Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Category: UK

Balloons!

One of my favourite things about living in Bristol is how, on a clear day, you’re almost guaranteed to see a hot air balloon or three floating in the sky.

And sometimes, on a really special night, you can be sat in the garden with a cup of tea and ten will glide past – a mini balloon fiesta – passing so close that you can hear the roar of the fire in the basket.

You’d think I’d be bored or at least complacent about them by now, but no – and hopefully I never will be. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about a hot air balloon that never fails to make me smile.

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Food Friday: Beese’s Bar & Tea Gardens, Bristol

Beese's Bristol by Andrew Bennett

On its website Beese’s describes itself as one of Bristol’s best-kept secrets. Considering how buzzing it was on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I’d argue that’s not quite true, but it’s still not the sort of place you’re likely to stumble upon. Nestled on the riverbank on the opposite side to the Bath and Keynsham footpaths, Beese’s has to be sought out – by foot, bike, car or, more unusually, river ferry.

(The river ferry harks back to Beese’s roots. It was founded by a Mrs Beese in 1846 to provide refreshments to passengers on the Conham River Ferry, which her husband captained.)

Beese's Bristol

As well as putting in the effort to find Beese’s, you also have to be patient to experience this lovely pub. Although I say you’re unlikely to stumble upon this lovely pub/bar/restaurant, that’s actually exactly how we discovered it. An impromptu Autumn walk in neighbouring Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve spat us out into the Beese’s car park. But Beese’s is only open from Easter weekend until the end of September, we’d been waiting six months before finally, finally a weekend where it was open coincided with a weekend where it was sunny and a weekend where we had decided to take a break from DIY.

We had decided to have a light lunch so plumped for the baguettes – egg mayonaise and brie and cranberry. Simple food, done very well.

If you wanted something more substantial, the Sunday roasts smelt and looked amazing and the burgers were making our mouths water a little too. We’ll definitely be back for a larger meal next time. Possibly in an evening, so we can sit outside as it goes dark, beneath the lights strung between the trees.

Alternatively if you just want a snack (Tarr’s ice cream, afternoon tea with scones) or a drink (alcoholic or non), they cater for that too.

Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve

It’s also in the perfect location for a post-food walk. Very few people seem to take advantage of Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve, which is right next door. To be fair, that suited us fine (so don’t tell too many people about it!). We sat and watched ducklings paddle round one of the ponds (or ‘lagoons’) and meandered through the woodland and by the river. The perfect end to our lunch date.

Whether you’re planning to eat out with a partner, all the family (it’s very kid-friendly) or catch up with friends, Beese’s is the perfect place to while away a Sunny afternoon or evening in Bristol. Simple, beautiful and just plain lovely.

The Details
Beese’s Bar & Tea Gardens
Wyndham Crescent, Bristol, BS4 4SX

Booking is available and probably recommended for larger parties. However there are a few T&Cs.

Getting There
Public Transport: Get the No 1 bus (which starts at Cribb’s Causeway and goes to the city centre via Park St) to the Good Intent Pub, Brislington

A number of Bristol ferry companies run boat trips from the city centre.

Beese’s has a car park (where you can also leave your bike). If you’re on the other side of the river, you can park in Conham Road car park and contact Beese’s, who will ferry you across!

For more details, see Beese’s informative website

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Picture credits
Header of Beese’s: Andrew Bennett via Flickr
Beese’s beer garden: Good Bristol
Eastwood Farm Nature Reserve landscape: Chopsy Baby
All others my own, please credit if using

Not-so-lonely goatherders: A weekend at Woodspring Farm

crooksviewwebsite

Not counting festivals or nights in caravans, I have only camped once. It was a practice trip for a school expedition to Vietnam and we were forced to go to Buxton in January. (Quite how pitching a tent on snow prepares you for trekking in the rainforest I’ll never know.) One night I woke up and was shaking so much, I genuinely considered waking my tent-mates and asking them to tell my parents I loved them should I freeze to death. Let’s not even get started on the trauma of putting on new underwear. Overall, not a life highlight.

So despite John’s repeated suggestions that we should invest in a tent, I’ve been avoiding any ‘real’ camping ever since. That was until last Christmas, when I happened upon Canopy & Stars. The ‘glamping’ arm of Alistair Sawdays, the website lists a number of unique, and quite appealing, camping hideaways in the UK and Western Europe. They seemed like the perfect Christmas present: enough outdooryness/nature for John and a proper bed for me (also part of making this a perfect present for him, as it meant that I wouldn’t wake up grumpy after a bad night’s sleep on an under-inflated air mattress).

