Sunday 24h of June by CarpediemEire
This was day 2 of a trip to Somerset with Beata and Nina. The city of Bristol, the Safari Park of Longleat and Stonehenge were on our target list for this day.
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The weather wasn’t as bright as our first day in Somerset but it was dry so we were able to happily push on with our plans.
After breakfast at the Malago Guesthouse booked online at booking.com we made the short drive into Bristol for a quick visit to the city. We only wanted to see a few sights there and most were located fairly centrally. We used the NCP Prince street car park, it was in walking distance of all of our stops. Bristol is famed for the street art of Banksy so spotting one of his drawings was high on our agenda.
Traversing the harbour we manoeuvred our walk to pass by Bristol Cathedral a 12th Century construction, but we declined to stop in. Our target was the Cabot Tower. The walk via college green presents the lovely curvature on the Bristol City Council building.
There is quite the elevation in Bristol and the streets up to the tower had a steep gradient. But hey that means a better position and a better view. Located in a park atop Brandon Hill the tower is aesthetic and the views commanding. The girls found a bench and left me to my own devices. Dedicated to John Cabot and his 15th century voyage to Newfoundland, it was opened in 1897. Entry is free which is a plus. Not wanting to waste time or leave the girls too long I raced up the narrow steps to the top, but the dull morning left the views a little flat.
As time was of the essence we backtracked but not without a diversion to see that iconic Banksy sight, his Well Hung Lover. Clinging to a wall side, em, as most graffiti does. But also clinging to a window sill. His works are great at catching stills from people’s lives, even if this one is a little slapstick.
We wished we had longer to see more of the city (and hunt for Banksys other works) but with a full day before us, we went straight to the car. The drive was an hour to Longleat. I was sad at not getting to see the LLangoder Trow pub in Bristol where Treasure Island was written by Stevenson, but our route to Longleat took us by the even more visual George Inn in Wadsworth. I am mesmerised by Tudor style buildings, and this one was breathtaking. Possibly dating from the 14th century, its style certainly looks as if plucked from that time and it has provided the background in a number of movies.
We had booked tickets online for Longleat and arrived there around 11am. It’s worth booking online for that 15% discount. It’s around £35 for an adult and £23 for a child at the gate. The park is open 10-5 each day with longer opening hours in the summer.
Nina was keen to have a run around so we brought her to the adventure castle, the children’s play area here, and after we cracked the hedge maze.
But Longleat is first and foremost famous for its zoo and more so it’s Safari Park. The zoo features all of the usual suspects. Meerkats run around your feet in their enclosure and endangered giant anteaters rummage under sticks for a crunchy lunch.
What absolutely cannot be missed is the Rainbow Lorikeets. Their large cage is innocuous looking as you enter with their feed. What is totally unexpected is just how tame or hungry they are, as soon as you step inside the gate they were all over the three of us, on our heads, shoulders and our arms. It’s a delight to feed them. I found it very amusing that if you tried to touch them they would give out and aim a peck at your finger. Amazing birds.
We booked our tickets on the safari bus (an extra £5 per person) before returning to the Coffee House for a lunch of sandwiches and treats. I wasn’t going to risk my rental Mercedes through the safari park, everyone has read enough what the monkeys can do to your car. You can bypass the monkeys, but that’s like leaving a good movie half way through and coming back for the end. Speaking of movies the first lions to inhabit this park were the animal cast of the 60’s movie Born Free. Apparently it saved the estate from ruin.
The bus tour takes you into the beautiful expanses of the safari park, which makes great use of the ginormous grounds of the Longleat estate. A succession of animals from wildebeests, warthogs, and vultures entertain before the bus makes a stop at the African Village. You can stay on the bus (why would you) or climb up to a viewing tower for great views across the plains to zebras, Giraffes, and camels. It’s as close as it gets to the real thing in the British Isles. With time still we went to see the ever entertaining lemurs, who were all resting in the cutest of huddles.
