Bristol Harbour Festival 2016

Dateline: Sunday 17th July 2016


The view towards and over Perot’s Bridge

I had mixed feelings about visiting this event in the centre of Bristol. Local television news had been carrying stories about local people actually complaining about this free event, moaning about the amount of alcohol being consumed, and the potential for rowdy behaviour. Nearby shops and supermarkets were being exhorted to limit the amount of alcohol they were selling to any one individual over the weekend. It seems to me that there is something quite dark and brooding about contemporary British culture – seemingly to have a good time, out with one’s friends, automatically requires the carrying of a large case of cheap beer or cider acquired from a supermarket all-to-happy to sell the stuff as a loss leader, being pretty much pickled by 9am in the morning, and making lots of rather anti-social noise. Quite how any average British socialite can enjoy anything in such an inebriated state is quite beyond me. But there we go…



Towards Redcliffe Quay. The spire of St Mary Redcliffe Church dominates the skyline here. Gorgeous narrow boats moored at the jetty there…

For me, the attraction was to photograph the rich colour and spectacle of this waterfront event, one of two colourful, and free, events in Bristol over the summer. The other is the Bristol Balloon Fiesta in August; last year, it was so successful that the gates had to be closed to new admissions to ensure safety for those already inside. Wow! Yes, the Bristol Harbourside last Sunday was very busy, with visitors being herded around the quays and streets in a one-way system – give them due credit, the organisers were doing all they could to relieve bottlenecks and avoid criticism about overcrowding. But all-in-all, it was a really lovely atmosphere, come the finish, in the sunshine and fresh air. People seem to respond to sunshine somehow, their mood altogether lighter. I have no idea how things developed later in the evening – I’m not the sort who wants to hang around like a war correspondent if there is the slightest possibility of things getting at all ugly. But what I found in the mid-afternoon was a great opportunity for a family day out, perfectly safe, and hugely enjoyable. Well done, indeed, to the organisers.


How on earth do I describe this??

There were tall ships, narrow boats, sail boats, ex-industrial steam tugs, a Royal Navy vessel, a working 35-ton steam crane, trips along the Bristol Harbour Railway, fairground attractions, artisans and food vendors all doing a roaring trade. Good to see! And we even had chaps out in the middle of the harbour on hover board contraptions powered by water jets doing all manner of aerial stunts. It all looked like great fun, albeit only for pros, but I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the bellies full of harbour water that these performers must surely have been consuming. Ugh! Heaven alone knows how many immunisation shots these chaps would need to keep out the harbour’s resident germs…!


…or this??

So, enough blabber from me… I leave you with a simple gallery of images of the afternoon. Here’s to an equally successful event in 2017 🙂


Tall Ship Kathleen and May


Harbour Tug John King


35-ton steam crane, in steam, and open for visitors


Steam train rides from the M-Shed museum towards the SS Great Britain


Something for the kiddies?


A nice spot of afternoon jazz. They did try to book Canadian superstar act Willy Ward’s Revenge for later in the evening, but Willy was, sadly, unavailable…


Recent Railway Happenings…

The last few days of my recent “FOSS”, or Freedom of the Severn & Solent rail rover ticket… Great value for those who wish to wander widely in Wessex and the Westcountry.


No hurry at Yeovil Pen Mill today – The down token instrument at Maiden Newton is apparently jammed, and there’s a queue of trains waiting to head south over the single track section.

So, latest happenings over the past week: The token machine at Maiden Newton, south of Yeovil Pen Mill on the Castle Cary to Dorchester line, decided to act more like a petulant child than a well-oiled piece of railway infrastructure Saturday before last, leading to half-hour-plus delays for services over that single track section.


Thomas, the Pen Mill station rodent operative, arrives in his Public Relations capacity to calm the nerves of anxious delayed travellers…

My unit down from Westbury was held for a good 25 minutes at Yeovil, plenty of time for a brew from the station cafe (I’m always happy to support independently-run station cafes), as well as affectionate attention from the resident station cat, who I now know to be named Thomas, aged about thirteen-and-three-quarters!


West Coast Railways ran their Last Days of Southern Steam tour from London Victoria to Weymouth via Bournemouth –


Jubilee class 45699 Galatea arriving at Weymouth with WCR’s “Last Days of Southern Steam” tour

ironically producing an appearance of an LMS kettle, in the shape of Jubilee class 45699 Galatea. Shame they couldn’t conjure up a turn from a Westcountry Light Pacific such as Tangmere or something. But for the diesel bashers, there was a treat in the form of 33207 Jim Martin bringing up the rear.





