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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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.

 

Filming (and failing to photograph) fish in the Harbour

I always love the fish in the Harbour – from spotting big fish, to the shoals of tiny fish-lets that are in the shallowest parts of the Harbour on the sunny days, flashing silver as they dart in shoals.  I took this photo, which was a fantastic failure, but when I borrowed my friend Tim’s GoPro, one of my goals was to get some films.

This was a beautiful, mellow, sunny day.  I’d met my friend Matt Gibson for coffee at the Underfall Yard, and our walk lasted about 2 minutes before we stopped by the western jetty and slipway by the Nova Scotia.

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Avon Stories #7: Weird Bristol, Harbour murders and ghost stories

In this week’s podcast, I sat by the river with Charlie Revelle-Smith, author of Bristol-based murder mysteries, as he told me about some of the famous historical murders around the Bristol Harbour, and what they reveal about the city, as well as some of the ghost stories.

He also told me about his Weird Bristol twitter, which shares fantastic factoids about the city.  Some that we talked about included:

Charlie has also written some walking tours for Visit Bristol – Grave Encounters, his guide to cemeteries in the city, and his Dark Bristol city centre walking tour for Hallowe’en.

You can find out more about Charlie’s books on his website, and on his Amazon Author page.

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You can download this podcast directly from the Avon Stories Soundcloud, and sign up to the Avon Stories RSS and subscribe on iTunes, to make sure you hear all the future stories.  Make sure you’re also following on twitter and instagram, for regular photos of the river.

Avon Stories #6 – RB Boatbuilding and the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters

This one’s a shorter podcast than usual, just 9 minutes long.  It’s an interview with John Raymond-Barker, who runs RB Boatbuilding in Underfall Yard at the end of the Floating Harbour.   He’s one of the last links to Bristol’s long tradition of boat building, and he specialises in making Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters, a type of boat that evolved in Bristol and Cardiff, to deal with the unique and treacherous conditions of the Bristol Channel, while racing to get as much lucrative piloting business as possible.

John told me more about the boats, and his work, and I hope you enjoy it.  If you want to know more about RB Boatbuilding, visit his website, which includes a page about the Pilot Cutters – and there’s lots of information about the Underfall Yard, where he’s based.

I got to scramble around a Pilot Cutter while it’s being built, and you can see those photos here (click on the picture to access the slideshow)

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