musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Shipshape and Bristol Fashion (3) The Harbour

The Harbour Festival at Bristol was the clincher when I was making plans for a visit, although I had done quite a bit of sniffing around in it before.  My agenda had two points in it: I wanted to get images of the Great Britain from opposite where she was berthed, and I wanted to go as far as I could towards the exit channel. I entered the harbour from behind the cathedral and that put me in Millennium Square. It was very crowded and noisy and I was not really interested in much that was going on there, although the huge silver ball was kind of fascinating..

However, as they say in the classics.. “It’s all very well, but what does it do?” I do not know, but it does seem to have an exit from the building it is attached to. Parts of the square were fenced off so I headed to the water, having to make a large detour to get there. When I got there I discovered that they had blocked off the waterside path too, which was extremely irritating because they had also cut off access to the bridge that crosses the harbour. I thought that Balmoral was berthed near the bridge which is why I wanted to go there, but it turns out she was not, and was berthed opposite the Great Britain. With access cut off to the bridge I decided to try for my Great Britain shots so headed towards Balmoral in the distance.

Great Britain on the left, Balmoral on the right

The right bank was relatively quiet, but I could not find the spot to catch the ferry that runs from behind Temple Meads station to the opposite end of the harbour. I was prepared to grab that ferry and to travel with it to my destination but could not find a berth to do it from. The one area had a lot of small craft in it, including some lovely steam pinnaces.

I would have loved to have gone on one, but as a solo traveller you really end up filling in odd spaces, and besides no matter how hard I looked nowhere was there a sign that said where they were going or how often they ran.

I continued my walk… and spotted the John King approaching.  She is a steel hulled tug built in 1935 by Charles Hill & Sons Ltd. of Bristol for Kings Tugs Ltd. She was purchased in 1995 by the Bristol Industrial Museum and is kept in working condition and will continue to be part of the new Museum of Bristol.  She is a handsome old lady, and it was nice to see her still running up and down.

I finally reached Balmoral, I had last visited her in 2015, and was hoping to get onboard to have a look at the wheelhouse that I had been unable to see then because it was so crowded and it appears as if it was still crowded! 

However, the little old lady at the gangplank was doing her best to not let me see the wheelhouse, insisting that I needed to go with the guide (who was leaning on the opposite rail studiously ignoring us). Nothing I said could persuade her to let me go have a look so I left very disappointed and without reaching that goal. This has really ended my interest in this vessel, and as much as they are looking for funds frankly it is no way to treat somebody that would be a potential future passenger. 

Berthed in front of the Balmoral was “Bee”, which is  a 1970’s built supply tender, and between the two ships I could see the Great Britain in her drydock. I had achieved my one aim, everything from here on was a bonus.

I was starting to get peckish though and fortunately I spotted a nearby crepe seller. I had had my first crepe in Bristol and was chuffed that I could have my second in the same harbour. 

Bee and Balmoral

Suitably supplied I continued my walk, but was still not sure of how far away the bridge over the harbour was. I spotted a ferry stop and decided to catch it and see where it goes. The boat was crowded and lots of space was taken up by one guy who was sitting on the bench with his legs taking up 3 seats while he took selfies and filmed randomly. I was at least able to catch up on my crepe while we continued towards the bridge over the harbour. Behind us the Matthew was rapidly approaching in that sneaky way that sailing ships seem to have. She is a reconstruction of John Cabot’s ship.

And while we turned Matthew continued her voyage and you can see the bridge across the harbour in front of her. That was the spot I was aiming for originally. 

I decided to bail out at the Great Britain as the area in front of it was a large boatyard and I would have had to make another detour around it to access the Great Britain. I had visited her before, in fact I even used to have a ticket that allowed me free visits for a year, but it expired a long time ago. I really just wanted that bow shot of her which I now had.

I walked around the shop before heading back to the other bridge across the harbour. This place got more crowded as I got closer, and somewhere in that mass of humanity was a steam engine with wagons and a brake van. 

I had heard the engine while on the opposite bank so was curious to see what was providing motive power.