Class 800 at Bristol Parkway

Meanwhile, a couple of days later, something caught my eye on – a working from North Pole Junction near Paddington to Stoke Gifford; my curiosity was rewarded at Bristol Parkway, with my first photo opportunity with the upcoming Class 800 IEP (Intercity Express Programme). This particular 800 had already splatted its first seagull on the front, so for the sake of keeping my site of a family nature, I contented myself with photting it from the rear. The colour of the afternoon was completed with the appearance of a “Red Shed” on the Moreton-on-Lugg to Elstow Redland Siding.


Moreton-on-Lugg – Elstow Redland Siding crosses Stoke Gifford Junction

Elstow_Redland passing 2C20 GCR-WSB

Through Bristol Parkway…

The Widcombe Lock Flight

The City of Bath…

IMG_9426Here the River Avon flows placidly through the Georgian splendour that now surrounds this Roman spa town, under the Pultney Bridge and over the weir, onward towards Bristol.

Quietly, from the East, almost unnoticed, the restored Kennet & Avon canal joins the river through the Widcombe Bottom Lock, at the end of a flight of six locks, bringing this once vital trading link down some 60m from the pound at Sydney. Back in the 1970s, extensive road reconstruction across the canal whilst it was in a sorry and derelict state meant that two of the locks had to be merged during the restoration of the waterway into one deep lock, and the Bath Deep Lock is now the second deepest lock in normal narrow boat use in England…some 19ft 5in of rise and fall.

IMG_9444The Widcombe Lock Flight and the walk up to the Sydney Marina provides a lovely half hour or so of diversion, and ample opportunity for photography, rich in colour and contrast. no more babble from me about this – I merely present a small collection of photos I shot on my short ramble up the flight today…






Fidelis Civitas


The classic view of Worcester Cathedral, across the River Severn from the A44 road bridge

My developing interest in the waterways of Great Britain are taking me further into the heartland of Middle England in search of inspiration, and perhaps, eventually, a boat of my own to live on. I carry the name “Severn” – my cousin in British Columbia and I are the last of our line of the Family; all the descendants in this part of the clan are female – so the river also bearing our name, and flowing through my destination today, Worcester, is always of special interest.


Diglis Basin Marina, a riot of colour, even under cloudy skies.

The Severn rises in the Cambrian Mountains of mid-Wales, thence flowing southwards through Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, to the sea in the Bristol Channel. The Severn Estuary has the second highest tidal range (if I am not mistaken) in the world after the Bay of Fundi in Canada, and as the water rushes in to the funnel-shaped estuary, it creates the phenomenon of the Severn Boar, a tidal wave spectacle which draws onlookers from far and wide – and many thrill-seekers who love to ride it on their surf boards and small boats.

Today, in summer, the Severn through Worcester is peaceful and picturesque, though England is famous for its rainfall, and the now placid river is very prone to flood in this area. Worcester Cathedral commands the view over the river in the city; English composer Sir Edward Elgar was born not far outside Worcester. Worcester is a place steeped in history and culture, notable not only for Elgar’s music, but as the location of some of the most significant battles in the English Civil War of the 17th century. Worcester was originally sympathetic to the Parliamentary cause, but spent most of the war under Royalist occupation, and the astute politicians of the day seemed to want favour from the new king, Charles II, after the war, in the hope of securing compensation. It lead to the invention of the epithet Fidelis Civitas, or “faithful city”, and this motto still forms part of the city’s coat of arms today, Civitas in Bello et Pace Fidelis (City, faithful in war and peace).


Entering Diglis Basin at the start of the Worcester and Birmingham canal

For me, though, on this summer’s day early in the 21st century, I was looking for the colour of the riverbank and the cathedral, and also of the canal which begins its link from the Severn to the city of Birmingham not much more than a quarter of a mile downstream from the church’s dominant position. The Worcester and Birmingham Canal is some 29 miles long with 58 locks, which begins its course at Diglis Basin, then wending its way north-eastwards towards Birmingham at Gas Street Basin. Construction started in 1792, with the route fully open and complete by 1815. Of course, this waterway no longer carries commercial freight, but it is still a delight for narrowboaters with more leisurely pursuits in mind.


