A short break in Bristol gives you the chance to investigate the city's laidback style, taking in wildlife encounters, pirate walks and girlie cocktails along the way
Located in the southwest of England, Bristol was once a hotspot for pirates, smugglers and privateers. Today it’s more likely to attract visitors seeking shopping, culture and family fun, as well as the occasional pirate walk.
We spent a night staying in Cadbury House Hotel, Health Club & Spa in a gorgeously rural area just outside Bristol. The hotel is surrounded by fields that lead all the way to the Bristol Channel, making it the perfect place to unwind before getting stuck into all of the city’s attractions. The adjoining health club has a glorious pool with an immense Jacuzzi area, plus a treatment area where my tootsies benefited from a deluxe pedicure.
The following night we stayed in stayed in the Mercure Brigstow, a shining edifice overlooking one of the rivers that make Bristol such an attractive city. Our room had a balcony hanging over the street with views of Bristol Bridge.
A couple of streets back from the hotel, we found St Nicholas Market, known locally as St Nick’s. This is a sprawling covered market where you can sample Jamaican curried goat or Pieminister’s award-winning pies, browse stalls of vintage clothes and records or head underground into the whitewashed caverns of the Nail Gallery beneath the market.
Emerging from the gallery, we had a choice to make: head to the spanking new shopping quarter, Cabot Circus, or catch a bus up into Clifton to explore the zoo and the famous suspension bridge strung across the awe-inspiring Avon Gorge. We chose the latter, hopping aboard a number 54 bus to ride to the top of Blackboy Hill.
A short walk from here, the zoo houses a vast array of species, including two stately lions and a family of gorillas. The whole place is set up to allow you as close to the animals as possible and we enjoyed the antics at the seal and penguin coasts, where underwater walkways let us see these astonishing animals at their most graceful. We were also happy to discover that you can actually stroll through the fruit bat and lemur enclosures while the fluffy creatures munched on apple and orange slices above our heads.
Bristol Zoo Gardens has a strong conservation ethos, working to protect a wide range of endangered species. Their breeding programmes are also hugely successful, with recent births including a trio of Livingstone’s fruit bats, a howler monkey and a surprisingly cute giant jumping rat.
Having survived the crowds of children at the zoo, we escaped to a more peaceful attraction. The Clifton Suspension Bridge was created in the 19th century by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and still provides the perfect place to soak up outstanding views of the city and the gorge itself, Bristol’s very own version of the Grand Canyon.
Having caught a bus back to the waterfront we decided to embrace the roguish spirit of Bristol and joined a pirate walk. Meeting the walk’s leader, Pirate Pete, at the waterfront, we followed him across a sweeping silver bridge sporting two immense horns, and learned how it’s named Pero’s Bridge after a young slave boy, in recognition of the city’s involvement in the slave trade.
Bristol’s shady past came to light again as we passed the Ostrich Pub, where the pirate Blackbeard used to drink. On a sunny afternoon, this is a great way to see the harbour area and have fun shouting “Ooh-arrrr” and “Shiver me timberrrs” at passing boats while waving the Jolly Roger flag. Our party was made up mainly of school children in full costume, complete with eye-patches and cardboard cutlasses, and we only wished we’d thought to dress up too.
The walk finished where it started, and we decided to have a quick foray through the shops of Cabot Circus, ogling the gleaming architecture, water features, designer boutiques, and the prettiest, shiniest Apple Store I’d ever seen. This area is also crammed with restaurants and bars, but we decided to head back towards St Nick’s and the Rummer Hotel.
Despite the name, this 13th-century establishment is now a bar and restaurant only, and that’s plenty. The doorway is half hidden down a back alley and is heavily curtained, giving the impression that you’re entering some kind of secret club. At the bar we gazed up at shelves crowded with bottles of wine, beer, cider, and a huge array of spirits, including more than 80 rums. We pored over the extensive cocktail menu, finally opting for the chilled caffeine shot of the Espresso Martini and the perfectly girlie Pinkle, a delicately bubbling concoction of champagne, vodka, a raspberry and elderflower cordial.
As we settled into one of the squashy sofas arranged, close to the open fireplace and surrounded by the work of local artists, we knew we were in no ordinary boozer. This was the perfect Bristol bar, with an attitude to match the city’s overall air of laidback style.