This week we decided to make the most of the long Bank Holiday weekend and extend it into a little over a week off. Our holiday started on the previous Friday and we decided that we would spend the day in Bristol, travelling down by train.
I was very impressed by the train fare: at £9 per person for an off-peak return it probably works out cheaper than parking and petrol. It is also a nice relaxing way to start the holiday.
Having arrived, we swapped the train for a ferry for a short boat ride along the Floating Harbour.
We disembarked near M Shed, the Museum of Bristol Life. M Shed is well worth a visit, if only for the view across the harbour and a closer look at the magnificent cranes that stand along the dock side here.
We then took the short walk to see Brunel’s SS Great Britain.
The SS Great Britain is superb. Entry is quite pricey at £14 per adult, but this allows you to return as many times as you like for 12 months. You also get quite a lot for your money.
Although on first glance the SS Great Britain appears to be floating on the canal in the normal manner, this is not the case: it is actually ‘floating’ on a glass sea, which allows you to go below the waterline for a close up look at the world’s oldest iron hull and massive screw propeller. The Great Britain was the first to combine these features in a large ocean-going ship. She was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic, which she did in 1845, in the time of 14 days.
Next you have the museum, which takes you through time from the ships launch in 1843; through her heyday as a luxury liner; her use as an emigrant steam clipper, transporting folks to Australia; to less glamorous work transporting coal and her scuttling on the Falkland Islands in 1937. It then takes you through the salvage operation in 1970, her return to the UK on a submersible pontoon and her final restoration to the state that we can see her now.
Finally you get to go on board the ship itself, where the history is brought to life by the very effective use of props, models and an audio soundtrack.
I’m not sure I would have wanted to spend several months at sea in the steerage accommodation, where life was very basic and cramped, with zero privacy. One of the reconstructions shows a woman giving birth in one of the bunks – not a great idea to take a voyage whilst heavily pregnant I’d have thought!
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the boat you get to see how the other half lived: still not exactly spacious, but definitely more traces of luxury and an impressive dining room rather than having to survive on basic rations and ships biscuits.
All in all a great experience, but it makes you hungry so afterwards there was just time for a massive feed at Za Za Bazaar, where you can eat as much as you like from a buffet that takes you all around the world, before getting the train home.
In the words of one of Bristol’s other great creations, it was a grand day out.