Admire the Bristol Skyline – By Day/By Night

Despite its size and industrial connections, since arriving here almost three years ago I have come to view Bristol as an unexpectedly beautiful city. From its famous brightly coloured houses, its glorious gorge cutting through the landscape and its patches of welcome greenery supplied by its parks, fields and woods to the majestic old buildings towering high amongst the tower blocks, Bristol’s skyline is truly remarkable. This post is about my favourite spots to admire the beauty of Bristol by day and by night.

By Day: Climb to the top of Cabot Tower to take in the sights

For this daytime sightseeing trip, head to the oldest park in Bristol, Brandon Hill. This beautiful hillside park is a perfect picnic spot with flowers, trees and water features so pack some snacks, maybe a flask of something hot (or, once the weather is a little more forgiving, bring a couple of beers) and enjoy the panoramic views of Bristol. Climb up the cramped, steep, spiral staircase and emerge at the top of the 105ft tower, built in the 1890s to commemorate explorer John Cabot and his voyage to Canada. The tower itself can be seen towering over the city with its winged angel on top – especially at night time when it flashes. From here you can see to Clifton with its iconic bridge, the harbour side dotted with boats, the spires of the Wills Memorial building and its Museum neighbour and beyond. Remember to bring your camera with you – this is the epitome of a kodak moment.

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Useful Info.

Admission: Free
Opening Times: From early morning until dusk. 8am – 4pm Winter. 8am- 7pm Summer.
Bring: Your camera. A Picnic.
Address: Brandon Hill Park, Park Street, Bristol, BS1 5RR.
Access via Great George St., Jacob Wells Road and Berkeley Square.
Twitter: (Unofficial – but very funny) @The_Cabot_Tower

Extra hint

On your way home, why not pop into Rocotillos, Clifton’s own American 50’s style diner (featured in the TV show, ‘Skins’), for one of the BEST milkshakes in Bristol. Chocolate and Hazelnut or Cookie Dough are strong choices, but pick from a wide wide selection – including some alcoholic ones and some which sound pretty mad, but are definitely delicious. They also have an extensive menu of breakfasts (including the highly popular American pancakes), lunches and coffees.  Plus, the place itself, complete with booths, mirrors and twizzly retro stools, is so reminiscent of Grease that it gets me humming Summer Lovin’ every time. Check them out!

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Useful Info.

Milkshake: A little more or a little less than £4.00
Opening Times: Mon-Wed 08.00 – 18.00. Thu – Sat 08.00 – 19.00. Sunday 10.00-17.00
Address: 1 Queens Row, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1EZ
Website: Here is their Facebook page
Twitter: @Rocotillos

By Night: See the city lights from the Clifton Observatory

Venture up above the Suspension Bridge to the Clifton Observatory and take in the views of Bristol by night. There is something literally magical about seeing the city lights shining beneath you while sitting under the stars, especially with Brunel’s “first love”, the bridge, lit up in the foreground and the outstanding gorge and Avon river winding its way below. It is my go-to place to watch Fireworks on Bonfire Night as you can see them going off all over the city, and in the summer the fireworks display for the Balloon Fiesta over at Ashton Court is also viewable from this spot. Maybe grab some take away fish and chips from Clifton’s (medium-expensive) chippy in the village and if you’re feeling impulsive, buy a bottle of prosecco to accompany your dinner! Enjoy!
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Useful Info.

Admission: Free
Opening Times: Always
Bring: Food? Drinks? Gloves?
Address: Clifton Down, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 3LT. (Right next to the Suspension Bridge)

Extra Hint

Now’s your chance to pop into the famous Coronation Tap! Clifton’s only cider house, first mentioned in documents in the early 1800s, the Cori Tap is a top destination for anyone over the legal drinking age (bring your ID if you look under 25 because they can be fairly strict at the door). With an enormous selection of ciders, including their very own WORLD FAMOUS ‘Exhibition’, and a calendar full of music events, you’re in for a good night. If you’re feeling daring undertake the legendary Cori-Challenge and attempt to drink 10 Exhibitions before 10pm. However, a word of warning: this stuff is deceptively tasty and yet is so potent that they sell it only by the half pint! You’re not a true Bristolian until you’ve got at least three half-remembered yet mortifying anecdotes to tell about a night at the Cori. Let me know your records! I once managed 5 and the rest of the evening is a blur…
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Useful Info.

