I don’t know why, but the mud around the Entrance Lock has been covered in muck at the moment – maybe because there hasn’t been much heavy rain recently? It’s one of those things I laugh at myself for being frustrated about, and then suddenly see it in a new light, literally and figuratively. I love the patterns it makes, around the paths made by rivulets finding their way to the river.
Last week there was a rare run of gorgeous winter days: cold, crisp and clear, all amazing light, long shadows and beautiful reflections on the Avon.
Some photos from the Chocolate Path, when the light was especially pretty in between cloudbursts. Such a lovely walk. The photos are in order from Gaol Ferry Bridge down to the Avon viewpoint, and back again to Vauxhall Bridge.
The Cumberland Basin to Ashton Gate road system is this complicated tangle of roads passing above and below each other, with endlessly confusing ways over and through it for cars and pedestrians alike. It’s generally seen as a brutalist concrete nightmare, but back in the 1960s, when it was built, it was seen utopian and futuristic, full of exciting new ways to live in a city, with vibrant spaces and an urban park. These included a market place and piazza on the Northern edge, a service station, a new hill, playgrounds under the roads, and of course, the viewpoint up the River Avon to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, all designed by Sylvia Crowe.
Despite having no formal schooling after leaving school at the age of ten due to TB, Crowe was an important British twentieth century landscape architect, working on everything from vast Forestry Commission schemes, New Towns, power stations and reservoirs, down to private gardens.
These Bristol spaces must have been incredible to see at the time, with a giant fountain spraying up between the raised lanes of traffic, and a nautical-themed playground overlooking the Entrance Lock. The problem was that no one had predicted how fast car ownership would increase, turning what were vibrant spaces into discarded concrete no-man’s-lands.
Sylvia Crowe Cumberland Basin Bridges, Landscape Plan.
Coloured up by Wendy Tippett, with our Avon Stories walk marked up in red line.
Ref. Landscape Report, Cumberland Basin Bridges & Ashton Gate Junction, April 1964, University of Bristol Library.
Landscape Architect Wendy Tippett took me walking through the northern parts of the road scheme, and told me about how the spaces would have looked in the 1960s, including the design elements that are taken for granted these days, and why, ultimately, it failed.
You can join us on the podcast we recorded on the walk, with photos and lots of links to old photos and plans below.
Sylvia Crowe Cumberland Basin Bridges & Ashton Gate Junction, Aerial View.
Ref. Tippett, W., Unloved Landscapes Dissertation, 2014.
Wendy Tippett is the Landscape Director at Andrew Kenyon Architects in Bristol and Conservation Trustee of Avon Gardens Trust, and you can follow her on her twitter. I highly recommend her guided walks, they made me see familiar spaces with new eyes – if you’d like to arrange one for a group, or talk to her about Sylvia Crowe’s work in Bristol, you can contact her on wendy [at] andrewkenyonarchitects [dot] co [dot] uk.
Since we recorded this podcast, Bristol 24/7 has reported that there are plans to sell off and re-develop a lot of the site, so this is likely to change again in the future.
I retraced the walk Wendy took me on in December, and my photos (DSLR, 35mm and 120 film) are in this flickr album – click on the first photo and a slideshow should start.
I have so many photographic obsessions, and one of them is the mud on the Avon banks, especially around the blocked up lock at the entrance to the Cumberland Basin. The silt has banked up here in corrugations, with lines where water has flowed meandering through it. It’s fascinating in every kind of light, but my favourite moments are when the sun is low, making the water on the surface turn to silver. The ridges and lines look like landscapes – mountains and rivers and hills. And on windy days the light changes so fast, as clouds whip across the sky. I made a film of that in the summer, and I need to go back and try it again in winter light.
Ellen Southern is a vocal artist, whose Site Singing project includes visiting lesser-known heritage sites, and making vocal pieces responding to the spaces, alongside drawings, photos and writing.
I met Ellen when she was performing a piece under the Avon Bridge, as part of a walk, and I was delighted when she invited me to come and visit one of her sites, Over Bridge. This is a beautiful, abandoned bridge to nowhere on the River Severn in Gloucester, and we explored the space together, while she told me more about the bridge, and why she loves it.
Ellen also talked about using her voice in her art, and using her voice to explore spaces. I’m really grateful to her for sending me some of the pieces she recorded on our trip, that are included in the podcast.
While we were there, I took photos with my medium format and 35mm cameras, and my mobile phone, and you can see them in this Flickr album (click on the first photo to start the slideshow).
You can find out more about Ellen Southern on her website, and follow her on facebook and twitter. Her Site Singing project is documented on her blog, with writing, drawing, and of course, music, and there are also recordings on Bandcamp. There’s also an interview with her about the project on South Art Text.
There’s more information about Over Bridge on the English Heritage website.
You can download this podcast directly from the Avon Stories Soundcloud, and sign up for all the future podcasts via the Avon Stories RSS and subscribe on iTunes or Soundcloud to make sure you hear all the future stories. You can also follow the project on twitter and instagram, for regular photos of the rivers and water in Bristol.
I’ve got various collections of photos from walks I took this autumn, and never got around to blogging – exploring the Malago, and the Avon at St Anne’s and the Greenway. Full photosets under title links, and if you mouse over the top photo, it should turn into a slideshow.
I’ve walked along the Bedminster sections of the Malago, down through the parks, but for some reason I’ve never gone past Parson Street before. This was a babywalk with Cee and her son, and Vik, and I loved getting to see this area I’ve looked at on maps, and passed in the car. And it’s beautiful!
We walked through the parks from St John’s Lane, then down Hartcliffe Way, and then the sidestreets. We’d passed the river as a little stream, overgrown with plants, a treecreeper on a tree as we turned into the park.
When we talk about community development in Bristol, the neighbourhoods of Southville and Bedminster aren’t the first that come to mind, because they’re generally known for gentrification.
But behind the soaring house prices, there are still really diverse communities, and some pockets of deprivation – and some really interesting community development approaches.
Ben Barker has been at the heart of this work for over 25 years, involved in everything from projects that look tiny and have no budget, right through to things like the Business Improvement District that has helped the local high streets remain vibrant.
I always enjoy talking to Ben, so I wanted to find out more about his approach, especially to areas like social isolation, and projects impacting on elderly and disabled people, including making the area more accessible.
When we talked, we were referring to the Greater Bedminster Partnership, which has since been re-named Action Greater Bedminster!
Find out more about them on the Action Greater Bedminster! website. They’re still in the process of migrating to their new site, so some of the things we talked about aren’t up on the new one yet, but check back soon. You can also sign up to their newsletter there to find out the latest happenings in the community.
Links to specific projects and initiatives we talked about below: