Category Archives: Adventures

Bristol bucket list: the two towers, part 2

To many, the Wills Memorial Building IS Bristol University. Sitting at the top of Park Street, its tower dominates the area, and locals are always tripping over tourists desperately trying to snap the great building. In reality, unless you study Law or Earth Sciences, most students only visit this building a handful of times -for exams, careers/open unit fairs, and *gulp* graduation.

Lottie wasn’t pleased to find that a lamp post was taller than the Wills Building

A team from the university’s Estates Services has been running tours of the building for some time, and though it was high on my Bristol bucket list to join one of the tours, it took a long time to get round to it. Tours run on the first Saturday and Wednesday of each month, so when the first week of June came and went, I thought I’d missed my chance to visit before graduation. Thankfully, I spotted a tweet offering the chance to join a private tour, so on Saturday, Beth and I got up bright and early to go and visit the building we’ve walked past almost every day.

Our tour was conducted by Dave Skelhorne, who has worked at the university for years and knows the building and its history inside out. Dave ran us through a brief -but fascinating- history of the building and the university, before marching us off to various areas to spot grotesques, point out secret doors and head to the top.




Odd to think that the next time we're in this hall will be for graduation

Odd to think that the next time we’re in this hall will be for graduation

Despite our fears that the poor June drizzle would ensure that the tower would be covered in fog, the views from the top were outstanding. At 215 ft (68 metres), Wills is the taller of the two towers, and the views reflect this. It really is amazing what you can see from here -we managed to spot Park St (which looks flat from above), the Clifton Suspension Bridge hiding behind other buildings, and we could even see as far as Dower House (aka the big yellow house on the hill by the M32 leaving Bristol).

Park Street from Wills

Park Street from Wills

Cabot Tower from Wills Tower

People on Cabot Tower. We tried waving but they didn't see

People on Cabot Tower. We tried waving but they didn’t see

Clifton Suspension Bridge hidden in Clifton

Clifton Suspension Bridge hidden in Clifton

That tiny yellow dot in the centre of the horizon?...

That tiny yellow dot in the centre of the horizon?…

...It's Dower House on the M32

…It’s Dower House on the M32

Once we’d made sure that we’d got at least one photo from every viewing point on the top of the tower (as well as some of us posing), we descended the winding staircase and headed for the belfry to meet Great George. For those of you not familiar with George, he is the 9.5 tonne bell, who runs the funniest Twitter account in Bristol.

We were lucky enough to hear the great bell chime in 11 o’clock.


Great George in the houseThis tour was probably the best £3 I’ve spent while at Bristol. Not only are the guides nice, the views brilliant and the access unparalleled, but half the profits from the tours go towards Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal for Bristol’s Children’s Hospital -so far the tours have raised over £11,000 for the charity!

Although tours are only organised for the beginning of each month, it’s possible to arrange for group tours (like the one we crashed) so it’d be great for family reunions/society trips etc. Dave also mentioned that they are keen to take on another guide (preferably female) so if you live in Bristol, get in touch via the link below.

Tickets cost £4, or £3 for students over the age of 11, senior citizens and members of the university. Our tour lasted about an hour and a half. There’s quite a lot of stairs to climb on the tour, so this probably isn’t the best thing to do with grandparents or small children. If you really struggle with small spaces (like lifts or spiral staircases) and/or heights, you should also give the trip up to the top a miss (although I managed fine -I didn’t even get jelly legs at the top!).

For more info, head to the website here. You can also follow them on Twitter here (handy for finding out about last minute tours) and on Facebook here.

We noticed that quite a few naughty visitors to the tower had left their mark, including Mavis in 1948!

Tut tut Mavis

Tut tut, Mavis

Check out part 1 of the two towers trip here.


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Bristol bucket list: the two towers, part 1

The skyline of Bristol is dominated by a real mishmash of architectural styles. From the historic masts of the SS Great Britain, to the chimney-like spires of Clifton Cathedral, there’s really no such thing as a ‘typical’ Bristol building.

