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Tours > England's West Country > Bristol

Bristol - Somerset

Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge.. Wikipedia photo

Lying about a hundred and twenty miles due west of London (M4 motorway, rail from Paddington, bus from Victoria), the inland port of Bristol is an excellent center for touring the southwest of England. It was from here that John Cabot sailed for the New World, and it is from here that his maps may have been used by financier Richard Ameryk to name the new continent (let's face it -- Amerigo Vespucci never came near North America).

For a fine view of the city, climb the 105 foot high Cabot's Tower in Brandon HIll Park, on Queen's Road. Next to the Cabot Tower is the fine City Museum and Art Gallery with a surprising collection of Chinese glass, pre-Raphaelite paintings, and Assyrian reliefs. There is much to see in Bristol, including "SS Great Britain", the floating palace designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel that was the first iron clad, screw propelled steamship to cross the Atlantic. After being brought back from the Falklands, where she was unceremoniously abandoned in 1886, she is being beautifully restored to her condition at launching in 1843.

Another Brunel masterpiece is the Clifton Suspension Bridge, soaring above the Avon Gorge. Along the busy, attractive waterway is the Industrial Museum and the Maritime Center with displays showing the city's long history as an important sea port and center of the transport industry. In some of the old warehouses are also housed art and design centers.

Much of the heart of Bristol was destroyed in WWII, but the magnificent 14th century church of St. Mary Redcliffe survived, with its tomb of and memorial to Admiral Penn, father of the founder of Pennsylvania. The church is well worth Queen Elizabeth I's praise as the "goodliest, fairest, and most famous" in England. In the American chapel are kneelers showing the emblems of all the United states.

Nearby is Queen Square where some of the taverns were used as models for those mentioned in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In King's Street are the 15th century Merchant Venturers Almshouse and the oldest working theatre in England, the Theatre Royal, dating from 1766.

On Cathedral Green, Bristol Cathedral has stood since the mid 12th century; its Norman chapter house may be the finest in the whole country, and there is much of interest for the historian. Visitors by train should have a look at Brunel's 1840 Old Station at Temple Meads, an original example of early railway's grand architecture, and now a science center. Twenty miles north of the city on A38 is Berkeley Castle, site of the gruesome murder of Edward II in 1327. In the same village is a museum dedicated to Edward Jenner, pioneer in the principle of vaccination

Next Stop: Bath

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