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