Kewstoke Wellspring Farm walk

After searching through options in the South West, I eventually settled on Crook’s View Shepherd’s Hut on Woodspring Farm, Kewstoke. Situated between Weston-super-Mare and Worle, Kewstoke’s less than an hour from Bristol by car, which meant we could spend more time enjoying being there and less time driving/getting lost.

The hut turned out to be perfect in so many ways. From the moment I booked, the owner, Victoria, was incredibly friendly and helpful, sending an email full of information about the hut. This continued throughout our stay; she and her partner, Andy, made us feel welcome and were more than happy to chat and offer recommendations, but they also gave us plenty of privacy, too.

Middle Hope, walk near Wellspring Farm, Kewstoke

The location, too, was ideal. Although described as being in Kewstoke, Woodspring Farm is very much in the countryside, close to walks through picture-perfect green fields overlooking the coast. It’s the ideal combination: a peaceful escape, yet close enough to towns to be able to get hold of amenities (and takeaways) easily!

And then there’s the hut itself. When we arrived – on a very wet January Saturday (date chosen because it’s our ‘anniversary’, and I’m a masochist) – the stove was already burning. This and the abundance of blankets kept us cosy throughout our stay. Victoria and Andy provided everything we needed (and more), from utensils, plates and mugs to marshmallows for roasting over our wood burning stove. A handy folder gave recommendations of walks, restaurants and other nearby attractions. And if the weather had been better, we’d have loved to have tried out the storm kettle and outdoor fire pit.

Worn burning stoveInside Crook's View, Wellspring Farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you do want to cook for yourself, but it’s not quite outdoor-cooking weather, there’s also a ‘guests’ section in Victoria & Andy’s farmhouse which contains a small kitchen (as well as a toilet/bathroom and space to hang up soggy clothes to dry overnight – very much appreciated!). As it was a Christmas present (and we’re lazy), we instead decided to treat ourselves and order in from the local Indian, who deliver to the farm. Delicious, and exactly what we needed on a stormy January night.

We also ate out for lunch, at the Sand Bay Tea Rooms in Kewstoke. Excellent grilled cheese sandwiches and milkshakes, and really friendly owners. We popped in on our way to the farm, but it’s also walking distance from the hut.

Talking of food, the breakfast (included in your stay and delivered to your door at the time you request the previous night) was amazing – and very filling! Even we couldn’t finish it all, and packed some of the snacky bits for our morning walk and journey home.

Breakfast @ Crooks View

But although everything about our stay was lovely, there were two stand-outs. The first was the resident mischievous-but-friendly goats! We had a good giggle watching them try and break into our hut and, later, out of their field! They also seemed to like the taste of my waterproof.

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The second was waking up in in the hut. Hut’s windows and doors open, we clutched mugs of tea and watched as the goats devoured their breakfast and dawn broke over the hills. There is no better way to start a morning.

Goat feeding in the morning, crook's view

Admittedly our shepherd’s hut experience isn’t exactly what many would consider ‘proper’ camping. It’s certainly not roughing it – not that I’m complaining. But if you want to get away from it all and back to nature but with some home comforts, it’s the perfect way to do so. We’ve already booked our next Canopy & Stars getaway, and were planning to go back to Crook’s View before we’d even left. Perhaps in the summer next time, though; I want to use the fire pit!

Photo Credits
Top photo: Courtesy of Canopy & Stars website
All other photos my own – please credit if using

The details
Crook’s View Shepherd’s Hut
Pricing starts at £160 for two nights (we actually only stayed for one, but I don’t know if that’s an option any more – and I’d highly recommend staying longer, anyway!)
Near Kewstoke, South West England
Nearest train station: Worle (about 3 miles). You can cycle from here, or Victoria will pick you up from £2
Parking on-site

Shepherd's Hut morning view 2

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A Magical Afternoon

Outside Warner Bros studios
Usually, when everyone tells me how good something is, I end up leaving a bit disappointed. Having built it up in your head to be spectacular, it can never quite live up to expectations.

So having been told by at least ten different people that the Harry Potter (sorry, Warner Bros) studio tour is amazing, I was a little apprehensive. Although this didn’t stop me feeling like an excited child when we pulled into the car park.

I shouldn’t have worried. Our whole experience was incredible, and possibly even exceeded my – very high – expectations.