Having spent four years studying at Bristol University, my Bristol skyline has always been dominated by two impressive towers: Cabot Tower and the Wills Memorial Building. I put aside my general hatred of heights and headed up both towers to look down on the city.

Cabot Tower

Cabot Tower sits at the top of Brandon Hill Park, a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of Park St which is just a couple of minutes away. For many years, the tower was shut to the public due to the tower’s increasing state of disrepair. When I arrived in Bristol in 2009, it wasn’t even mentioned among students. A couple of years later, following a campaign by the Bristol Evening Post to ‘Save Our Tower’ and £420,000 refurbishment project, the tower reopened and now offers incredible views across the city for free!

Built between 1896 and 1898, the tower is a monument to the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland in Canada. While the inside of the tower is little more than a simple winding staircase, the exterior has been well restored and is now as stunning as the views from the tower’s viewing balconies.

There are two viewing stages. The idea of getting up to the first one alone made my tummy do little flips, but it was absolutely fine. Instead of focusing on the fact that you are over 100ft above the ground, you become absorbed in trying to spot other Bristol landmarks. The balconies are also well enclosed so the likelihood of you falling off in some Saruman-style death scene is quite unlikely.

And then there are the views…

Cabot tower

View from Cabot Tower

You can just make out the masts of the SS Great Britain

Little ant people on the Triangle

Little ant people on the Triangle

The park below

The park below

If you’ve got half an hour to spare in Bristol, head up to Brandon Hill Park for a really special view of the city. The tower is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day (and who wants to be climbing a tower then anyway?!), and is open from 8.30 til dusk. You can find more info here.

Check back for part two and the views from the Wills Memorial Building.

View of Wills Mem from Cabot Tower

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Bristol bucket list: SS Great Britain

When I was 17 and choosing which universities to apply for, location was a major factor. Having grown up in London, the thought of going to a small academic backwater or remote concrete campus filled me with dread. Bristol, it seemed, had everything. Small enough to walk (almost) everywhere, but big enough to never be bored, it has been the perfect home for the last four years. But now, faced with graduation and an uncertain future ahead, I will soon be moving back to London to live with my family, and will be leaving my beloved Bristol behind.

When I was trapped in my house over Easter madly typing up my dissertation, I swore to myself that I would try and make the most of my final term at Bristol. For some people, this means trying to get drunk in clubs on the Triangle, but for me it meant enjoying the other things the city had to offer, revisiting favourite haunts and discovering new places, especially those I’d always meant to check out but had never got round to.

The SS Great Britain was one such place that I’d always planned to visit eventually. A few weeks ago, my friend Jon got in touch to say he had a spare ticket to visit the boat as part of the Museums at Night festival and so off we went to visit Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous ship.

IMG_0135I’d heard great things about the SS Great Britain -most notably that my brother, who ‘hates’ history, actually enjoyed his visit with my dad – and she didn’t fail to impress.

We started off underneath the boat. Although she looks like she is fully submerged in water, the bottom of the boat is in fact dry, and a glass platform, covered in a few inches of water, gives the illusion of the boat floating. Walking beneath the water to look at the ship’s propeller was bizarre and brilliant.


The huge propeller


Underwater but dry

The ship’s history is long and complex and to understand it best, it is well worth paying the (somewhat hefty) entrance fee to the ship and its adjoining museum. The Great Britain was launched in 1843, and for a long time was the biggest passenger ship in the world. She was also used as a quarantine ship and warehouse before being rescued and returned to Bristol.

