In the heart of Bristol, England is the infamous “Bristol Harbour”. This is a historic city center area that covers approximately 70 acres and has existed since the 13th century. Its 19th century style was affected by the installation of lock gates on the tidal stretch from River Avon to City Centre and providing a tidal by-pass for the river. It is now a “Floating Harbour” as the water level remains constant and not affected the river’s tidal fluctuations. Netham Lock is the eastern upstream limit of the harbour beyond which is a junction – one arm the navigable RIver Avon that continues upstream to Bath, and on the other a tidal River Avon. The First mile of floating harbour downstream from Netham Lock is an artificial channel known as the feeder canal while the tidal River Avon follows its original route. Between Bristol Temple Meads railway station and Hotwells, the harbour and the River Avon run parallel at a distance of approximately .65 miles apart. At the railway station the Floating Harbour occupies the original bed of the River Avon and meanders through Bristol’s city centre, Canon’s Marsh, and Hotwells. To the south the River Avon flows through the artificial channel known as “New Cut”. The separation of the floating harbour and the tidal River carries currents and silting into the harbour that prevents flooding. In Hotwells, the floating harbour rejoins the river through a series of locks and flows into the Avon Gorge. This Harbour is also the original Port of Bristol but has turned to much smaller ships as modern ships and cargo are too big for this small harbour being re-routed to the docks at Avonmouth and Portbury 3 miles downstream at the mouth of the River Avon. The harbour is now a shopping and tourist attraction with museums, galleries, exhibitions, bars, and nightclubs. It has become a city cultural center with highlights such as the Arnolfini art gallery, Watershed media and arts centre, Bristol Industrial Museum, Museum of Bristol, At-Bristol science exhibition center, and fashionable apartment buildings. Museum boats are permanently berthed in the harbour including Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the first iron-hulled and propeller driven ocean liner. A replica of the Matthew in which John Cabot sailed to North America in 1497 also sits in the harbour. The historic vessels of the Industrial Museum, which include the steam tug Mayflower, firefloat Pyronaut and motor tug John King, are periodically operated. The Bristol Ferry Boat operates at the harbour, serving landing stages close to most of the harbour-side attractions and also providing a commuter service to and from the city centre and Bristol Temple Meads railway station. Bristol was a village that grew up along the banks of the Rivers Avon and Frome. Somewhere around 1240, an artificial deep channel called the “Saint Augustine’s Reach” was built to flow into the River Avon and became the heart of Bristol’s docks with quays and wharfs. Beginning in the 13th century, the rivers became modified for use as docks including the diversion of the River Frome. Since the River Avon inside the gorge mixed with the River Severn can have tides fluctuating 30 feet in between high and low water made the river easily navigable during high-tide but difficult to get through during low tide, stranding ships – first utilized to unload when the tides went down and deliberately stranding ships. This gave term to the phrase “shipshape and Bristol fashion” to describe boats that could handle repeatedly being stranded. 1420 there were vessels from Bristol regularly heading out to Iceland with rumors that sails from Bristol had already made landfall in the Americas before Christopher Columbus or John Cabot. When Cabot came to Bristol, he propositioned the king that he could reach Asia by sailing west across the north Atlantic and that it would be shorter and quicker than Columbus’ southern route. He got agreement and funding. 1670 the City had 6,000 tons of shipping of which half was used for importing tobacco and later heavily for the slave trade. Since the 1980’s millions of pounds have been invested in re-working the harbourside. By 1999 the Pero’s footbridge was finished and linked the At-Bristol exhibition with the tourist attractions. 2000 saw the opening of the At-Bristol center over the semi-direlict land at Canon’s Marsh and some of the Grade 2 listed buildings became refurbished and re-utilized. Over 44.3 million pounds from the National Lottery and another 43.4 million from the Bristol city council and partners invested in revitalizing the area. Construction of theaters, retail buildings, new flats, homes, and watershed offices. Today there are many festivals held in this area – such as the Bristol harbour Festival every July where tall ships and all other boats come attracting over 200,000 visitors with live music, street performances, and entertainment. Since 1996 it has been the tromping grounds of various festivals including the first International Festival of the Sea. Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
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