Back on the bus the safari now brought us to where we most anticipated, the drive through the Rhesus Macaques. Signs give warning that your car will be damaged and to keep the windows rolled up. In fact several tonnes of car parts a year are removed from the enclosure. They have a particular liking for wipers, parking sensors, and anything removable. It’s hilarious to watch them clambering all over cars and sitting on wing mirrors looking in at the bemused driver and passengers.
The drive through the rest of the park showed animals in a better habitat than a normal zoo. We were treated to some activity from the normally passive Lions. The male and a female had a little flirtation, and the male even did a little running and leaping, his power easy to see. Loved the friendship between an elephant and three goats again something so random it couldn’t be seen in a zoo.
The return drive from the safari gave us wonderful views of the house and the majestic parkland and formal gardens, designed by famous landscape gardener Capability Brown. We were enticed to tour the house, but not before ice cream.
Longleat house itself is one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture in the country. It’s a vast three-story house, elegant yet opulent. Built 450 years ago by the first Marquess of Bath John Thynn. The external fountains and large lion statue to the fore add to its appeal. Tours of the house are by guided tour only, but its adds another token of value to the admission of the park. Sadly that notice that irks those of us who love to take photos was displayed – no photography allowed. Such a shame too, of the 130 rooms, only a dozen or so are allowed to be viewed, but they are intricately decorated. The great hall is floor to ceiling in paintings, the library has 40000 books, and the grand staircase is exactly that. Each room is a feast for the eyes, and a measure of the wealth the family amassed over the years. It is quite simply a treasure.
Some statistics; the lands once extended 40 kilometres in each direction. The house is the home of the Marquess of Bath – the former Alexander Thynn was a critic of monogamy and had up to seventy wifelets who live in cottages around the Estate. The current marquess’ wife is part Nigerian, and the first African member of British aristocracy.
Do not miss the house if in this part of the country.
It wasn’t that late in the afternoon so one quick look at Google told me that Stonehenge closed at five. It was only thirty minutes driving away. Nina was reluctant to leave Longleat, but I had decided. Sometimes we should listen to our children more. Arriving at the visitor centre we quickly realised that last entry is 2 hours before closing. Maybe I should have done more research and been less impulsive. Checking it after they highly recommend booking online to guarantee entry. Lesson learned. I hope.
Having come this far, we skipped the visitor centre and drove in search of the site itself which is usually reached by bus. Its easily spotted from the road so we ventured down the country road adjacent. Parking and walking to take a look, I spoke to a member of staff who made a very welcome suggestion. That to jump a gate and walk up a field inhabited by cows, and littered with dung. It wasn’t a first hand view but with my telephoto lens, my photos somewhat give a different impression. Does this count as seeing another UNESCO World Heritage Site? The stones were raised about 4500 years ago, were brought here from Wales, and most interestingly no one has any idea why.
Back to Bristol
The drive back to Bristol took one and a half hours. Before settling down for the evening we give sightseeing one last roll of the dice, and our legs a stretch after the drive. Circling the south of the town we lined up a drive over Clifton Suspension Bridge. A toll is payable to cross the bridge but the views down into the Avon Gorge are magnificent. The bridge itself is a work of art, two red sandstone arches help support the wrought iron chains that keep it all together. It is one of those rare places where I was inspired to be both panoramic and minimalist with my photography. It was completed in 1864 to a design by Isambard Brunel and is the iconic image of the city of Bristol.
We parked in a housing estate in Clifton as the park side was lined with cars. The area is an affluent one, large houses line the road side. It’s a pleasurable walk through the park to the Clifton Observatory. Stick to the gorge side for ever better views of the bridge and down below. We walked down in to the bridge itself where we found a welcome bathroom and first hand views of the masterpiece of engineering itself.
There is a visitor centre which was closed at this time of the evening and an interesting looking tour of the vaults beneath the Leigh Woods. These are open from 10 to 5 daily.
We returned to the car and made the short drive to Pieminster in Avon. Our plan was to try one of the most traditional of British dishes, steak and kidney pie. Sure we have them in Ireland but they do them better here. Even though it’s a chain the quality was good and we left happy. It was already deep into the evening so we returned to our hotel.
To read day 1 of our trip to Somerset, click here.