Today the ship is a lively museum, telling the story of not just the ship, but of the people who built and used her. The adjoining museum building is organised as a timeline, taking you through what happened from the ship being built right up to her being rescued from the Falkland Islands and returned to her home in Bristol. On board, you can wander through the various rooms and cabins on the ship. Walking through these rooms, you are transported back to a different time and place, thanks to both the careful dressing of each area, and the smells permeating through the ship. This multi-sensorial approach was great for helping us forget that we were in a museum, although it wasn’t exactly pleasant. The room that was used for storing fish smelt like a fishmongers in hot weather, while we had to run straight out of the hull where the animals were kept due to the overwhelming pong of manure.





In the dining room, a lady played old time tunes on the piano, while another trio of musicians played among the cramped cabins in the first class area. We poked our heads into the tiny rooms, which got smaller and more uncomfortable the further down into the boat we went, and visited the ship’s barber, doctor and other miscellaneous characters.

When we finally emerged onto the top deck, the sun was beginning to set. The flags that cover the riggings fluttered in the evening breeze and we watched steampunks wander around, occasionally getting stopped for photos.





Because we visited as part of Museum’s at Night, our tickets only cost us £1 each (a complete bargain!) Regular tickets cost £12.95 for adults (or £10.95 for students), and they allow you to return as many times as you like within the space of a year. I left wishing I hadn’t left it so late to visit, as I would have liked to go back again in a few months’ time.

More info here

Have you visited the SS Great Britain? What did you think? Where else should I add to my bucket list?


Filed under Adventures, Archaeology, History, Outings

Denial Cakes

Denial cakesNow that the Christmas decorations have come down and the last of the leftovers have finally been consumed, the true gloominess of January presents itself. Dark, cold and probably very, very wet,  the month is bad enough before you resolve to try and become a better person by joining a gym and giving up alcohol for a few weeks. Why do we do this to ourselves every year? I’ve yet to meet someone who has claimed their life changed because they went out and bought a new pair of trainers on the 1st of January, or became ‘more approachable’ by writing it down in their diary.

It is silly to inflict this torture on ourselves in what is already one of the worst months of the year. Instead, I suggest moving the ‘new year, new you‘ resolutions to February. By the second month of the year, your body will no longer expect you to start drinking at breakfast time and have pudding and cheese after every meal, you will have got used to putting 2013 as the date (even if you haven’t quite got over how ugly that number sounds) and, most importantly, February is only 28 days long. This makes any goals you’ve set yourself seem far more achievable, and by postponing these aims by a month, you’ll feel super-smug as you sip green tea and snack on carrot sticks while everyone around you gave up 2 weeks ago.

So sod January, I’m in denial.

Which leads me to the cakes. I am not, by any means, an accomplished baker. Last summer I decided it would be nice to make cookies to take into the office on the last day of my internship. Sadly, I had no idea what I was doing and the resulting cookies were hard and bitter. Still, I took them in for my colleagues, and most of them sampled them. Only the boss turned down the chance to try my  (I quote) ‘rock cakes’, but it turned out he’d gone and bought Prosecco and a Victoria sponge for us all instead which was much better.

What I lack in baking skills, I make up for in eating ability. There is a long-running joke in my family about my devotion to brandy butter. Every year the brandy butter comes out with the Christmas pudding and every year I have to wait until everyone else has helped themselves to brandy butter because they all know that, if I had it my way, I would eat the entire bowl without coming up for air. So when I came across a recipe for brandy butter cupcakes, I knew I was onto a winner. I waited until Twelfth Night to make them, to have a last blow-out of Christmassy food. Then I realised we were out of brandy. Instead of giving up on baking and going to watch The Holiday for the 450th time, I decided to make rum fairy cakes instead. With ‘cheery’ rum buttercream icing.
It is unlikely that you’ll want to give these a go, but if the photos of my creation (doctored on Instagram to make them look slightly more appetising) inspire you, here is the recipe.