London Midland Class 172 DMU arrives at Worcester Shrub Hill from Foregate Street, past the impressive GWR bracket signal at the north end of the station

I strolled pleasantly along the towpath back towards the city, before leaving the canal near to Shrub Hill Station, ready to join the eventual scourge of the canals – the railway – for my onward journey that afternoon. Shrub Hill station remains a riot of colour, and in many ways untouched since the Victorians built the line, still employing a wonderful array of Great Western Railway mechanical signalling to control the traffic. This sort of technology is dying off fast as electronic and digital methods in railway technology sweep this venerable old equipment away – so it was well worth pausing here awhile to photograph it. My onward journey took me down past Gloucester onto the welsh side of the Severn Estuary via Lydney, one of the best stretches of coastal railway in England, but that, methinks, is a subject for another day.

Quinessentially Saturday

Widewanderer has landed back in Old England. It is to be an indefinite sojourn in this green and pleasant land, although the world does still offer an open invitation for to explore. For now, the bag is packed with camera (and pack horse booked to carry it!), and out into the verdant landscape of south-western England we go.


Quintessentially English… A few overs of cricket then tea, then…a pint of the decent stuff.

The cities are their usual bustling selves on a summer Saturday afternoon, not really much of an attraction for me; but only a half hour or so on a train gets one out into the countryside where typically English pursuits are to be found, just bubbling under the surface. Beer, cricket, puttering along the canal in a boat, cyclists, walkers, the polite “Good afternoon, how are you?” rarely to be found in the city, the country railway station complete with resident cat. Not necessarily in that order…

No more than twenty minutes out of the city of Bath on a lamentably crowded train, we’re into the valley of the River Avon. Mobile phone signal fades, and the incessant buzz of train passenger conversation is merely a background as I gaze out of the window at the gently passing landscape.


A GWR Portsmouth-Cardiff working pauses at Bradford-on-Avon station

Farms, aqueducts and viaducts, weirs along the river, passing country stations at which the trains only call but occasionally, manor houses, ramblers out for a weekend hike (or older folk like myself, strolling in nonchalant fashion)… The robot voice in the train announces Bradford-on-Avon, my destination for the first time in five decades on the planet – I surprise even myself in the fact that I’ve never specifically visited this lovely little spot in rural England.


Life in the very slow lane…

Bradford can trace its roots back to Roman times, and fragments of evidence of this civilization still exist. However, it found most of its prosperity through the woolen trade in the 17th century, and dozens of mills sprang up along the Avon to produce cloth from the raw material. Transport would be crucial to get the goods away to market: First to arrive was the canal, the original transport link from Reading and the River Thames in the east, to the Port of Bristol in the west. Use of canal declined in the 19th century with the coming of the railway, and it fell into dereliction. But restoration in the latter part of the 20th century created a working waterway once again, though more for the tourist trade than for the movement of goods.


Two canal residents who seem to know each other…

The Kennet and Avon canal is also home to a vibrant community who make the water their residence, albeit constantly mobile. Meanwhile, the railway carries trains every hour or so in each direction from Bristol & Bath in the west towards Southampton, Portsmouth and Weymouth on the south coast.



No churns, no porters, but the local station cat is still at home in Bradford.

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann sang about the railway, “The Slow Train”, essentially a lament about the impending closure of much of Britain’s rural railway under the Beeching Axe, “…No churns, no porters, no cat on a seat…” Today, though, the station cat at Bradford-on-Avon station was still on the prowl, across the tracks and sitting, majestically, on the edge of the platform. The cat is a cat, of course, and he didn’t stay there for long… He’s too expensive for entertaining the tourists, and he certainly won’t pass political comment about the up-coming EU Referendum!


Bradford’s 14th century Tithe Barn


Many micro craft businesses surround the Tithe Barn…

One of the most striking buildings in Bradford is the medieval Tithe Barn. It is a barn of a place in every respect, 168ft long by 33ft wide, built in the 14th century. Originally part of a group of farm buildings, known as a Grange, it was part of the estates of Shaftsbury Abbey until the dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1539, at which point it became simply a farm building, in use as such until as late as 1974. In medieval times, it may well have been used to store “taxes” to the Church, or Tithes, hence its name. In the present age, it is now a tourist attraction, managed by English Heritage – and on this particular Saturday, its vast interior was set up as a theatre for a stage play. Well worth a visit if you are passing through, dear reader – and entry is free. As far as I know. At least that’s what is stated on English Heritage’s website.