An exhibition: £2.50
Opening Times: Mon-Fri 17.30, Saturday and Sunday 19.00 – and they usually close about midnight. Get there early-ish if you want a seat, otherwise expect to be standing against a wall somewhere! It can get VERY busy.
Address: The Coronation Tap, 8 Sion Place, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4AX.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of my Bristol-based blog posts! Perhaps check out THIS one about my Harbourside Highlights.

Get lost in the British Library

Reading and stories have forever been a passion of mine, and so I am somewhat reluctant to admit that until recently I had never before paid a visit to the British Library. Home to over 170 million (!!!?!?!!?!?!!) items on over 625km of shelves, dating from 3,000 years ago to literally TODAY, as well as host to a timetable full of exhibitions and events, the B.L. is definitely one of my new favourite places to visit in the Capital. You’ll need to grab a reader’s pass to enter the reading rooms, but the rest of the library – including 3 cafes, a restaurant, a really really good gift shop and three exhibition galleries – is open to all. I was lucky enough to catch the penultimate day of the Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination exhibition and oh boiiii, it was great. 

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After planning to spend “an hour and a half – tops” checking out this celebration of all things gothic, I ended up lingering for almost 3 hours devouring the exhibition and although it is no longer running, I just can’t resist telling you a little bit about it. It explored the pervasiveness of gothic imaginings for the past 250 years, looking at the gothic genre not only in literature, but in films, art, music, fashion and architecture. Featuring excerpts and material surrounding classics including The Castle of Otranto, Frankenstein, and Dracula as well as more contemporary, but still undeniably gothic works including The Bloody Chamber, Twilight, and films such as The Shining it was remarkable to see how pervasive and long-lasting is our human fascination with things unearthly, grotesque and fearsome. Included in the exhibition were spooky, unnerving objects, beautifully atmospheric paintings, engravings and sketches and scrawled correspondences and jotted notes from the likes of Byron, Shelley and Jack the Ripper himself – all working to enhance the feeling of fascination and repulsion so familiar when considering the macabre.

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Unfortunately, this exhibition has ended. There are, however, many other undoubtably equally captivating exhibitions lined up, including one focusing on Arctic Exploration and another marking the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carter. You can read more about these here. Plus sitting in the cafe overlooked by shelf upon shelf of books making up the King’s Library (Good job, George III) is pretty inspiring. I urge you to go and check it out.

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Useful Information

  • Price: FREE ENTRY! (Some exhibitions, however, do charge for admission – generally £5 for students)
  • Opening Times: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 09.30 – 18.00
    Tuesday 09.30 – 20.00, Saturday 09.30 – 17.00, Sundays 11.00 – 17.00
  • Facilities: 3 Cafes, A Restaurant, beaut gift shops, lots of little places to sit and read and write, a number of ‘reading rooms’ (more about getting a reader’s pass here)
  • Cup of Coffee: £2.30 for a latte.
  • Bring with you: a notebook and a pencil/pen. (Also maybe some money for some potentially unnecessary but seriously desirable literary inspired gifts – see the online shop for a taster)
  • Address: The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London. NW1 2DB.
  • Website: http://www.bl.uk/
  • @britishlibrary

P.s. Have a look here at some more Museum-y posts and some more Historical ones. There you go.

Grab a coffee and some brunch at the Birdcage

EDIT: March 2015 – The Birdcage has closed down?!?!?! no. NO. Noo. But I’m keeping this post here just in case (please please please) they reopen.

Congratulations to those of you who have survived the January exam season! This post is for any Bristolians who may be feeling a little worse for wear after post-exam parties and are looking for a coffee/brunch pick me up in a quirky and creative cafe.

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The Birdcage, in the heart of the Old City, right next to St Nick’s Market, is a gorgeous, trendy spot to get your caffeine fix. Priding themselves on providing “yesterday’s clothes, today’s coffee and tomorrow’s music”, the Birdcage can give you a bit of whatever you need. Seriously good coffee to go, healthy (gluten free/dairy free/vegan) lunch and an array of cakes or healthy snacks are only a few of the treats available. The charming and eclectic decor, with mismatched leather sofas and armchairs, retro bicycles as wall hangings and cute vintage crockery, makes settling in with a drink and a book both calming and inspiring. They also offer a range of vintage items for sale, as well as a number of (mostly free) music events including a weekly Open Mic Night, perfect spot for an artsy night out. If you haven’t already checked out the Birdcage, do so. You won’t be disappointed.

