As we walked back towards the docks in Bristol after going up to see the Clifton Suspension bridge, we crossed over to the other side of the locks that are at the end of the harbor. There we came across another artifact of the industrial history of the city which I knew nothing of previously. Since it is Bristol, no great shock that it was something that Brunel created.
This was an old swing bridge that would span the locks. Apparently, it was in use for many years before being withdrawn when a modern bridge was built to supersede it in 1968. It was close to being scrapped at that point but thankfully wasn’t. Now it is sitting on the side of the lock while waiting to undergo restoration. It certainly needs some work at this point, and it is strange to think that it was the main route across the locks for decades.
The Bristol Harbour Railway is a heritage railway in Bristol (what a shock!) that runs along the south side of the docks. I understand it operates short tourist runs at various times up towards the SS Great Britain. It wasn’t operating while we were there although one of the locomotives had been fired up for some purpose. It was nice and warm to stand next to it on what was a bit of a cool and damp day.
There was a selection of locomotives and wagons both near the museum building and parked along the docks. I don’t know whether they were all usable or some were exhibits. There was one locomotive that was clearly undergoing a major refurbishment. I imagine it is a popular attraction on weekends and busy summer days.
When you look around harbors, you will often come across some unusual boats that have found a second life. Just the other day, I saw a trimaran that had been modified with a new cabin which looked very out of keeping with the rest of the hull! Walking around the docks in Bristol, I was surprised to see a variety of boats that had clearly started life somewhere different.
One of them bore all the hallmarks of an Amsterdam tour boat. I don’t know whether the boats there still look like this, but they certainly did in years gone by. Plenty of window space for the tourists to get a good look at the city as they went along the canals. Another one fits into the category of what I remember things looking like but no idea whether they still do! That was an ex-Hoseasons boat from the Norfolk Broads. I remember having a boat just like this one for a vacation there when I was a teenager.
The type of boat that regularly finds a second life is a lifeboat. The ex-RNLI boats are popular, presumably because they are built very tough so will provide years of service and it probably doesn’t hurt that they are seaworthy in the worst of conditions. Modifying them to live on might change some of their characteristics but I suspect they are still better than average. There were a couple of these in the docks too. Keep your eyes peeled when walking amongst boats and see if you can spot anything unusual. When I was a small boy, Bembridge Harbour had a houseboat that was a converted Motor Torpedo Boat from the Second World War!
When I am chatting with my sister, she often mentions her trips to Bristol for work. While talking with her one weekend, I pulled up the map of Bristol to see where the office is that she goes to. As I looked around the area, I realized that the docks area of Bristol looked really interesting and is somewhere that I haven’t explored before. When it seemed that we would have one free day while in the UK and the Bristol was only about 90 minutes away, we decided to pay it a visit.
The weather was not as cooperative as we might have hoped but it was just about okay and we headed off. We parked up right in the middle of the docks area so were able to start exploring straight away. There was a ton to see and there will be more blog posts that cover some of the specific aspects of the area. This is more of an introduction post. The docks are connected to the River Avon but, as I discovered while we walked around, the river is very tidal and the docks are only functional because the access is via locks. This allows the maintenance of a decent water level in the port.
We wandered around the docks for quite a while. There are commercial vessels, some small remaining boatyards, lots of pleasure craft and all of the ancillary businesses that support them. The docks boomed in the 1800s after the construction of the current configuration at the beginning of that century. The docks are along the original Avon course but, once the locks were created to maintain the water level, a new cut was made for the river south of the docks to connect up with the river course upstream. Consequently the river flows normally without the docks being affected.
The housing up on the hills overlooking the docks might be similarly old but they seem to be painted up in a variety of colors to provide quite a cheerful appearance on what would otherwise be rather dull architecture. One thing about Bristol that you can’t ignore is the terrain. There is low lying ground near the river and docks but the hills rising up are steep and you certainly notice it when you start walking around. This means that rows of houses are visible from the docks as they are layered up the side of the hills.
I might have been visiting Mare Island to see the museum and surrounding area but I also got to fit in some wildlife viewing while I was there. I had stepped out of the back of the museum towards one of the dry docks. One of the guys working in a business nearby starting chatting and saying how he wished he had a long lens with him to photograph the ospreys. I could hear a lot of noise but he pointed out the source. All of the high structures around the docks be they cranes or gantries seemed to have a nest on them. Ospreys were all over the place. They had access to the fishing in the water a short distance away so the metalwork was providing a great vantage point with plenty of privacy.
The noise from the nest close to me was pretty loud. A chick was obviously awaiting some food. At first I thought the parents were going to come right in but then I realized that there were so many nests that the birds I could see flying were not necessarily anything to do with this chick. I don’t know whether it had worked that out, though, given the noise it was making when any bird came close. I have no idea how much the nest impact the operation of the machinery and whether there are any restrictions on what can be done when they are in place but they are clearly all over the place.