Some of my summer obsessions: fish, water lillies, jetties and rope

This summer I had some particular obsessions walking around the Floating Harbour.

Harbour fish

Photos in a slideshow, or in a flickr album and some little films

Watching the fish

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Storm damage to the Castle Park fig tree

Tonight I’m sitting on my sofa listening to the wind howl and rain strafe my window, and it’s making me remember the storm on 31st July, and what it did to the Castle Park fig tree.

There are a number of fig trees along the Avon, the Floating Harbour and even along the River Malago as they run through the middle of Bristol, brought into the city through trade from the Mediterranean, and they’re all thought to be seeded by accident, whether from fruit dropped off boats, or seeds brought in as ballast that floated down the river, catching hold in cracks in the harbour walls.

There are at least two fig trees in Castle Park, and the huge one, opposite the old brewery, is one of my very favourite trees in the city.  It’s thought to be the oldest of the figs, maybe helped to grow from the hot water that was let out of the brewery into the Harbour.  It’s visible in historic photos going right back to the beginning of the twentieth century, over 100 years ago – here are a couple of photos from Know Your Place, showing the fig trees in the walls in 1905, in the  1920s and in 1930 – and a very different image, after the neighbourhood that used to stand in the Park that was destroyed in the World War II bombing, and left the site devastated in 1951.

I love it in every season, and it’s something I look at every time I walk through the park.  I’ll always try to pinch the leaves between my fingers to get that gorgeous aroma.  Figs take two years to ripen, and it’s not yet warm enough for these ones to last through the winter to get fully ripe (yet), but I’ve used the leaves to infuse in custard to make deliciously figgy ice cream.

So when I heard that half of it had been pulled out of the wall by that July storm, I was devastated.  On 2nd August, Vik and I went to see what had become of it.  I took some photos of what we saw – mouse/swipe over the first picture for a slideshow, or click through to the album.

Harbour Master, fig tree

For a comparison, check out the size of what it looked like back in April, before the leaves came out:

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The old lock gates at Bathurst Basin

I try to walk home from work in different ways and see different things, and I’ve been especially interested in the former lock gates that used to lead from the Avon to Bathurst Basin, as the entrance from medium-sized boats into the Floating Harbour.

These were blocked up during the Second World War, because the Nazis were already bombing Bristol, trying to destroy the Harbour, and if the narrow divides were breached, it would cause huge flooding, as well as damage the boats that were carrying food into and around the UK from across the Atlantic.  I’m always surprised that the gates were just left – I understand it in the War, but after?

The former lock from the Avon into Bathurst Basin

The former lock from the Avon into Bathurst Basin

The former lock from the Avon into Bathurst Basin

Find out more about the different entrances between the Harbour and the Avon in this podcast with Ray Gallop of the Friends of the Avon New Cut, last year.

Kayaking on the Floating Harbour

Back on 8th June, Vik and I went kayaking on the Floating Harbour.  Ever since we moved to Bristol I’ve wanted to canoe or kayak, but it’s been endlessly frustrating failing over and over again, because I’d basically need to buy my own boat and space to leave it – or so I thought!  Then I read about Go Canoeing Week, and one of the options was a canoe trip around the Harbour with All Aboard watersports, so we booked it!

The initial tour didn’t happen, but we re-booked, and it felt luxurious, just Vik and me having a bespoke session.  We have different levels of expertise, because a million years ago I was an outdoor activity instructor, teaching canoeing and kayaking (among other things) in the Lake District, while Vik has been in a kayak once.  We were in little short surf-style kayaks, which are super-maneuverable, but were a bit frustrating for Vik as a practically first-timer, and we had a bit of teaching, and then went for a trip.  My photos are here:

Seagulls fighting over a chicken leg

and check out Vik’s photos too:

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An “ordinary” walk around the Harbour

Last Friday Vik and I met after work, did a bit of shopping on Park Street, and then walked home on our usual route from the top of the Triangle – down Jacobs Wells Road, along the Floating Harbour, through Underfall Yard and along the south side of the Harbour, over Vauxhall Bridge and home.  I must have taken parts of this walk thousands of times (though if I had the choice I’d take the Chocolate Path, as I did commuting for years, but now it’s been closed by Bristol City Council and left to fall into the river…) and I am always in awe that this is one of my standard routes around the city.