After the initial introduction, this is a self-guided tour. You wonder between the actual sets* to theme-specific exhibits, such as a costume rail, displays of props and (inevitably one of my favourite parts), a section on the animal actors who featured in the films. Televisions also accompany some of the sets, playing short interviews with crew members.

*It’s worth highlightinh that you view the sets from behind a rope, you can’t quite gp through them, understandably!

But what really blew me away was the amount of detail there was everywhere, how much attention was paid to every last thing. Whether it was dressing every inch of a set or how they created some of the more complex sets and props, everyone went to so much effort even for something that would appear for only seconds or just in the background. It made me want to watch all the films again, to take them all in with this additional knowledge in mind – knowing it’s far more than special effects (not that any less effort was went to with the special effects – these too are hugely impressive).

John has only seen a couple of the films (despite having read all the books), but even he was intrigued and absorbed. Being an engineer, the mechanics behind many of the props and sets particularly grabbed him. (I promise I didn’t force him there! In fact, he actually went voluntarily, having bought the tickets for as a birthday present – I’ll be hanging on to him!)

Personal highlights were walking across the bridge, Diagon Alley and the model of Hogwarts at the end. I won’t say much more, partly because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t been and partly because words wouldn’t do it justice, but they were all pretty incredible.

Diagon Alley Warner Bros Studio Tour
Diagon Alley Warner Bros Studio Tour

Any downsides? Well, there’s a reason you’ll spot quite a few almost-untouched Butterbeers lying around in the picnic area (though I’d have regretted not tasting it more. I am the sucker the marketing/sales people at Warner Bros must love. On the plus side, we did bring in our own sandwiches (well, Boots meal deal. We’re not that organised), avoiding the large queues and, from what I hear from others, not-cheap prices. So I think that makes it 1-all.)

Talking of prices, if you’re bringing kids (or are a big kid yourself) then prepare to march them through the extensive gift shop very quickly, or for quite a large credit card bill. Seriously – one chocolate frog (albeit huge) will set you back £8. Mugs start from about £10. You don’t even want to know the cost of one of the knitted House Colour jumpers… I was very tempted by the prints designed to advertised Weasley’s sweet products but somehow managed to restrain myself and only came away with a mug.

Knight Bus & Butterbeer Warner Bros Studio Tour
Also, John was kind enough to get me the ‘Complete’ ticket that, for £10 extra, comes with the souvenir programme and digital tour (these would cost £15 if you bought them and the entry ticket separately). In themselves, these weren’t a downside. Even though the programme doesn’t offer much additional content, it makes for a nice souvenir and contains some great photos – perfect if you realise after seeing all the sets that your camera was on a dodgy setting and none of your own photos have come out.

On the other hand, there is a lot of additional content on the digital guide, from additional interviews with crew members to galleries of images. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it was so extensive that John, who opted not to have one, would have read everything about each section and be nearly ready to move before I had got even half way through the extra clips. Admittedly you probably could spend more time looking at the detail than he did, though. But regardless, if you’re going to get a digital guide, it’s worth either finding a way to share it around your party or persuading everyone to get one (they cost £5 if purchased separately from entry). While John was very good and patient (presumably part of the birthday present deal!), I did feel a little guilty about how long I was taking at some points.

Overall though, this was a fantastic, pretty-much-perfect attraction that will appeal to adult and child Harry Potter fans alike. It really is as good as everyone says it is.

Bridge @ Warner Bros studio tour

The Details
Warner Bros Studio Tour
Adult Standard Ticket: £30
Child Standard Ticket: £22.50 (Free for under 4s)
Family (Either 2 adults/2 children, or 1 adult/3 children): £89
‘Complete’ Studio Tour Package (including souvenir programme and digital guide): £39.95 (adult)/ £32.45 (children)
When you book, you’ll be asked to choose a date and time. I’d recommend leaving at least 3-3.5 hours to get round, so pick a time that will allow you not to rush!

Getting There
The nearest station is Watford Junction, and shuttle buses run from there
Driving is relatively easy and there’s free parking on-site

What I Wore
Skirt & belt: Vintage; T-shirt: (very old!) Topshop; Jacket: Monki

Journey south: Totterdown & Knowle, Bristol

colourful Totterdown houses, Bristol
With all these entries about far-flung adventures, I’ve been neglecting the ‘Bristol’ bit of this blog recently (again!). It’s not an excuse, but sometimes I take living in such an exciting city for granted, to the extent that I become uncertain whether what I’ve enjoyed recently is really worthy of a blog post.