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Useful Info:

* Opening Times: Monday – Friday 8am-10/11pm.
Saturday 10am – 11pm. Sunday 10am-6pm.
* Food options: Delicious brunch and lunch menu, with dairy free, gluten free and vegan options, all cooked with local produce. (My favourite – Earl Grey poached pears on porridge with warmed honey and toasted pine nuts – £4.) Also snacks including probably the best vegetarian scotch egg I have ever eaten.
* Cup of Coffee: £1.90 Americano. (£2.65 for a vanilla latte – but be adventurous, they have an extensive drinks menu, including frappes, smoothies, and a large range of loose leaf teas) – Full Drinks Menu HERE
* Bring with you: a good book or a good friend.
* Music Nights – Listings on their Facebook page
* Address: 28 Clare St. Bristol. BS1 1YE
* Phone: 0117 929 1130
* http://www.birdcagebristol.com
* @birdcagebristol

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Visit the Cliffs of Moher

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Stretching along Ireland’s western Atlantic Coast, the Cliffs of Moher are definitely not to be missed. After waking up at literally the crack of dawn (a big achievement for yours truly), Larry and I hopped on a coach and, on the rainiest day I have ever experienced, headed off westwards towards this dramatic spot. Here are some reasons why you should do the same if you ever find yourself in Ireland.

1. They’re stunning. EVEN if it’s torrentially raining.
I definitely didn’t take the above picture… This is what it looked like when I went there..
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IMG_2472.JPG It rained quite a bit. But it was hard to ignore how beautiful the coasts are.

2. They go on for 5 miles and at their highest they reach 214m
This means that if you’re into coastal walks with outrageous views you will be living the dream.
As well as more than 600m of coastal pathways, dotted with viewing platforms and buskers playing traditional Irish music, there is a Cliffs Coastal Trail which is 20km long. A 12km round trip to Hag’s Head, for example, would take around 3 hours. Larry and I, however, found battling along the shorter pathways pretty gruelling enough in the november downpour and heavy wind and so didn’t get to explore the trail, but it is on my list of things to do for my next visit.

3. There is wildlife galore
Apparently you can see puffins, guillemots, razorbills and even peregrine falcons (for you noobs, they’re the fastest creature on the planet.. keep up). Also there are frequent sightings of dolphins and seals and maybe sharks. Larry and I didn’t see any of these. It was very, very rainy.

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5. There’s a really warm warm warm visitor centre
It has a cafe, a restaurant (with beautiful cliff views, and home cooked foods using local ingredients), a shop (fairly expensive as you’d expect), some displays and some relatively nice toilets. Perfect for warming up after venturing outside in the rain.

6. O’Brien’s Tower provides even further panoramic views of the cliffs.
Built in 1835, this tower overlooks the coast and gives some pretty fantastic views of the coastline (€2.00 extra). You can see as far as the Aran Islands to the west, the Twelve Pins in Connemara and all the way to the mountains of Kerry.

What’s stopping you?!

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USEFUL INFORMATION

* Admission: €4.00 for students. €6.00 adults.
* Opening times: 9am – 5pm (Closing time varies throughout the year depending on the month. In June/July it closes at 9pm)
* Bring with you: A waterproof, A camera, A Flask
* A cup of coffee – about 2EUR depending on which cafe you choose.
* Guided tours available for 45EUR. See here for more information
* Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland.
* http://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/
* @cliffsofmoher1

2014 : reflections

This post is admittedly a little overdue, as we are already racing through January, but I thought it would be worth taking some time to think about the adventure that was 2014 and look forward to all that 2015 holds.

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For this adventurer, thinking back over 2014, I am filled with memories of some truly overwhelmingly happy times, as well as some of the most challenging. It is so reassuring to think that despite a rocky start to the year (to put it lightly), with no adventuring and frankly no desire for any enterprise more daring than lurking under the safety of my duvet, I am still able to think back and remember some fantastic and exciting days spent with some fantastic and exciting friends. I feel like I am successfully escaping from what seems now to have almost definitely been a curse or bewitchment cast over me by some super mean and grouchy witch. So, for now, please indulge me while I recap some of 2014’s adventures – perhaps it will inspire some of you for whom happiness seems scarily distant.