It had rained for most of the day, and the light was spectacular, with more rain clouds overhead, with sunshine making clouds glow against the greys, if you looked in the right direction.

I have some photos in this flickr album – hopefully you can also make it work as a slideshow here…

Avon reflections

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Things to do in Bristol this week – walking and canoeing

Lots of water-related activities to do over the next few weeks in Bristol –  I know it’s a bit last minute, but I’m a bit over excited about them!

2018 National Go Canoeing Week, is 26th May-3rd June, with canoe and kayak activities all over the country.  If you know me in real life, you’ve probably heard me moaning about not being able to find a way to paddle around the Harbour, so I was extra excited to see, via morseykayak, that there are canoe trips this week.

We’re going on the evening canoe tour of Bristol on 30th May, run by All Aboard watersports, who are based between Underfall Yard and the Cottage Pub – and there’s 20% off the usual prices for the three special events they’re running this week.  Click through and find out more (and look out for 500 waterproof camera pictures!).  And if you’re not in Bristol, and want to find events in your area, there’s a lot more information on the British Canoeing website.

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Throughout May it’s been Bristol Walk Fest, with all kinds of interesting walks, and while the month is coming to an end, there are still a lot of fun walks to do – if I wasn’t pre-booked, I would definitely go on Monday’s walk exploring the life and times of maritime explorer John Cabot, the Avonmouth Story Walk and the ones that include the River Trym, Exploring Badock’s Wood and Tuesday evening’s walk around Westbury.

The full programme is here – definitely click the “View All Events” link at the bottom of each day, as often the best ones (and evening ones) lurk there!  And follow the @briswalkfest18 twitter and #BristolWalkFest hashtag, to see what other people are enjoying.

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A Forgotten Landscape is a cultural heritage project to conserve and enhance the Lower Severn Vale Levels area, with a lot of community engagement, and they have a really great website and twitter.  They’re currently running the Severnside Walking Festival, with events until 17th June, including walks, workshops and art projects.

I especially like the look of the two workshops creating fire sculptures, which will be burned on Severn Beach, on 8th and 9th June.  Wish I was free, they look like incredible experiences.  But all their events look so fascinating, and they’re also running the Severn Festival at Severn Beach (*sometimes* a really lovely train ride from Bristol…) on 14th July.   I definitely recommend spending some time on the AFL website, though, it’s full of intriguing projects, lovely images and so much to think about.

Silt clouds in the Avon

Yesterday Vik and I were on a walk, and it wasn’t going so well – the walk leaders didn’t have a map, just instructions, and didn’t know where they were going, and that makes me so stressed. So when we got to the Cumberland Basin, we peeled off, and went to look at the river instead.

After the long, long winter, May has been pretty much perfect, and yesterday was a beautiful day.  The sun was low in the sky, and the tide was very high, very still.  We stood on the very end of the Cumberland Basin, looking at the bridge, and then down at the water directly below us.  The first Entrance Lock gates had been opened recently, and clouds of silt were flowing into the river, at first slowly, and then when the second lock gate was opened too, very fast.

It’s one of my very favourite things, watching the clouds of silt under the water – the way they move, like eruptions, or something blossoming.   It’s magical to me, and I always hope I’ll see it.  Of course I wish I’d had my DSLR and tripod with me, as filming on my mobile has limitations, but still, I took nearly 50 snippets of film on my phone.  I’m not posting all of them here, but check out how gorgeous it was.  The light was changing, the water pressures kept changing too, and I was hypnotised.  We spent about an hour and a half there, and then walked home, with everything looking beautiful.  I also took a whole load of photos on my film camera (and UPDATE!  they’re here).

The sounds to imagine are a base rumble of traffic from the Portway ahead to the right, and behind on the Plimsoll swingbridge; the piercing blackbird song coming from across the river ahead of us, other birdsong layered up; and the sound of the water flowing, with gloops as eruptions of silt hit the surface.  The smell was of river-water on a hot day, so evocative and refreshing.  Spring breeze on my skin and in my hair, the stone of the Harbour edge warm in the sun, and gently-rough on my hands and where I sat.  The water was so high, it was only a metre and a half below us, and I was having fantasies of jumping in.

At first, it was relatively slow

Looking out across the river, the surface tensions were picked up by the light, but it was just too bright for my phone

Continue reading “Silt clouds in the Avon”