2014 Link Visit to Bristol

Link Visit to Bristol

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It was time for one of the highlights of the Rotary year - the Link Visit ! The Rotary Club of Pinner were hosts this year and it was decided that the visit with the Rotary Clubs of Bruges West and Meerbusch should take place in Bristol. The visit was not starting until the Friday lunchtime though most of the Pinner party travelled down the day before. During our journey, Kate and I visited Bowood House where we marvelled at the display of rhododendrons in the garden - it was quite spectacular.

On Friday morning, those of us in Bristol had a leisurely start to the day - unlike those travelling from Belgium, Germany and Pinner that morning all of whom had very early starts. We all met for lunch at the George Inn in Lacock which is about an hour's drive from Bristol. Four from Bruges joined us from Devizes where they had been cycling in our beautiful English countryside. Maybe this was instead of Tom's plan to have a cycle race from London to Bristol - something which had been 'discussed' when we last met in Dresden !

Lacock is an old village, owned by the National Trust, which is frequently used as a location setting for films including a number of Harry Potter films. It owes part of its fame to the Abbey that was established there in 1229, In the 1800's William Henry Fox Talbot became the owner of the abbey, and in 1835 he made the first known photographic negative using a camera. We enjoyed a leisurely tour of the Abbey, the Photographic Museum walk round the village on what was a glorious summers day. Unfortunately, the coach journey back from Lacock to the hotel was much longer than going as we were traveling in the infamous Bristol rush hour.

Friday evening meal was at a restaurant called The River Station which is by the river and within walking distance of the hotel. It's a buzzy, informal sort of place which served us some excellent lamb followed by sticky toffee pudding. Most then went to bed following their very early starts though a few stayed up to give the hotel's bar staff something to do.

Saturday started with a visit to St Mary Redcliffe which is one of the largest Parish Churches in England. Constructed from the 12th to the 15th centuries, the church is a Grade 1 listed building. We then spent the next two hours on a guided walking tour of Bristol. This included visiting St Nicholas Market (known as St Nicks) where we saw the unique brass pillars which used were used for exchanging money between traders and their customers, hence the phrase 'Paying on the Nail'.

In the 15th century, Bristol was the second most important port in the country and was the starting point for many important voyages, including John Cabot's 1497 voyage of exploration to North America. During the height of the slave trade, from 1700 to 1807, more than 2,000 slaving ships were fitted out at Bristol, carrying an estimated half million people from Africa to the Americas and slavery. In the 20th century Bristol has flourished again thanks to aircraft manufacturing and various service industries that have established themselves there.

During our tour, we also saw a Banksy which is an image of a naked man hanging out of a bedroom window on a wall visible from Park Street in centre of the city. The image sparked "a heated debate", with the Bristol City Council leaving it up to the public to decide whether it should stay or go. Sadly it has since been defaced with blue paint. Although little is known about Banksy it is believed that he was born in Bristol. Our walk concluded by the river where we had lunch at the Bordeaux Quay restaurant in the centre of the redeveloped harbour area. Chris Mote (a local Pinner politician) was a great support to Arnold during the walk as he kept him company during what was a long and tiring morning.

After lunch we had a tour of the ss Great Britain - Bristol's number one tourist attraction. Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed this famous steamship which was the first iron-hulled, propeller-driven ship and she carried 252 first and second class passengers and 130 crew. She was designed for the luxury passenger trade on the emerging trans-Atlantic and was built in Bristol and launched in 1843. She was subsequently used for carrying emigrants to Australia and then she was converted to carry cargo including coal and wheat between England and the west coast of America.

In 1886 she was badly damaged in a storm and her ocean-going career came to an end. Bought by the Falklands Islands Company she spent the next 47 years as a floating warehouse. The SS Great Britain was finally welcomed 'home' to Bristol on 19 July 1970 - back to the dock in which she was built, exactly 127 years to the day after her launch and has since been restored to make an excellent place to visit.

After a quick dash back to the hotel to change we then had the coach take us to Clifton where we had a brief visit to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This world famous bridge was also designed by Brunel, although he never lived to see his creation finished in 1864. It was intended for early 19th century light horse drawn though still meets the todays demands of 11-12,000 vehicles crossing it every day.

Dinner was nearby in a palatial Georgian house called the Merchant Hall. It is owned by the Society of Merchant Venturers who are a Guild of Merchants that was founded in Bristol in the 13th century which was synonymous with the Corporation of Bristol and for many years had effective control of Bristol's port. We had a tour of the house by the Irish butler who had an interesting accent and spoke quite quickly and so was difficult for those of us from Pinner to follow - goodness knows what the Belgian's and German's made of it! We enjoyed an excellent meal in the Dining Room which was a truly wonderful setting.

Our last morning was spent on a relaxing harbour cruise before saying our farewells to our friends from Belgium and Germany who we look forward to seeing in 12 months' time at Leuven in Belgium.


Brian Glozier