This is the life…

I reckon another visit to the Avon Valley is needed soon. This time, I may well get off the train before Bradford, perhaps at Avoncliffe, where there is a delightful walk along the canal or riverbank towards Bradford Lock and the copious tea shoppes and canalside pubs. Life in the slow lane, folks – and I am quite warming to the idea of one day owning one of those narrow boats, and spending retirement days just puttering along England’s inland waterways, camera (and maybe the occasional pint of beer!) in hand, of course ;-D


Entering Bradford Lock, eastbound.

I am a dove…

I think doves are known for their homing instinct – well, at least it sounds better than “pigeon”!

Truth is, I’m heading home. Canada has been very good to me – and I really do mean that – but there is no escaping the gravitational pull of “home”, and the family that is there, waiting. Here in British Columbia, I’ve found a fascinating, warm city that is Kamloops, filled with good folks who have welcomed me with open arms; I have more genuine friends now than I think I have every had in times past.

So, even though I am heading home to Good Ol’ Blighty once more, I certainly don’t consider this as a final farewell to Kamloops – more of a “see you in a little while”, as I fully intend to spend time back here again, once retirement years finally arrive.

That is, of course, if they’ll have me…

I reckon they will, though – I’ve worked on and off in the local bus industry here for the last six years, and I think I’ve gotten along pretty well with the other bus drivers. Right now, they’ve been teasing me mercilessly, and you know, dear reader, I rather like that, a real act of endearment on thier part…I think! There’s a rumour going round that they are going to park the buses in such a way at the depot next Wednesday morning (as I fly out on the 0630 flight to Calagary and onward to Europe) to resemble a certain Gallic gesture…it would be sooooo cool if they did that! I’d love ’em to bits.

For now, then, farewell…but batten down the hatches, ‘cos the Widewanderer will be back…when you least expect it…MWAHhahahahaha!!

As Douglas Adams wrote in “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, So long…And thanks for all the fish!”. Luckily though, in this case, the Earth is not about to be demolished by the Vogons to make way for their proposed new Galactic Superhighway, and the dolphins are quite likely to stay put. There is, after all, an abundance of fish still in the sea.

The world of the Railway Modeller

A day or two ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Taunton Model Railway Exhibition in…Taunton (!) Pricey to get in, and pretty packed with all sorts of middle-aged gents quietly indulging their innocent little hobby, and, I'm happy to relate, young families, perhaps with the modellers of tomorrow. But it was a treat – the detail in the layouts on display was astounding – the modellers are indeed artists in what they do.

His & Hers railway enthusiasts

And the modellers have a great sense of humour. It's worth spending a good half hour, at least, gazing at each model, and striking up a conversation with its creator if the said creator is willing and in the mood, as hidden in the various little nooks and crannies are all sorts of little cameos, little jokes and pithy observations on life.

Dr Who has arrived...

For me, model-of-the-day was Northbridge, a tiny 6'8″ by 1'4″ OO-scale shunting layout by Mike Kelly. Set in the British Railways London Midland region of the 1960s, it invoked every inch of atmosphere that once existed in the steam railway of that era. The whole layout was beautifully lit, conjuring up the mood of a dark autumn evening, while all along Northbridge's platform were little cameos of people up to all sorts of tricks. In the yard stood a little blue police telephone box, the sort of tiny structure put there back in the 1960s by the local Plod to enable the private citizen to contact the law while out-and-about – loooooong before the days of private mobile communications, other than jumping up and down, screaming and hollering, that is. Mike flicked a hidden switch and a small blue LED on top of the box began flashing on and off. And every visitor to the layout with even an inkling of knowledge about Dr Who immediately mused, “hmmmm… Tardis.” I certainly did!

Caught short?

Mike beckons me around to the side of the model. “Here, have a look at this…” I peer closely. OMG – there's a bloke in a tiny outhouse sitting on the loo! Mike flicks another secret switch and on comes the light in the loo. The bloke in the loo has his car parked at a crazy angle, and I cannot be sure I didn't see a small whiff of exhaust coming from it. Bloke must have been pretty desperate! Mike beckons my gaze once more, to a spot close by – another bloke has not been so lucky with the comfort of a cosy outhouse; he is busy “inspecting” (and probably watering!) the axle box on a coal wagon… Meanwhile, in a flat by the mainline overbridge, an artist is engrossed in his painting. Tremendous detail at every glance – Mike certainly deserved my vote. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the scene of the local constabulary raiding the local premises of ill repute!

There were many, many opportunities, dear reader, for capturing the mood and atmosphere of the model railway. I close with a selection…

The artist in his loft

Raiding the den of ill repute!

Northbridge Station by night