The cruise down the river in to Bristol was straightforward. It is mainly very rural, but there are almost no opportunities to moor. We still get excited by the sightings of kingfishers, but there was little else of significance on this stretch. At Hanham Lock there were signs warning us that we were under the control of a different authority and that we needed to phone to confirm it was safe to travel.
I’m not usually keen to make that sort of phone call, but I dialled the number anyway. The friendly lock keeper at Netham Lock assured us that everything was just fine for our passage, but asked us to moor up and come to see him when we arrived. (Why had I been anxious about such a pleasant phone call?)
The lock keeper was just as friendly and helpful in person as he had been on the phone. He gave us a map of the Floating Harbour with clear advice on where we could choose to moor, and sold us a pump-out token and an electricity card. The Floating Harbour is an arm of the River Avon with a lock at each end – several miles apart. Without the locks the entire section would be tidal and nothing would float when the tide was out. Driving in it felt like a very wide canal winding its way in to the City, with moored boats and other things to watch out for the whole time.
We found an excellent mooring and reversed in easily despite the strengthening wind. The handy post for electric hook-up even had more than a fiver’s worth of credit on it – bonus!
The weather was bright and sunny the entire time we were in Bristol, as was the sparkling company. During our second day I turned off the shore power as we were getting more than enough from the sun. We still had a tiny amount of credit on the electric post when we set off for our cruise on Wednesday. It was good to know that if we needed to find another mooring we hadn’t yet loaded our purchased credit.
Our harbour tour was a great success. By heading anti-clockwise I was able to keep to the right hand side of the water. Margaret was able to point things of interest almost the entire way round, she may have missed her calling as a tour guide. The majority of the other moving vessels we met were sailing dinghies and ferries, and the rules of the water require me to give way to both of them. We got very close to the SS Great Britain – it is a lot bigger than us, I wouldn’t have fancied meeting it if it was moving.
We got back to our original mooring and were able to reclaim our spot. I loaded our electricity in to the post, to recharge after the trip – the sun might have been enough, but I also made sure we had plenty of hot water. Before we left I took the chance to run an equalisation charge. I forgot to check how much credit we left behind, but I’m pretty sure it was more than we had found.
The afternoon plan was a novelty. While chatting with Dave the previous night, he had expressed enthusiasm for a tandem ride. People sometimes say this and then back pedal when I agree – but not Dave! So while the others were in various galleries, Dave and I came back to the boat and he helped me get the bike out. He had a route plan which involved cycling along the Avon and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
We started well, but got in the wrong lane on one of the roundabouts and ended up on a flyover we should have gone under. We got off and rescued ourselves by crossing the busy roads on foot. Once we were on the cycle path along the river we were able to get in to our stride. Dave’s route knowledge was slightly sketchy so we stopped to ask a pedestrian. We got clear (and correct) advice and a complement on our clothing. We were all dressed in shorts and t-shirt – Dave in all blue, our guide in all grey, and me in all red.
At a particularly steep point Dave suggested that we could perhaps turn off – I didn’t hesitate but once the road levelled off he expressed some doubt. I pulled in to a handy gap at a park and we stopped for a rest and a map check. My phone mapping suggested a route through the park would be better than retracing our route. We both praised the wonders of serendipity as we passed the stately home with views over the Severn Bridges.
We reached the cafe near Blaise Castle with five minutes to spare before closing time – serendipity again! After a very welcome ice cream, we went to look at Blaise Hamlet. This is a small cluster of houses originally built to house the servants for the castle. They are hidden from the castle by a high wall, and the servants travelled to work in tunnels to keep them out of sight.
The houses are all owned by the National Trust but are let out as dwellings on a commercial basis. We struck up conversation with a resident who was very welcoming and friendly and told us some of the history of the place.
Dave’s confidence in my piloting, and mine in his stoking had now risen to a level that I was very relaxed about our return journey. We used a similar route to the outward, but by now the rush-hour traffic was building. We found our way on to the cycle track alongside the Avon again and were able to zoom along with the wind behind. On the final approach to the boat there was a hairpin bend on the cycle path. Dave wondered if we needed to get off – by now I was confident he would behave well, so to his amazement we simply went round it.
We rewarded ourselves with peach lager (other alcoholic fruit drinks are available) in the sunshine at the tables outside the nearby pub while we waited for the gallery goers to return.
We have reached the limit of our westward travel on the River Avon, but this is not the furthest west we have been on Bartimaeus. Even if we had continued down to the Bristol Channel we would not get as far west as we were when we were on the Ribble link. The westernmost point of the connected canals in England is just as you enter Wales on the way to Llangollen, the westernmost point on the connected canals. Our flat in Edinburgh is west of there!