In which there are reasons why I like Bristol


This month marks five years since I moved to Bristol, which floors me somewhat as I think, half a decade, seriously?  Where the hell has that time gone?

I grew up in Somerset in a little village called Milverton, which is between the small town of Wellington and the slightly-larger-but-not-really-that-much-more town of Taunton.  Bristol was this exotic place that we would visit for special day trips – the lyrics to Chris Moyles’ Somerset Boy are not that far removed from reality.

When I started seeing S, I lived in Cardiff and he had been in Bristol for four years, so we had an LDR for a year where I would hop on the train on a Friday night and travel the 40km to Bristol for a West Country weekend.  (This was before we had an even longer LDR where I moved 3,200km away and he had to hop on a plane to see me, but at least there was good coffee at the end of it.)  It was great to rediscover Bristol as an adult and find it to be just as good as I remembered – and to do it this time accompanied by an abundance of cider – so when I moved back to the UK after my spell in Canada, I was happy to become a permanent Bristol resident.  We rented a flat in the Clifton area of the city for fifteen months, before moving across the river down south to Knowle when we bought our house.

During the five years I’ve been here, I’ve fallen completely in love with Bristol.  I felt comfortable straight away, partly because I’m from the West Country so it felt like coming home, but mostly because the city is so welcoming and immediately provides you with a raft of things to do, places to visit and people to hang out with.

Bristol is a city of contrasts.  Where else can you be eating curried goat and rice & peas at the St Paul’s Carnival, accompanied by a can of Red Stripe and the boom of fifty improvised sound systems, and then five hours later be listening to live opera in the grounds of Clifton College amongst dinner jacketed men and cocktail dressed ladies?

You can start your Saturday by having brunch in a café overlooking the water.

Ten minutes after you finish you can be right in the middle of the shopping centre.   Once you’ve had your fill of retail therapy, a short walk brings you to Clifton, with its village green and the mighty suspension bridge.

Go over the bridge and you find yourself in Ashton Court, 850 acres of rolling greens and wooded areas.  Keep going and you’re suddenly in North Somerset, deep in the forest with only a few houses dotted around.   Walk back into the city centre – which won’t take nearly as long as you think it might – through the old tobacco factories and industrial buildings of Southville/Bedminster.  Watch some top-class comedy at the Hen and Chickens pub, followed by a dinner of their amazing pizzas and mussel pots, before going on for late night drinks in the city’s speakeasy bar.

Got a yearning to be by the water?  The harbour is right in the city centre.  Need some green open spaces?  Visit the Downs, Ashton Court, the Northern Slopes, Kingsweston House Gardens.  Want to coo over some baby chicks or piglets?  There are three city farms to choose from – or just head out into the surrounding countryside to the abundance of working farms.  Want some sea air, a paddle and candy floss?  Portishead and Clevedon are only a short train or car ride away.  And if you really want to get away from it all you can be surfing in Devon in two hours.

Bristol has bred a ton of famous artists and musicians – Tricky, Portishead, Banksy…

Banksy exhibition in Bristol, Summer 2009

Banksy Exhibition in Bristol, Summer 2009

… Massive Attack, Bill Bailey, to name only a few.  It consistently punches above its weight in terms of the cultural offer – world class museums, concert halls, theatres, independent cinemas, art galleries and circus schools abound.  Morph was born in Bristol, and Wallace & Gromit now live here.

The summer is one long stream of events, most of which are free – the  Harbourside Festival, Balloon Fiesta…

… the Organic Food Fair, the Bristol Festival, the Square Sessions, Bristol Brouhaha, the Bike Fest.   The rest of the year is stuffed with music festivals, neighbourhood arts trails, public arts projects – last year there were twenty pianos scattered around the city which anyone could play.

You’re also completely spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out.  From falafel stands in the docks to Michelin starred restaurants, there is such a delicious range of food on offer that it makes deciding where to eat out extremely hard.  We have a list on the fridge of must-visit restaurants that never seems to get any shorter as we’re always adding new ones.  Recent favourites are the Lido, Riverstation and Cafe Maitreya.

When we started planning our wedding, S and I both knew that we wanted to hold it in Bristol.  We live here, it’s a great place, we want to show it off.   And there are no shortages of places to get married; fancy a boat or two, a castle, stately homes, a planetarium?  Bristol’s got them all.  The place we eventually picked combines the convenience of a city centre location with tranquillity and privacy, an ideal wedding venue.

It’s not perfect, don’t get me wrong.  There are some truly grotty parts where litter flourishes; crime rates are high in certain areas; the education system is not brilliant.  A lot of the medieval buildings were destroyed in the Blitz and town planners had a ball in the 60s and 70s, resulting in some awful grey monstrosities.  The M32 is a concrete scar slashed across the heart of the city, dividing communities and creating a permanent barrier.  The Broadwalk shopping centre is one of the most depressing places ever constructed.

I still love it.  When I meander home along the harbour, and watch the sunshine sparkling on the water and reflecting the canal boats.

When I walk across the suspension bridge and look out across the city, a green sweep on one side, industrial buildings on the other.

When I sit outside the Arnolfini on a summer’s day, drinking cider and people-watching.  When a bus driver says “cheers me lover” in a rich Bristolian accent.

We may move away for a bit, but I think we will always come back here.  And if in a few years’ time we decide we’ve had enough of city living and pavements everywhere, just a ten minute drive from our current house takes us right into the countryside with a wide choice of villages to settle in.  We could have our rural idyll – but still keep city living on our doorstep for an injection of coffee shops, and theatres, and buzz.

So have I sold it to you yet?  Come on down.  Bring yer daps.  I’ll buy you a half of Exhibition and give you a guided tour.  It’s gert lush.


3 responses »

  1. I used to live in brissol, just for a short while, in 2000!
    But I loved it and I do kind of sometimes wish I hadn’t left as it made me happy to be so close to the sea.

    Your post just made me happy and reminisce.


  2. Love, love, LOVED this post. The photos were great and it kicked up a recently discovered streak of “homesickness” for the place. Even though I lived there less than a year, I still think of it as my “home” in England. D and I keep kicking around the idea of where we move next, and this makes a great case for Bristol.

    Interestingly, Cardiff is also on the list, since D went to Uni there and we both really like that city too.

    But the southern hemisphere is still whistling it’s Kiwi siren song…

  3. I’m glad this brought back happy memories for people! Move back, then we can all be West Country bloggers. And Wales does resemble NZ a bit so you could have the best of both worlds…

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