Category Archives: Outings

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.


Leave a comment

Filed under Adventures, History, Outings

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

An afternoon at Shaw’s Corner

When the playwright George Bernard Shaw was looking for somewhere to live in the early 20th century, the story goes that he and his wife stumbled across the grave stone of a 70 year old woman in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Ayot St Lawrence. The woman’s epitaph read ‘Her time was short’. The Shaws were impressed that 70 years was a short period of time here, and decided to settle in the area.  Whether this tale is true or not, Shaw lived in the hamlet until the grand old age of 94, so perhaps there was something in the water after all.

Today Shaw’s Corner, the house where the couple lived for over 40 years, is owned by the National Trust. In fact, the house opened to visitors just six months after Shaw’s death in November 1950. This means that today the house looks much the same as it did when the Shaws lived there, from the papers in GBS’s office, to the lino flooring on the servants’ staircase. Shaw’s socialist leanings are evident throughout the house, especially on the family mantelpiece where pictures of Lenin, Stalin and Gandhi are proudly on display. Also littered through the house is evidence of the many influential people that Shaw befriended, especially William Morris and T.E. Lawrence.
I found this  a refreshing change from the type of properties the National Trust is usually known for -imposing aristocratic buildings which to me seem fairly irrelevant and, honestly, a bit boring.

The house is surrounded by beautiful extensive gardens, which Shaw himself tended to until his death, which was brought about by a fall whilst pruning a tree. The Shaw’s were vegetarians and you can still wander around their orchards and vegetable patches. Even in the middle of the April showers which were raining down on my visit, the grounds were still a delight to walk around.

At the bottom of the garden is George Bernard Shaw’s writing shed, where he would hide away from visitors to work on his plays, and presumably take shelter from bad weather on his perambulations around the garden. The green pole to the left hand side of the shed was built in order to swivel the shed to follow sunlight throughout the day. Inside the tiny hut is a small writing desk with a type writer and a telephone, as well as a little bed which one imagines GBS would have used to nap on in the afternoon.

The house is about an hour’s drive from London and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (although open on Bank Holidays). As it is a fairly modest house, there is no café but there is a second hand book stall with ice creams and soft drinks for sale, and you can also buy 1950s variations of plants found in the garden if that floats your boat. For further info about visiting the house, and upcoming productions of Shaw’s plays there, visit the National Trust’s website.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Outings

High Kingsdown Co Op: The Inconvenient Truth

Epigrump is a fortnightly column in Epigram, where writers moan about what has got on their nerves recently. I wrote about the farcical nature of our local convenience store.

HIGH KINGSDOWN SWRG (Clarence Place, High Kingsdown, Bristol  BS2 8DD) Jun11

Cast your minds back to 2004 when chip and pin was introduced to the nation as a safer, faster way to shop on plastic. Over the past eight years, this system has revolutionised our shopping experience, meaning that now fraudsters only need memorise four digits instead of a person’s entire cursive style in order to gain access to the fortunes of others. It has also led to a rise in the number of automated machines, meaning that we no longer have to deal with lowly cashiers and car park attendants. Or so I thought.

