pointing at different points.  But I here’s a mobile phone film-ette of a different point of the river at the same time:

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Avon Stories Podcast 10: An art-walk with Richard White

I met Richard White when I went on one of his Sweet Waters walks along the Avon, exploring the legacies of the Transatlantic slave trade.  That day we walked from Keynsham into Bristol, along the Feeder Canal for the final part, so I invited him to come and podcast with me on a walk along the River Avon.

We walked down the St Philips Greenway, from Bristol Temple Meads station to the Black Castle pub, via a closed path and the weir that stops the Avon being tidal, and had all kinds of experiences along the way, including strange gas on the River, and meeting a kayaker in a deflating canoe.  We talked about his Sweet Waters project, what the Black Castle represents, how Richard uses walking and social media in his art practice, and what we saw as we went.

You can see the photos we took on the map of our route (mine are blue, Richard’s are red)

And my album, with some more photos is on flickr.

 

The film of the weird gas release is here – I reported it to the Environment Agency, who investigated and said it wasn’t pollution, but it was something that shouldn’t have happened, and they’re making sure it doesn’t happen again.

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Rain from underwater

I’ve been on a bit of a mission to take film and photographs of rain from under the surface of the Floating Harbour, and like all good photographic missions, it hasn’t gone exactly to plan.

This is always the way.  My best/worst example was when I was doing a 6 week book arts module on my photography degree, starting at the very end of March, and my plan was to make a book called April Showers, with a page for every day of the month, with photos for the days I was rained on, and blank pages for the days it was dry… and it was this hilarious heatwave with no rain for the entire month!

That’s generally what happens when I have a specific mission in mind, and ever since I’ve borrowed Tim’s GoPro, with a great set of plans for putting it in puddles, the Harbour, rivers etc etc, I’ve been scuppered because when I’ve been out it’s been dry, unless I’m nowhere near water, or the battery’s dead etc etc.

But it’s rained a little bit recently, so I have 2 mini films.  The first is from art-walking with Shawn Sobers last week, the GoPro lodged in a crack in the Nova Scotia slipway and the second from today, with the camera attached to a telescopic painting-roller pole, via Tim’s handlebar mount, while sat underneath the slope to the closed jetty opposite the SS Great Britain.

In the first, it stopped raining almost as soon as I got there – in the second I ran out of battery almost straight away, and again, the rain stopped pretty quickly.  I was experimenting with having the camera at different depths, which is why the point of view moves.

So I haven’t got the film of my dreams yet, but it was fun sitting on the edge of the Harbour and on jetties with Vik, wondering if it was going to rain or not, it’s always going to be fun trying to get some more.