As I approached the Fairbairn Steam Crane there was no sight of the train, but sooner or later though I would be bound to see her. Unfortunately the crane was not in steam and I did not get to have a look around her interior. The sailing ship is Pelican of London, a reasonably new vessel built in 1948 in France as a double-beam Arctic fishing trawler. She was rebuilt as a main mast barquentine, and as of 2012, operated as a sail training vessel by the charity Adventure Under Sail

Close to the crane was a modern vessel: Graham Robertson,  a multi-role Damen Shoalbuster 2308S tug. She is quite an adaptable ship, as she was modified to undertake a multifunctional role that includes towing, pilotage, plough dredging and survey duties.

And then, over the cacophony of noise I heard a steam whistle.. I had to make a decision quickly. Would I watch John King coming alongside? or would I see what the steam engine was? John King temporarily won.

but it was a close won race

The loco turned out to be an Avonside 0-6-0ST, of 1917, works number 1764. Operating as S3 “Portbury”

It was quite an experience seeing this train safely pass through the throngs, although she was helped by men with flags and high vis vests! Given that many people are much too busy on their phones this can be a decidedly difficult operation. 

By the time I had finished with the museum the “Carboard Boat Race” was in full swing, and this part of the harbour was jammed packed. There were 3 small naval craft berthed up close to the bridge and I threaded my way towards them. The more modern ships were HMS Ranger (outboard) and HMS Smiter (inboard). Both are Archer Class patrol ships, and are used to provide sea training to members of  University Royal Naval Units.

Astern of them was “Pride of Bristol”, the former Royal Naval Tender RMAS Loyal Supporter (A107). She is operated by the Pride of Bristol Trust, and was built in 1982 by Richard Dunston Ltd. Yard T1370. 

I was fortunate enough to get on board her but she is reasonably cramped and one person could really cause a spanner in the works by standing in the wrong spot. I did manage to get in her wheelhouse!

From her decks I could see the other ships berthed across from us, and there were two sailing ships amongst them. The ship below is the Etoile Molene, a 1954 built vessel that was initially used to fish for tuna in the Bay of Biscay and then for trawling in Ireland. 

Astern of her was Iris, a 1916 traditional Dutch herring-lugger.

Unfortunately I did not take specific images of her, but as you can see the sky was clouding up and I was starting to consider raising anchor and heading home. I really just want to look at one more oddity I saw in 2015.

She was still where I saw her last, although I do not know whether she had deteriorated since then or not, or even whether she was in use.

Some digging provided me with more info: she is the former John Sebastian “Light Vessel 55” (LV55) and was purchased by the Cabot Cruising Club in 1954. She was built in 1885  by Charles Hill & Sons, Albion Yard, Bristol, for Trinity House and has a double skinned iron hull with wooden beams. She 31.39 metres long, 7.37 metres wide and has a draft of 3.66 metres.  She would have been manned by a crew of 11 men (master and six ratings on board and a master and three ratings ashore). The lantern is not the original one though, it is just a facsimile, although it does work.

The building in the background is the former General Hospital which is now yuppie pads by the looks of it. 

That more or less concluded my Bristol expedition of 2018, I returned via St Mary Redcliffe, and popped in for a visit.

On my way back I paused at the original Brunel station, it was being used as a car park at the time, but I believe there are plans for this space.

I then went to have a look at the bridge where the ferry starts from. It is quite a quirky bridge and one day I may walk to the other side and see what lies there.

At the station I saw one of the new smarmy Class 800 electro-diesel intercity trains that were being  built by Hitachi, but could not investigate further as my own train arrived at the same time.

My day was done. I have 700 images to process and it has taken me longer to do these 3 blog posts that it took to do the trip! I may have to relook that. 

I will probably revisit Bristol again, there is a lot that I would like to relook, in December CWGC will be unveiling replacement headstones for the men buried in Soldier’s Corner in Arnos Vale, so may go down for that although the days are way too short for an extended trip. I will see how it goes. 

There are a number of drawcards for a return trip, I would really like to photograph more of the Wallace and Gromit statues and visit the Quaker Burial Ground which is opposite St Mary Redcliffe. I would also like to try look around the area where the cenotaph is, and of course the Wills Tower is a drawcard, it is just a pity there is that hill….  

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