Capital of clean and serene
WE are chugging up the River Avon in a waterbus, past moored pleasure boats, industrial ships and floating restaurants. Hopping on behind Temple Meads railway station, it’s a fitting way to start exploring Bristol, the 2015 European Green Capital.
I alight at the City Centre stop, where redeveloped quays, known as Harbourside, are lined with bars and restaurants, as well as the Arnolfini contemporary arts centre and the Watershed, a 19th-century warehouse that’s home to three cinemas, a cafe and media companies. The Watershed also houses the European Green Capital HQ, and I have an appointment with education and engagement director Savita Custead.
Says Custead: “The European Green Capital Award was launched in 2008 and we are the first one in Britain … we have more cyclists than any other British city and they are well catered for, the streets are closed to vehicles on Sundays, there are two city farms and more than 400 parks, and Gloucester Road has one of the highest concentrations of independent shops in the country, with many being ethical businesses.”
I also discover that the Avon Gorge, famous for its suspension bridge built by the renowned Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, supports 27 nationally rare plants and that the waterbus runs special 3 ½ hour “waterside wildlife’’ tours accompanied by an expert in local fauna. And that there is a calendar of events planned with a green theme including: the year-long International Green Technology Festival; Food Connections (May 1-9), which celebrates the city’s culinary diversity, including Slow Food; Big Green Week (June 13-21), featuring the Festival of Nature; Harbour Festival (July 17-19) with its street theatre and live music; and International Balloon Fiesta (August 6-9), when the world’s first solar balloon will be launched.
Food plays an important role in Bristol’s green credentials and I head up Park Street with its stylish clothes and home-decor shops, past the grand university and museum buildings, to Friska, winner of Best Ethical Restaurant in the 2014 Observer Food Monthly Awards.
Over a delicious toasted bacon sandwich, the cafe chain’s marketing manager Lottie Pettinger tells me, “Friska, which means ‘healthy, fresh and full of life’ in Swedish and ‘fast’ in Czech, was founded about five years ago and we now have six outlets in the city ... the food is sourced locally from ethical producers and everything is made on the premises except the bread and pastry.”
The company wants to make a positive difference. “We have zero waste and our stores are fuelled by green energy,” Pettinger says. “We also work with a local charity to lend money to entrepreneurs in developing countries so that they don’t have to borrow money with high interest rates.” This is Clifton, noted for its 18th-century architecture, and the city’s most desirable place to live.
Nearby, along a busy tree-lined road, is the Royal West of England Academy, where the exhibition Into the Fields (June 20-September 6) will celebrate the rural realist paintings of The Newlyn School (1880-1930); and the BBC’s Natural History Unit, famous for making pro- grams such as Africa and Frozen Planet, able guided tours are available.
Back at Harbourside, I meet Chris Dunford, sustainability officer at the At-Bristol Science Centre, one of the nation’s greenest buildings. As we walk around the interactive, multimedia exhibits he tells me, “The building was unique when it opened in 2000 and continues to be, due to the cutting-edge heating and cooling system … we’ve been central to the running of the Green Capital process; we regularly advise local businesses on sustainability issues. And the public can learn about green issues via our exhibits or on one of our guided tours.”
The centre is based around a Victorian riverside train depot, which was sympathetically renovated.
“The rest of the waterside redevelopment happened because we set up here,” Dunford says.
“This summer there will be a photo exhibition, an energy tree with solar panels where mobile phones can be charged and a blue-whale sculpture, which people can help to build with recycled materials.”
The obvious place to spend the night is The Greenhouse, a contemporary six-bedroom B & B, which has just been voted “greenest place to stay in Bristol’’ by The Guardian newspaper.
The waterbus stop is a 10-minute walk away.
• visitbristol.co.uk • thegreenhousebristol.co.uk
Avon Gorge suspension bridge, built by Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, top; At-Bristol’s Science Centre, above