Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Picnic for one: exploring the Downs

I'd spent weeks brushing off disbelief that I'd never been to the Downs, and the weather was glorious last weekend, with azure skies stretching beyond the hilly streets, so I packed a picnic and took myself off on an adventure.

I trekked through the grass, drinking in the scenery, until I reached the cliffs and could see out over the Avon Gorge across to Clifton Suspension Bridge in one direction and blue haze and wind turbines in the other. Above my head, birds wheeled and dived.

The Observatory

I had hoped to go in the observatory, which houses a camera obscura, but alas it is undergoing maintenance at the moment. I hope I don't have long to wait before I can venture inside. Years ago, I was involved in a few youth film projects and the couple who ran some of the events had built a camera obscura in the attic of the building they rented as their studio. I'll never forget the magical, almost slow-mo feel as I watched passers-by, tiny as pinpricks, drift along, upside down on the sheet that hung on the back wall of the attic room.

Of course, this being Bristol, I saw a whole family of hot air balloons, floating out above the city. I followed them up to the observatory and then out across the suspension bridge. I had to avoid looking directly out over the Avon Gorge as I crossed the bridge, giddy with the height and the void beneath me.

Overlooking Clifton Suspension Bridge from Clifton Downs

Picnic for one: a pasty from Joe's Bakery

Sitting above the bridge, the breeze cooling my prickling skin and a gasp catching in my throat - partly at the views over the Gorge and city and partly because I'm probably not in the best of shapes - I pulled out my picnic: a spicy vegetable pasty from Joe's Bakery on Gloucester Road, a carton of Rubicon Passion (my favourite, I've a can of it sitting next to me as I type this) and an apple picked from the tree in my garden. I took in the views - and the pasty - before making my way down the hill into Clifton for the first time.

I wended my way through the streets, constantly a little bit lost and referring to my A-Z, until I stumbled upon a place I remembered: back in April, I made a fleeting visit to this beautiful city; my first. I was here for an interview: the one that got me the job I'm now in, and a friend of mine who studies here showed me a few of the sites, limited by time and the fact that his patch doesn't stretch far from the Bristol University buildings. He eagerly showed me what I call the "mirrored garden", which some hasty Googling informs me is actually Royal Fort Gardens, owned by the university.

I hurried in towards the glistening maze, but was halted in my tracks by a city fox. We gazed at eachother for what felt like a million forevers, until it startled and sprang away into the undergrowth.

Royal Fort Gardens

My sturdiest, comfiest shoes for adventures

By now, I had been walking for four hours and it was almost time to wind down for the night. The sun was just beginning to slip out of reach as I dragged my Doc Marten'd feet down into town and boarded the bus with a weary sigh. I have so much more of the Downs to explore. Perhaps next time I'll take a friend, or a flask. I hope that I'll be able to get inside the observatory soon, or venture down to St. Vincent's cave. Maybe I'll follow one of the nature trails. There's so much to discover.

What are your favourite patches of wilderness tucked away in the city? Is a park enough greenery for you? I'm sure the Downs will serve me well when I hunger for the lush, rolling fields I grew up amongst.

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