Do you like TV documentaries? Do you listen to Radio 4? Do you read non-fiction? Do you enjoy being told a story? Then I’m confident an informative walking tour would enhance your Bristol City stay.
A web search is your starting point for any number of walking tours, including “Bristol Highlights” (which is the one we took) and others focusing on “Bristol Merchants and The Slave Trade”, or visiting the sites of local-lad Banksy’s murals. (You’d heard rumours Banksy was a girl? Well…on our tour the Guide pointed out his alma mater and assured us many could attest to his identity.)
The cost varies, but, for example, the 2 hour “Bristol Highlights” tour is conducted by a qualified Blue Badge Guide and costs just £6 per person. Unfortunately, the morning start wasn’t suitable for our group of seven and so I started to explore the possibility of a private, exclusive, tour. I found a number of commercial tour operators but – frankly – the costs were prohibitive, e.g. £29 per person. However, I’m glad I persevered because it seems the Blue Badge Guides are self-employed and can be contracted for private tours. I came to an arrangement with the Blue Badge Guide who had conducted the same “Bristol Highlights” tour that morning for 27(!) “walk-ins” to the Tourist Information Office, to repeat the tour exclusively for us that afternoon at a cost of just £80.
Our Guide – it goes without saying – had the gift of storytelling along with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the significant dates in Bristol’s history. (He couldn’t fail to impress someone who submitted an entire History examination paper without once referencing a specific date – or indeed the reigning monarch!) He touched on ancient history; the growth of the Bristol docks and trading; Bristol’s role in the Slave Trade (no more, and no less, than a number of other cities heavily involved in overseas trading; both here and in Europe); Bristol Cream Sherry; and good ol’ Isambard Brunel and the railways.
An enthusiastic, knowledgeable and local Guide will not only introduce you to the ‘major’ sites such as Bristol Cathedral – which arguably you might have tripped over unaided – although apparently a lot of people do mistake St Mary Redcliffe Church for Bristol’s cathedral – but point out the less-obvious such as how the whole consists of parts dating back to the 12th century but then the twin towers were completed comparatively recently in 1888 (you can hardly see the joins).
We learned there are underground caverns (inaccessible now) where the warehouses once stood and these proved invaluable in protecting the expensive (and highly flammable) goods destined for import/export and provided a USP (unique selling point) for Bristol Docks. We heard that Cary Grant used to come back to Bristol regularly to visit his Mum.
Whilst I’m sure every Guide has a tried and trusted “script”, a knowledgeable Guide will be quite prepared to answer queries or spend more time on a topic in which people show a particular interest and they are always pleased to receive snippets of knowledge from their visitors which, I’m sure, they add to their own collection. For example our Guide pointed out the Wills Building donated to the University by the tobacco family which employed thousands in the area and I was able to tell him there was also a factory in Swindon where my mother worked in the early ’50s.
If you like a story…if you like learning new facts…consider arranging your own exclusive walking tour whilst you are in Bristol, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
A special thanks to Anne Brown-Robins, who wrote this post following a recent stay with us at Bury Hill Farm Bristol.
Other tours you may also be interested in:-