In summer 2013, Bristol was taken over by 79 colourful and cute 5ft dogs. The Gromit Unleashed trail was hugely successful, raising over £2million for the Grand Appeal (Bristol Children’s Hospital). The trail not only brought a vast amount of tourism to the city over the summer months, it also helped its residents to discover parts of Bristol unknown.
My favourite spot in Bristol that I discovered this summer (thanks to Sir Gromit and my husband’s lack of direction) was Brandon Hill.
Brandon Hill is a nature park and the oldest park in Bristol in a surprising location. It is easy to struggle up or fall down Park Street without realising that if you turned off and walked for a minute you would reach a stunning, huge green space close to the city centre with spectacular views across the city, the harbour (my other favourite spot in Bristol) and the River Avon.
The park was given to the council in the 12th Century, when it was used for grazing. The park has been a public open space for a number of centuries and is now home to a duck pond, gardens, a small nature reserve, woodland, Cabot Tower and a children’s play area. In 1843, it proved a great vantage spot for 30,000 people to watch the SS Great Britain launch. The ship can still be viewed from Brandon Hill, sat in the harbour with its unmissable flags.
Cabot Tower was built in 1897/8 to commemorate John Cabot, who sailed from Bristol to Canada in the Matthew 400 years before. A replica of the Matthew can be seen (and walked in and sailed on) in Bristol Harbour, and at the beginning of the TV movie, The Colour of Magic!
Check out it’s Wikipedia page for an amazing panoramic view from the top of the tower.
Not surprisingly, Brandon Hill can get very steep in places so be warned if you do want to get to the top. But the climb is well worth it. There is Cabot Tower, some well placed benches and idyllic ponds complete with ducks and, at the right time of year, ducklings.
Brandon Hill is the perfect place for urban wildlife spotters. There is a small part of woodland that is managed by the Avon Wildlife Trust, and a wildflower meadow. The park is home to many birds, which along with its height makes it a perfect urban birding spot, a family of foxes and the friendliest grey squirrels I’ve ever met. On my first visit exploring Brandon Hill I watched a squirrel approach a family sat on a bench. They threw bits of their sandwiches to it and it continued to get closer until it jumped onto a woman’s leg. It jumped off pretty sharpish and there was no aggression or fear in the incident, just a lot of surprise and wonderment.
Over the centuries, Brandon Hill has had a political history due to it being a public open space situated between Clifton, College Green and Hotwells. Bristol is a wonderful, vibrant city where people of different cultures and classes meet and, sometimes, clash.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, Brandon Hill was a popular gathering place for political meetings and cultural events. This including the famous gate crashing of the Great Reform Dinner in 1832. This was a party for the middle classes, those who were wealthy enough to be given the vote by the Reform Act. Part of Brandon Hill was sectioned off for the party, but this wasn’t enough to stop thousands of working class Bristolians charging in, eating the food and drinking the beer.
Following the Great Reform Dinner, Brandon Hill remained a political site as the working class and new middle class fought over the right to hold gatherings there. The middle class of Clifton finally won by building the walled gardens and Cabot Tower on the top.
Even now, in the 21st Century, Brandon Hill, along with College Green nearby, is still used as a political battlefield by the local MPs, council, police and Bristolian residents.
I seem to have recently developed an interest in social history (I put the blame squarely on my mum and Elysium, and yes, I’m still into Elysium) so a lot of the ideas I’ve been getting lately centre on this. The history of this beautiful, hidden part of Bristol is packed with inspiration and well worth a visit, whether you’re a writer or not.
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