Our final day in Bristol, but still plenty of time for more sightseeing, so after checking out of our hotel and leaving our luggage to collect later in the day we once again caught the Bristol Ferry Boats 10.00 a.m. service. Unlike the previous day, when we disembarked at SS Great Britain, this time we remained on board for its entire 35 minute journey to The Pump House landing stage in the Hotwells district.
As it was fine, we were able to sit out on deck and enjoy the ever changing waterfront scenery as we slowly made our way along the harbour. Our reason for taking the boat to Hotwells was so that we could visit another of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great masterpieces, the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
It took us about 15 minutes to reach the bridge from the waterfront. It’s quite a steep climb up some narrow streets through the prosperous village of Clifton, with the bridge becoming visible as we approached.
In 1754 a wine merchant left £1,000 in his will to build a bridge across the Avon Gorge, but it was 70 years later when Brunel began working on the project. The bridge finally opened in 1864, five years after Brunel’s death.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge links Clifton in Bristol to Leigh Woods in North Somerset and crosses the Avon Gorge which was formed during the ice age. This spectacular setting is a popular beauty spot and many visitors come for a stroll, not only to view Brunel’s feat of engineering but also to admire the dramatic views looking down onto the gorge below. Avon Gorge is home to many rare plants and wildlife and is a designated site of special scientific interest (SSSI), one of the country’s best wildlife and geological sites.
Crossing the bridge on foot or by bicycle is free but there is a £1 charge for motorists. As we walked across the bridge we stopped repeatedly to take photos, the views seemingly to improve the further we walked. The river was very low when we visited but as the Avon is a tidal river it rises and falls by 13 metres, with high tides twice a day.
Reaching the Leigh Woods (toll booth) side there is an informative visitor centre which is worth a visit. In here we found an exhibition about the history of the bridge and the people who worked on it. Returning back across the bridge to the Bristol side, we followed a path uphill to the Clifton Observatory. This former corn mill is now used as an observatory and features a camera obscura.
We then retraced our steps downhill back to the ferry landing stage and with good timing only had to wait a few minutes until one of the small blue and yellow boats arrived, taking us back into the centre of town.
After a quick coffee stop, we were ready to visit our final museum of the weekend at M Shed, which is located on Prince’s Wharf beside the harbour. The museum is housed in a dockside transit shed that was formerly occupied by the Bristol Industrial Museum and is free to visit.
The museum is divided into four sections with the first gallery focusing on Bristol Life. This explores ways in which people experienced local life over the centuries.
We then continued on to the Bristol People Gallery which focuses on the ways that people have shaped the city and their experiences. It highlights how Bristol has transformed over time and showcases the discoveries that have been made in and around the city.
Upstairs in the Bristol Places Gallery we explored the activities past and present that made Bristol what it is. We learnt about the city’s trading past and its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.
On the top floor there is a large viewing terrace with far reaching views over the city and of the museum’s outdoor working exhibits including cranes, trains and boats which are operational on selected dates. Overall, we found the museum to be very informative with some interesting exhibits detailing Bristol’s industrial heritage.
On leaving, we came across a vibrant area located just behind the museum known as Wapping Wharf. This lies between the main harbour and the New Cut, an artificial waterway completed in 1809 to divert the river Avon. Here we found an eclectic mix of small, independent shops, bars and cafes some of which are housed in converted shipping containers with glass frontages and terraces.
There was plenty of time for us to enjoy a final meal in the city before returning to Temple Meads station for our rail journey home. As you can tell from this series of four posts, there is much of interest to see and do in both Bristol and Bath. So much in fact that there’s still lots more we want to experience, so hopefully it won’t be too long before we return there.
If you have enjoyed reading this post, you may also be interested in reading about our visit to the Brooklyn Bridge.