Travelled by boat to Hurst Castle and learned about Henry VIII’s coastal forts.
Flitted from pub to pub and band to band for Bristol’s Dot to Dot Festival.
Got extremely muddy and equally glittery at Love Saves the Day.
Headed off to Paris with the best people, staying in a 4* hotel at the Place du Vendome.
Sprinted around Disneyland Paris and hopped on Big Thunder Mountain more times than we should admit.
Cycled from the Eiffel Tower along the River Seine all the way to the Bois de Vincennes.
Boogied to Kool and the Gang at Guilfest. Cried at my first ever Opera experience at Glyndebourne.
Picnicked on the beach at Lepe (Read more here).
Visited an impressive number of castles (including Cardiff which I also wrote about).
Made a hell of a lot of bunting.
Visited Dublin and travelled across to County Clare to see the Cliffs of Moher.
Volunteered at Bristol Zoo Gardens (I wrote a post about this place) and got hands on with butterflies, lemurs and lorikeets.
Sang/played at my first open mic night in years.
Got incredibly lost returning from the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and discovered Leigh Woods by accident.
Learnt how to dance a little bit.
Saw a truly fantastic performance of Julius Ceasar at the Globe Theatre as well as a bunch of other fantastic theatre performances.
Met a guy who is pretty cool.
Celebrated in the new year on a boat on the River Thames.

I suppose the main thing that I can take away from what might seem like a relatively short, or rather tame list of activities, is that popular definitions of the word “adventure”, yapping on about “reckless or potentially hazardous actions”, with reference to “danger” and “the taking of risks”, seem to be somewhat lacking. I visited a number of art galleries and public museums, I went on a number of coastal walks, I learnt how to bake – hardly risky exploits. And yet the sense of achievement, the feeling that I have returned, successful, from a thrilling, exciting and emotionally daring undertaking is still there, and surely that must be what adventures are all about. Throwing yourself into the world despite uncertainty of what might be in store and (re)discovering a sometimes lost sense of excitement in all there is out there to experience. I think realising the joy in this pursuit might have been my biggest and most challenging adventure yet.

adventure
noun
Sarah’s Official Definition: TBC

For now I could give you some words that rhyme with adventure instead? Helpful? No? (Bencher. Denture. Wrencher? Trencher. Dementia?)

Ok the end.

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Come ‘face-to-face’ with the Iron Age Bog Bodies at Ireland’s Archaeology Museum

Despite moaning constantly about paying £9k a year for a meagre 4 contact hours a week (all on a Thursday), the benefit of having so little time spent in lectures is that I am able to head off on longer trips, without feeling guilty for missing class. For this reason, last week, Larry and I jetted off to Dublin! IT WAS GREAT. I’m currently smack bang in the middle of essay deadline season, but I can’t resist quickly mentioning some of my favourite adventures/ places I really liked and reckon you’ll really like too.

On one of the rainiest days I have ever, ever experienced, we decided to take cover in the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology section (I’m a little confused about what the official title of this place is, but stick with me.) Open since 1890, with over 2 million artefacts documenting life in Ireland from 7000BC until the 20th Century, this place is basically a treasure trove for anyone with an interest in people from the past.

I appreciate that it might seem at the moment that I harp on and on and on about museums and castles and blahblahblah – BUT, the Irish archaeology museum is actually a bit insane. The building itself is beautiful and built in the neo-classical style mimicking the gorgeous classical buildings from Ancient Greece and Rome. The domed roof, classical marble columns, and crazy ornate mosaic floors are a beautiful things to experience in themselves.

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The exhibitions within, however, are really what all of the fuss is about. Learn about prehistoric Ireland, from 7000BC. See the collection of Stone Tools, the recreated Neolithic Passage Tomb, and the legit 15m long, 4,500 year old Log Boat. Pretty amazing stuff to see, and a really accessible introduction to the Celts as before my trip I knew very very little about Druids and Celtic history. The collection of Bronze Age gold-work (dating from 2200BC-500BC) is also definitely worth checking out as it is the largest collection in Western Europe. There are collars, bracelets, sun disks, earrings and who-knows what else made of the shiny, ornately decorated stuff. I kind of wanted to borrow/have some please.

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But really the craziest exhibit of all is that of the Bog Bodies. This exhibition explores Iron Age kingship and its connection with ritual sacrifice. Long story short, archaeologists have discovered the bodies of some seemingly high status people from 400-200BC, who had been naturally mummified due to the conditions of the bogs in which their bodies were ritually placed/dumped. Some of these bodies had been decapitated, some de-bowled, all of them killed, and now they are on display in the museum for you to look at. A literal opportunity to come ‘face-to-face’ with people of the past. And, to put it mildly, it’s pretty gnarly. Their skin is leathery and grey and they are in various states of decomposition. One of them is so well preserved that you can see that he is sporting the currently fashionable top-knot hairstyle. It was intense. But definitely go and have a look if you’re feeling brave!