And then something happens, like Bristol being named as the best city to live in the UK by the Sunday Times, that makes me appreciate how lucky we are to live here, to have so much right on our doorsteps.

In the spirit of ‘right on the doorstep’, today’s post is all about the first Bristol neighbourhood I called home, Totterdown and Lower Knowle. Although they may not be the most well-known areas of Bristol, both have a lot to offer. And, if you first visited Bristol by train, they also may have even given you your first impression of the city (hopefully a more positive one the beautiful Parcel Force building, too!). If you sit on the left of a carriage, look out for the rows of brightly-coloured houses peering over the cliff edge, marking the start of Totterdown.

These communities may be a little out-of-the-way for the average Bristol visitor (or even anyone who lives north of the river), but here are just seven reasons they’re worth turning left out of Temple Meads station.*

The Office

This tiny bar opened in 2012 and has fast become a local favourite. It looks ‘cool’ (exposed brick, industrial-style lights – you know the drill) yet feels welcoming rather than try-hard.  It’s a particularly lovely spot on a warm day, when they open up the glass screen-fronts onto the patio  and the sun streams in. And while a patio set not-too-far-back from the busy Wells Road, one of the main routes out of Bristol, doesn’t sound like the most pleasant of spots, somehow it manages to be a really relaxing place to wile away the hours with a pint (or two). They also serve tapas, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about.

 A Capella, Wells Rd, Totterdown, Bristol

A Capella

Whether you want a full English breakfast, a light (or not-so-light) lunch or a huge pizza, this award-winning restaurant is the place to come for tasty, good value food at any time of day (the pizzas – which can be eaten in or taken away – may not look cheap, but even those with huge appetites would be hard-pushed to finish one on their own). Other bonuses: friendly staff, it’s bring your own and they will put their (amazing) cake in a take-away container if you’re too stuffed to eat it there (or if you’re just walking past and have a craving for a slice or two, but don’t have time to stop). Incidentally, while all the cakes are excellent, I particularly recommend the carrot and ginger ones.  

Interior of Thali Cafe, Totterdown

Thali Café

I may have written about this restaurant before, and it’s not unique to Totterdown, but a list of my favourite places in the area wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the amazing Thali Cafe.

Farrows Fish and Chips

If there almost always being a queue isn’t enough to convince you of how good this takeaway is, the fact that it’s won a number of awards – most recently storming away with the title of Bristol’s best budget eatery – should do.

Victoria Park, Bristol

Victoria Park

Not a local BS3/4er and looking for somewhere to sit with your Farrows chips (or A Capella cake/pizza)? Or just fancy a post-breakfast/lunch/dinner walk? Head down to Victoria Park, one of my favourite spaces in Bristol. It even has a table tennis table (though you do have to supply your own bats and balls). Watching the sun set over the city from the top of the hills is particularly special.

Perrett's Park allotments + balloon

Perrett’s Park

That said, views from Perrett’s Park are arguably even better.

Gaines Greengrocers

This might look like a bit of an odd addition to this list, but I couldn’t not mention Gaines. You’ll recognise it from the bright array of fruit and vegetables spilling onto the pavement (not literally! They have crates and boxes and tables, you don’t have to pick produce off of the floor!). But Gaines doesn’t just sell your five-a-day. This tiny store is a bit like Mary Poppins’ bag, packing in more foodstuffs than you’d ever think possible, including (but not limited to) freshly baked bread (or baking ingredients to make your own), organic grains, fairtrade chocolate, tofu, tasty peanut butter and even matzah. The owner, Jason, and his co-workers are genuinely friendly and helpful, too. Good food served with a smile – sums up the spirit of this part of BS3 and 4 for me!

Totterdown houses from Albert Road railway bridge

*This is far from an extensive list of things to do in Totterdown and Knowle – there are plenty of places that are still on my ‘to visit’ list but I’m assured are really nice (in particular the Star & Dove, Duchess of Totterdown and Assilah Bistro). And I haven’t even started mentioning the many pubs, either!

Image Credits

Colourful Totterdown Houses (first pic): The Guardian

Office Bar and Canteen, A Capella: Courtesy of Tripadvisor

Thali Totterdown: Thali Café website

Victoria Park: Toulouse and the Vegetable

Perrett’s Park: Gaelallan on Panoramio More Totterdown houses (last pic): Rwendland via Wikipedia