Last weekend, an eerie quietness not seen since the Dark Ages fell on the High Kingsdown estate as whispers spread that the card machines in the Co Op convenience store on St Michael’s Hill were broken. Regulars to this shop will be aware of the ongoing drama with payment methods. For those who are less familiar with it, let me take you through the average person’s trip to the Kingsdown Co Op. It starts with a hunger pang. The kind of hunger pang so painful, you know you won’t be able to make it to Sainsbury’s before you’ve started gnawing on furniture. All you need  is a little bit of bacon or some milk to make porridge. ‘No problem’, you think, ‘I’ll just pop to the Co Op’ which is all very well and good until you realise that your rumbling stomach has not synchronised calendars with Co Op’s opening hours. Long-term residents in these parts know that if you haven’t got milk in the fridge on Saturday night, there will be a long wait until the Co Op’s automatic doors finally open at noon the next day, only for you to find that they haven’t yet had their milk delivery. After realising that an overpriced pint of skimmed milk is better than nothing, you traipse around the store, picking up whatever bizarre items happen to be reduced that day (ice cream syrup, anyone?) You are then faced with a dilemma: do you march straight up to the beaming cashier, or avoid their glazed expressions and questionable social skills and wait half your life to use what they have the temerity to call ‘The Fast Lanes’ (also known as self-service machines to the uninitiated). The queue for these machines is often 20-deep, usually due to the fact that one of the terminals has become overwhelmed, trying to add up how much you’ve spent so far, whilst screaming at you that your newspaper costs TWO POUNDS (pause for dramatic effect) TEN PENCE. Once you finally make it to a working terminal, your eyes fall on a hastily printed sheet of A4 declaring that payment is either cash or card only. Needless to say, you won’t have the payment method du jour in your pocket. This involves an embarrassing abandonment of your transaction, casting those in the queue behind you into a confused rage, as you lope off to the cashier you had originally tried to avoid, just so you can pay. As you wait your turn behind a man holding a tube of toothpaste and some bleach, you eye up the potential till talent. Cashier number one is a lady who is far too old to be wearing the neon butterfly clips she proudly displays in her cropped brown hair. Last time you were here, she scolded you for removing your card too quickly from the chip and pin machine, which, as always, was running at a snail’s pace, and you had to repeat the whole sorry affair. Cashier number two shows more promise, until he is called away to deal with the Fast Lane drama you left behind. As you’re busy craning your neck to see how he’s getting on, another machine directs you to cashier number three. From behind his oval spectacles, he beams at you, greeting you with a friendly ‘hello dear! How are you? Would you like a bag?’ He continues grinning as he packs away your Tic Tacs, tomatoes and tampons without battering an eyelid and you hurriedly hand over the cash and run home to satisfy your nutritional needs.

It’s hard to convey just what an odd mix of people the staff in this particular branch are. A budding playwright would do well to take a trip there and observe them in their natural habitat. If Hotel California ran a chain of convenience stores, this would be it. Some of the staff, like cashier number three, never seem to leave. You go in on your way to uni and there he is, smiling over your Danish pastry. He is there again in the evening, when you dash in minutes before closing, standing upright, eyes open, but clearly asleep.

And yet despite the crazy cashiers, the bipolar payment systems and the massive queues, we still go back. Just because it’s… well, convenient.

-from Issue 246 of Epigram.

1 Comment

Filed under Epigram, Miscellaneous, Outings

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Adventures, History, Outings

Baby, we weren’t born to run

Exercise and I get on like a vegetarian in a butchers.

After attempting to have a lie-in today after two weeks of getting up at half six every morning, I gave up at 11 and decided I may as well wake up and watch tv. Shortly after deciding on this frankly epic day of laziness, my flat mate dragged me out of my room to go on a run. I do not run. I haven’t run for anything other than a bus since my last P.E. lesson when I was 16. As if this wasn’t enough to hamper my Paula Radcliffe-esque efforts, the vast quantities of beer/cider/wine/punch I consumed the night before suddenly started washing around in my stomach, making it hard to even get out of halls. I didn’t last long, and ended up walking from Sea Mills back to Clifton along the Avon. When I eventually made it home, I ate two chocolate yoghurts to compensate for the distress I’d caused myself.

Won’t be doing that again. No sir-ee.

Yesterday was my last day digging and before we left we got taken on a tour around Berkeley Castle itself. I think I need to find myself a copy of Debrett’s sharpish and find myself a castle-owning husband because my oh my was it beautiful. Simple things like snugs on a mezzanine help you realise that people actually live there, and have been living there for centuries, unlike the generic stately home feeling you tend to get at most National Trust properties.

Above is the room where King Edward II was kept prisoner and left to die. Legend has it that he came to a painful end after a red hot poker was shoved up his bum. Lucky we weren’t around to see his poker face!

If you want to visit the castle, and I thoroughly recommend you do, check opening times here as it isn’t open every day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Archaeology, Exercise, Outings