Two Weeks Amongst The Brits -> History, Castles & Beer In Bristol, UK
During my student years I only spent around 3 years living in the UK, but in that short time there were many things I fell in love with and certain things I will never miss.
On the love side was English Pubs (they’re just not the same anywhere else), Double Cream (you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted real English cream), proper English gin (only in the UK), sticky puddings (of all types), strong cheddar (oh yeah!), roast Sunday lunch (drooool) and British summers (exquisite!). On the never miss side was just about every month of British weather outside of summer.
After 3 winters of bicycling on a frozen seat with unending head colds, interminable grey skies and never getting quite warm, I had an overpowering drive to get across the big pond to sunny California. The rest is history.
But my sister felt differently. She stayed in the UK after her studies, settled down in the SW of the country and eventually met the man she’s going to marry. Their cozy house in Bristol was where we all decided we were going to spend the holidays this year, complete with her fiancee’s side of the family, a boisterous pack of 4 brothers, 1 sister, kids and grandparents.
The entire affaire was an insanity of fun, interrupted only by the fact that both my father and I got debilitating week-long head colds (yeah, what a surprise). As an extended family we ate (copiously), drank (equally copiously) and since I was having such a good time I have pics of neither. However we also managed some other cool stuff which I did get around to capturing. So, if you’re ever lucky enough to visit this fine city, here’s what I recommend you get up to:
SS Great Britain
I first visited this fine old lady last year, but she was such an amazing experience I just had to go back. First launched in 1843 this ship was called “the greatest experiment since the creation” and was truly a modern marvel of her day. She was larger than any other ship of her time, built with an iron hull (which was ground-breaking), fitted with a 1000 hp steam engine and run by a screw propeller (never attempted before). She was so robust she stayed in service until 1933 and went through several life changes including carrying immigrants to Australia and cargo to the West Coast of America.
My sis, dad and I spent 2 hours of a rainy day walking through her museum, dressing up in period costume (they have a room dedicated for this on-site, sooooooooo cool) and walking the decks of the boat. Plus we were rewarded with a rainbow from her dock over the colorful houses of Hotwells right after the storm. A pretty spectacular day!
SS Great Britain -> Link HERE. Tickets are £14 for adults. Kids 4 and under are free. Tickets valid for re-entry for a year.
This fine cathedral dominates the center of Bristol with her majestic spires. Founded as an Augustinian Abbey in c.1140 (history goes deep this side of the pond), she expanded and renovated multiple times over the years. Her interior stonework is astounding especially when you consider it was all done by horse, hand and pulley, and her fine stained glass windows, although rather more “modern” than the stone are no less impressive.
On a grey, rainy day (what else?) sis, her fiancee, dad and I rolled downtown and took the tour offered each Saturday. We stayed dry and learned an impressive amount about both the Cathedral’s murky past and it’s equally progressive history (there’s quite a bit of fascinating feminist history here). A definite recommend!
Bristol Cathedral -> Link HERE. Entry FREE with tours offered each Sat 11:30am & 1:30pm (suggested donation £5)
Blaise Castle Estate
Blaise Castle was called a “folly” in her day and also “the finest place in England” in Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey. Constructed in 1766 on 400 acres of land it sure is a magnificent place to take a walk on a stormy English day.
Once again dad, sis and I did the outing, wading through proper English mud (e’re present in the countryside) to admire her elaborate towers and the surrounding 19th century mansion & estate. This place feels like something right out of a novel and will transport you straight from busy downtown into a natural wonderland. Plus, it’s free and the grounds are off-leash dog-friendly (which y’all know just flutters my heart strings). THIS I could get used to!
The Beermuda Triangle
Back in my day you went to the pub for a pint of ale. There might have been a few ales on tap and maybe a scrumpy (if it was in season), but you drank what you got and you liked it. Of course I was 20’ish at the time so I was just happy if the beer was cheap and I had a few pals to down it with.
Fast forward 20 or so more years and things have certainly changed. The UK has gone through a beer revival and I’m here just in time to take advantage of it. There are now lots of CAMRA (campaign for real ale) pubs and craft brews are rapidly becoming the “in” thing. They’re not nearly as extensive as in the USA, but craft breweries here are serious and they’re making seriously good stuff.
In Bristol the best place to sample UK finest brew-art is a corner of 3 pubs (The Beer Emporium, The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer and Small Bar) on King Street known as The Beermuda Triangle. Here you can loose yourself in the wonder of sublime British craft brewing from heady IPAs, real Ales, solid Stouts and even (believe it or not) Sours.
On yet another grey, rainy day Pia, her fiancee, his brother, my dad and I hit 2 of the three, enjoying several hours of tasting flights at each spot. By far the best beer IMHO was at Small Bar (what a selection!) but probably the coolest atmosphere was the vaulted underground pub, Beer Emporium. In all we tasted around 18 beers, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed although my favs were probably the Buxon Double Axe IPA and the Left Hand Giant Red 5. If you come to Bristol and you’re into beer you cannot miss this place.
I’m down to my last day here in Europe after which I’ll shoot back cross-ocean to celebrate New Year’s Eve with hubby. It’s been one of the best Christmas holidays I’ve ever had (which is saying something, rain and all) thanks to the company of family and the gracious hosting of my sister and her other half. Cheerio UK, until we meet again…
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