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For a quick introduction into Ireland’s past, this museum is a must. It’s a beautiful place, a perfect shelter spot from the inevitable Irish rain, and also pretty gruesome! What’s stopping you?!

USEFUL INFO:

* Admission: Freeeeeeeeeeee
* Opening times: 10am – 5pm (Except on a Sunday when it opens at 2pm)
* There is a cafe, a cloakroom and a gift shop. However, a big coach party of old people had preceded us into the museum, so we didn’t make use of any of these.
* Bring with you: A strong stomach.
* National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology,
Kildare St.
Dublin 2.
* http://www.museum.ie/en/intro/archaeology-and-ethnography-museum.aspx
* http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bog_body – wiki about bog bodies

Maybe you’d also enjoy some other archaeology-related posts? Have a look here because that’s where you’ll find them. Or maybe some more about museums? Museums are goooood. The end.

Climb the keep at Cardiff Castle

Impossible to miss, Cardiff Castle, with its ornate clock tower, high curtain walls (with the Roman foundations still visible), and glorious towers and spires, dominates the centre of the city. Since being built and rebuilt by the Romans from about 55AD, Cardiff Castle has had a great time transforming over the years from a Norman motte and bailey castle, to a medieval garrison complete with stone keep and defensive walls, to the victorian gothic fairy tale castle that we see today.

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Last week, I embarked on my latest adventure, but this time I ventured out of Bristol and into the nearby, crazy-fun city of Cardiff. As well as enjoying/enduring a night out on the town (in high heels?????? I had no idea that was still a thing!), and eating some beaut food at the gorgeous “Milgi’s” (a vegetarian place with a fantastic list of cocktails and a heated yurt outside), I had a snoop around Cardiff Castle and for a place that has been knocking around since the Romans were on the scene, it’s seriously not too shabby.

Have a wonder around Bute Park outside the Castle and check out the scale of the surrounding walls and moat, as well as the drawbridge and big-ass gateways. Inside, you can pick up an audio guide (the Cardiff website proudly informs us that this is read by Huw Edwards…?? I think he’s a news reader maybe?) and have a look around! The motte that the Norman keep is built on is seriously big, with a moat surrounding it and the thought of scaling it in a siege made me feel a little queazy. But climb on up regardless and check out the beautiful panoramic views from the top. On a clear day you can see all the way to Castle Coch on the hills to the north and also all the way to the sea.

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Hop on one of the guided House Tours, definitely worth the £3 extra. The 3rd Lord Bute teamed up with architect William Burges and basically pimped out the castle. It’s a fantastical gothic creation in the style of a feudal yet fairy tale castle from the Middle Ages, with stained glass windows, painted murals and gorgeous gilding and sculptures. The house tour takes

you around some of the more ornate rooms, including the Arab Room, with its INSANE decorated wooden ceiling covered in gold leaf, and the Day Nursery with tiling on the walls painted to depict a procession of heroes and heroines from fairy tales. The tour takes about 50 minutes, and a proud Welsh tour guide will point out things of note and will probably say “Ladies and Gentlemen” every second sentence.

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Also to check out are the wartime shelters in the walls of the castle. During air raids in the second World War, the castle was opened up to shelter the public and you can explore these evocative shelters and see the wartime canteen, bunkbeds and warden’s office. The dampness and the cold in the tunnels made this experience all the more atmospheric.

If you do find yourself in Wales’s capital city and fancy an hour or two of history, Cardiff Castle is a must. Think of it as an old-age version of Cribs.

USEFUL INFO:

* Admission: £12.00 adults, £10.50 with a student card.
* House Tour (50 mins) an additional £3 or £2.50 for students. (The first tour heads off at 10am)
* Opening times: 9.00-18.00 (although the castle closes earlier at 17.00 during the Winter months)
* The Cafe is open until 16.00 with a selection of hot and cold drinks, cakes and snacky lunchy foods including paninis, jacket potatoes, soups and sandwiches.
* A small coffee – £1.80 (A vanilla latte – £2.70)
* Bring with you: Your Camera, Money for the gift shop!
* Cardiff Castle,
Castle Street, CF10 3RB
* http://www.cardiffcastle.com/
* @Cardiff_Castle

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P.s. for fellow History lovers, I’ve got some more historical posts that you might enjoy. HAVE A LOOK. Over and out.