A Long Weekend in Bristol

Posted on May 30, 2011 by

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An invitation to a friend’s birthday at her delightful, elegant home yards from Brunel’s awesome suspension bridge gave an opportunity to mooch around the Bristol area.

Brunel was only twenty-four when he won the competition. When he died thirty years later his iconic bridge was still not built so he never saw his dream come to fruition. Completed five years after his death, it’s an impressive memorial to his genius.

At one end of the bridge is Leigh Woods cared for by The National Trust from where you can walk along the bottom of Avon Gorge and gaze up at Brunel’s creation. On the other side is the delightful and decidedly affluent village of Clifton. Its trendy bars and shops need deep pockets but one amazing bargain to look out for is The Thali Cafe in Regent Street where the food, ambience, service and value for money can’t be faulted.

The nearby village of Cleeve where my grandparents met received a long overdue visit. They were surely pleased as they looked down us taking afternoon tea in Holy Trinity, the church they attended and where they got married. Ladies Mantle, a favourite plant of my mother, grown in Cleeve Nursery is now happily thriving in my Hertfordshire garden. We will always remember Cleeve Nursery as the only place where our espressos were served correctly. With a glass of water. Even Café Rouge doesn’t do that.

With the help of locals, we managed to find Cleeve Court where my grandfather was a gardener but not The Cottage where he was a groom or my grandmother’s Temperance Coffee House and Tea Gardens where my mother was born.

Our weekend ended with a trip to Tyntesfield a vast estate with a Victorian Gothic mansion seven miles from Bristol. In our opinion worth seeing if you are in the area but not worth going to see if not. After touring the house and chapel although the spirit was willing the flesh was decidedly too weak to go in search of the aviary, orangery or kitchen garden. Amazing to think that all this was built on profits from bird poo. Amazing too that no-one in four generations had one iota of taste with any idea of how to spend their seemingly limitless fortune on anything that even remotely manages to lift the soul. It was a case of let’s stick a monstrosity of a fireplace in every room, bung gigantic, bad, copies of Old Masters on the walls and hope for the best. The cheap, modern, appliances in the kitchen add nothing to the ambience of the house and should be removed without delay as should the sturdy volunteer trying to flog raffle tickets.

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Photography copyright Mark Playle

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