You will need:

(For the cakes)

  • 75g margarine 
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp dark rum

(For the icing)

  • 50-75g of softened butter (I started with 50g but ended up adding more)
  • 100g icing sugar
  • Dark rum (to taste)
  • Vanilla extract (to taste)
  • Food colouring
  • Silver sugar balls

To make denial cakes:

  1. Preheat fan oven to 160 C
  2. Line fairycake tin with 12 paper cases
  3. Place sugar and butter in bowl and cream together with electric whisk
  4. Add the eggs and whisk
  5. Sieve the flour into the bowl and continue to whisk
  6. Still whisking, add the vanilla essence and rum
  7. Spoon mixture into cases
  8. Place cakes in oven and leave to cook for 10-15mins

To make the icing:

  1. Make sure you’re butter is really really soft before you start!!! I didn’t do this so for a long time my butter’cream’ looked more like crumble mixture
  2. Cut up the butter into small chunks, then place in a bowl and whisk
  3. Add the icing sugar and continue to whisk, turning the bowl in your hand as you do so
  4. Still whisking, add the vanilla extract and rum to taste (I put in a tsp of vanilla and a good slosh of rum)
  5. If desired, add food colouring. After raiding the kitchen cupboard, I found a bottle of red food colouring and a bottle of blue colouring. I thought that combining the two might make a nice festive purple, but in fact it resulted in weird palma violet shade. I then added a load more blue colouring so the icing ended up looking a bit like a Muppet had vomited on the cakes.
  6. Spoon the icing onto the cakes. Top with silver sugar ball (remember when eating to swallow this whole to avoid cracking your teeth)
  7. Eat
Purple denial cake

The weird violet coloured icing. And the muppet coloured ones in the background.

Although the cakes didn’t really rise all that well, and the icing didn’t look that appetising, they actually tasted ok. I suppose you can’t go too far wrong where sugar, rum and vanilla is concerned.

I’ll now spend the rest of the week stuffing my face with these whilst pinning nice spring pictures to Pinterest to trick myself into thinking winter is already over.

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Travelling through time in the Chilterns

The British are renowned for their odd collections of things; lead soldiers, novelty tea pots, Royal Wedding paraphernalia and the like, which sit in sheds and spare rooms across the nation, lovingly dusted by their eccentric owners. The Chiltern Open Air Museum in Buckinghamshire is a collection on a monumental scale. Founded in 1976, it was set up to rescue historic buildings at risk of demolition or decay. Set in a 45 acre site consisting of park land, meadows and woodland are more than 30 old buildings, ranging from a reconstructed Iron Age round house to a 1940s prefab. Each one has its own unique history, but represents a way of life that has died out.

Inside my cottage

Unlike museums where exhibits sit behind panels of glass, here you are invited to walk around the buildings, travelling back hundreds of years as you step over the threshold. Eager volunteers are keen to share  their extensive knowledge with you, but the ones we encountered were not the kind of bores that you might associate with museum guides. Here, you are allowed to see a 19th century threshing machine up close, try on a milkmaid’s yoke and have a go at making your own beeswax candle, safe in the knowledge that you can go home to 21st century living with the luxuries of sprung mattresses, motorised vehicles and Freeview.

We visited on a beautiful spring day, when the sun was shining, the blossom was blooming and the first lambs of the season were making an appearance. I could have stayed for hours, or possibly even forever (I had eyed up a rather nice cottage on the village green with outdoor loos and sheep in the garden), but unfortunately the museum closes as night, and the unexpected heat had made us all desire a pint in a pub garden. In fact, a good old country pub was really the only thing missing from this rural idyll.


The museum is open from April til October, from 10am-5pm (although the last admission is 3.30pm, and you’ll probably want a bit longer than 90 minutes to wander round). The museum plays host to a number of events and courses throughout the season, from medieval pageants to heavy horse shows. According to the leaflet that came with our tickets, the museum needs to take at least £1000 a day to stay open, so make sure you say yes to Gift Aid when buying your tickets!

I love tin churches, and this one from Henton in Oxfordshire was probably my favourite building at the museum

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