My very best friend is at home in Canada right now. Since I can’t be with her, what could be better than a visit with her daughter here in England?
So … on Saturday, we boarded a National Express bus from London to Bristol, with the goal of spending some time with Roberta (“Bert”) and her family. We haven’t seen each other in 20 years, since she relocated to England, but her smile and vivacious energy are unchanged. It’s funny to think that almost 30 years ago, she babysat my now adult sons – she’s only a couple of years older than my eldest.
The bonus of this short visit was also getting a taste of coastal England – just enough, in fact, to convince us that we’ll need to return.
It was really quite wonderful having such a great “tour guide”. Our very first experience was on the drive from the Bristol Coach Station to Portishead, when we got the opportunity to get out of the car and walk across the Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon River.
We crossed at low tide. After all the dry river beds we’ve seen in Europe this summer, it took me a minute to remember that this is a tidal river, connected to the Severn Estuary, which has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, up to 48 ft (15 m), second only to the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. It’s not “empty” due to drought, but due to low tide!
Bert dropped us off at Avon View B&B, just a few minutes from her home, so that we could settle in and freshen up a bit. Our host, Kate, has hosted my best friend and her husband on their visits to Portishead, and gave us “their” room, which was not only beautiful and comfortable, but also had a fantastic view over the Severn Estuary.
After dropping off our overnight bag and having a quick cuppa, it was time to see a bit of Portishead. The big attraction, of course, is the waterfront – which to me is so reminiscent of the Bay of Fundy and brought back great memories of exploring Nova Scotia when #2 son and his family lived there.
We got an unexpected treat, arriving at the end point of a sailing regatta and getting to watch the finish! Racing in tidal waters is completely different that racing on a lake; Bert, a sailor herself, explained that while there is an official “start time”, not all boats actually start simultaneously. Each sailor has to calculate the effect of the tide on their particular boat’s size and weight, so that they are not fighting the tide at any point in the race… or getting stranded in low water.
After the race ended, all the boats headed for the Portishead Marina, where they have to go into a lock in order to reach their berths. While Ted and I have seen many boats enter locks, and have been in both the Suez and Panama Canals, we’ve never experienced a lock located in tidal waters. While the sailboats lined up waiting for their turn to enter the lock, they need to counteract the tidal flow – and cannot use anchors in the muddy bottom to hold their place. Bert described it as akin to gridlock on a steep hill, where all the cars are standard transmission and no one has a hand brake – they’re all “riding the clutch”. It doesn’t sound like fun!
We enjoyed a lovely dinner at The Windmill, overlooking the water, and then headed back to Kate’s B&B for a great night’s sleep in lovely crisp cotton sheets.
Our second morning in Portishead started with a lovely breakfast.
Then it was time to reconnect with Bert, so we walked up the hill (EVERYTHING here is hills!) to her home, where we were treated to a second cup of coffee before heading to Clevedon Pier.
Clevedon Pier is a seaside pier in the town of Clevedon, Somerset, England on the east shore of the Severn Estuary. It was described by Sir John Betjeman, as “the most beautiful pier in England” and was designated a Grade I listed building in 2001. Opened in March of 1869, it consists of eight 30-metre (100 ft) arched spans, which along with its final platform creates a total length of 310 metres (1,020 ft).
While not completely lined with restaurants and arcades like Palace Pier in Brighton, Clevedon Pier does have a couple of cafés, and the area around it along the shore is lined with restaurants, hotels, and entertainment.
Two levels under the Glass Box Café at the shoreline end of the pier is the “porthole room”, where we got a closer look at the pier’s construction, since it is impossible to walk under the pier itself due to treacherous rocks and the ever-changing water levels.
At Clevedon, I was particularly impressed by the “marine lake”, a large tidal infinity pool that gets filled with 30 MILLION litres of seawater from the Bristol Channel every spring tide. (The term spring tide – also sometimes called a King Tide – has nothing to do with the season spring; it is a high tide that occurs twice each lunar month.) The water is held in the pool by a curved stone wall, built in 1929. It’s an ingenious idea for creating a safe swimming place in the channel.
Sadly, our visit was almost over. We returned home with Bert to find that Kai had created the most amazing English two-roast Sunday feast: chicken basted with butter and thyme, stuffing balls, roast pork with crackling, perfect crispy crusted roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, roasted parsnips, carrots and sprouts, cabbage, warm homemade chunky applesauce, and his famous cauliflower cheese bake with leeks. To top it all off there was homemade sticky toffee pudding with Welsh clotted cream ice cream and toffee sauce. We’ve never eaten so well!
We were sad to leave our friends and their wonderful hospitality. Perhaps future travels will bring us back.