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:

Continue reading “Storm damage to the Castle Park fig tree”

Avon Stories podcast #1: Know Your Place, with Pete Insole

One of the things I’ll be doing through my Avon Stories project is to interview as many people as I can, about all kinds of different aspects of the River Avon in Bristol, from historians, to experts on different places along the river; to artists making work based on or inspired by it, to people who work on and around the river, whether directly, or just because that’s where they’re based.

And where better to start, than with Pete Insole, who runs the Know Your Place website for Bristol City Council?

Pete is a Historic Environments Officer, and Know Your Place is an incredible repository of information about the city.  It has maps dating back to the early eighteenth century, that you can overlay on top of each other, and on top of present-day maps and aerial photography, to get a feeling of how it has changed, but that’s just the beginning.  You can access layers of paintings, drawings, photographs and information from Bristol’s museums, archives and the Council’s departments, and see exactly where those photos are taken.  Or maybe you want to see where bombs hit the City in World World Two, or hear stories form Bristolians about how different parts of the city have changed.  And finally, on the Community Layer, anyone can add their own photos to the map, whether of the past or the present, enabling people to add their own stories to the City’s records.

Pete told me all about how and why Know Your Place was developed, how it has expanded across the whole of South West England, and how it helps us understand some of the key aspects of the city’s history, including, of course, the River Avon.

Listen here, or download it from Soundcloud, and you can sign up to the Avon Stories RSS and subscribe on iTunes, to make sure you hear all the future stories.

If you want to explore Bristol through Know Your Place, start here.  And if you want to see what else it contains for the wider West of England, the Know Your Place West website is here, with all sorts of excellent tutorials that will help everyone.  There’s also the Know Your Place West twitter to follow for regular information, tips and new updates to the website.

Continue reading “Avon Stories podcast #1: Know Your Place, with Pete Insole”