Bristol is a special city, with unique people and way of life.
The city’s music, art and culture has travelled the world, and its famous bridges, balloons and boats have brought people flocking here from all over the world to become a new generation of Bristolians.
For those who grew up here, their experience of Bristol is completely different. It’s about school days and friends and work and home and watching the city change around them, rather than landing in a fully-formed insta-friendly urban metropolis of coloured houses and waterside bars.
For those who grew up here, there would have been a whole series of things that they did, that happened to them, that Bristolians would now look back on and describe as their rites of passage to grow up in Bristol, depending on whichever generation they came of age in – so that could be anything from narrowly losing a finger on the ice rink, to dancing to Roni Size at a warehouse party into the early hours.
Or it could be being an extra in Skins or Teachers, or jostling your way to the front of the huge pop concerts they used to have as part of the balloon fiesta.
But in recent years the city has seen unprecedented inward migration from places like, although not exclusively, London.
So in the communal spirit of bringing everyone together, the old Bristolians and the new Bristolians, what are the new rites of passage that we might suggest could afford one honorary, or confirm existing Bristolian citizenship?
To reiterate, these are a new set of Bristol Rites of Passage, that hopefully – when this coronavirus lockdown is all over – we can all throw ourselves into ticking off, like a kind of gert lush I-Spy.
1. Climbed Troopers Hill
One of the things oldies and newbies alike love about Bristol – especially now it’s the only thing left to do – is just how many parks, estates and green spaces there are in this city.
So while this could be – visited Blaise Castle, or Stoke Park Estate – Troopers Hill is a bit of a well-kept secret for Bristolians, which is weird because it’s a huge hill with a massive industrial revolution period chimney on top of it, and a really interesting and diverse range of landscapes and places – with loads of wildlife, all tucked away just off the road to Hanham. Take a picnic, if that’s legal…
2. Gone down The Slider
All slides are called sliders in Bristol, but there is one that is The Slider. Smoothed by hundreds of years of bottoms, it takes you far too quickly from the top of the hill by the Observatory next to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, down to side of a little offshoot of the Avon Gorge, landing with a bump at the bottom.
You do this at your own risk. We are not responsible for any injuries sustained.
3. Seen a gig through Big Jeff’s hair
Now while the first two are perennials for Bristol, this is a rite of passage of anyone in the music scene in Bristol in the 2010s, and hopefully long may it be possible.
Jeff Johns is a very nice man who just absolutely loves live music, with an enviable ability to lose himself in it, while at the same time having a well-honed ear for who are the great bands to see.
If you’re at a gig he’s at, firstly well done, you’ve picked the right gig of many options that night. If you’re stuck behind him – and bear in mind, he’s big, with big hair – do not complain. Give him the time, space, respect and love he deserves, for he is one of Bristol’s gems.
4. Paddled in the River Frome
It’s Bristol’s ‘other’ river, and flows down from the north before shamefully disappearing under the city centre.
But while we wouldn’t recommend trying to get in the deep, fast-flowing, tidal and muddy River Avon for any time whatsoever, the Frome is a proper little river that you can dip your toes in.
Try it at Eastville Park, Oldbury Court or Snuff Mills. By the time it gets to Ikea, I wouldn’t risk it.
5. Been on a protest
You’re starring in your very own coming of age movie in Bristol, be that as a born-and-bred Bristolian or a newly-minted one arrived for work or study.
And you can’t say you’ve truly arrived in this city unless you’ve gathered on College Green and not quite made out what a figure on a makeshift stage has just said, before you’ve shuffled off down to The Centre and marched around Broadmead getting beeped at by angry van drivers.
There was a time in 2016 and 2017 when there were so many protests, that people started talking about having a protest about how many protests there were.
6. Been to the football
For a city that’s famously underachieved with the round ball, football is still a huge part of city life. And most people in Bristol have grown up having gone at least once to either Ashton Gate or the Memorial Stadium to see City or Rovers.
We obviously can’t say which you should go to, but instead will recommend extra Bristol Points for checking out one of 20-odd games of football you’ll see at the unique Downs League, which takes place on Durdham Down every Saturday afternoon.
It’s the only league in Britain that’s properly affiliated and accredited to the FA, but sits outside the non-league pyramid system, and is the only league in the world with that many teams, that all play in one place.
7. Shopped in Sweetmart
It’s a Bristol institution now, with decades of history on St Mark’s Road supplying food from all over the world to anyone and everyone who is welcomed through its doors.
For those who can’t claim to be South Asian or African Bristolians, it’s a window to a world of new food – the sweets are amazing.
8. Been stuck in the carpark at The Mall
Cribbs Causeway is Bristol’s retail cathedral, and almost everyone drives there. You can’t say you’re a proper Bristolian unless you’ve gone there, shopped for a few hours, and then taken longer to get home than the time you spent there. The same applies to Ikea too.
Having a huge regional retail hub well served by link roads, dual carriageways and roundabouts very close to the intersection of the M4 and the M5 is great, and usually works, but then you remember that the M4/M5 section around Bristol is one of the busiest stretches of motorway in the country, and on a Friday rush hour evening in summer is at a standstill, and the queue usually starts from the end of your little aisle in the car park, and lasts all the way to Burnham-on-Sea.
9. Seen the Seven Saints
The street art of Bedminster and Ashton Gate changes annually thanks to Upfest, but it’s not the only place where the houses are a canvas – and these ones are going to be there for a while.
Michele Curtis’ work to put the seven ‘saints of St Paul’s’ on the sides of the houses in the very streets where they led their community has already become a modern icon of Bristol. Find out more about it here.
10. Had a cider by the Arnolfini
So while sitting in a car on a roundabout by a huge Asda on a Friday evening in the summer is one thing all Bristolians have done at least once in their lives, so too should be another Friday evening summer thing – enjoying a cider by the floating harbour.
There’s a number of locations to do this – the Ostrich pub, by the Cottage down at Underfall Yard, on the Grain Barge, the Thekla or at the new Left Handed Giant, perhaps the best is by the Arnolfini.
There’s picnic tables there, or you can sit with your legs dangling over the edge – but do not, please, fall in.
11. Go on a 24 bus from Ashton Vale to Southmead
If you’re new to Bristol and want to see the real city, not just the bits of Gloucester Road or The Centre that the guidebooks take you too, then get on a bus. Most buses will do, but there are one or two that go on such strangely wonderful routes that take you through all the very different ‘villages’ that make up Bristol.
The 5 is a good one, so is the 36, but perhaps the best is the 24. Let’s start at the very southerly end – in Ashton Vale, by Ashton Gate stadium, outside the Robins pub, in the heart of the red side of the city.
Then it bends around North Street, so enjoy a top deck tour of all the amazing Upfest street art, heads past the unique experience that is Bedminster Asda, crosses the river into Redcliffe, goes right through The Centre and the city centre and Broadmead and Cabot Circus, then out along Old Market, and then down Stapleton Road, through a different kind of Bristol.
Then it heads up Muller Road and circles another different kind of Bristol in Lockleaze, then Horfield, passing close to the city’s other football stadium at the Mem, then up and across Gloucester Road to end at Southmead. All for £2.50 or a fiver if you want to get off and experience each of those things close up. It’s like a red bus tour for tourists, but showing the proper Bristol.
12. Been lost in Kingswood
No offence to the part of Bristol that’s, through no fault of its own, in something called ‘South Gloucestershire’, but to the untrained, it’s a seemingly endless maze of residential streets and traffic lights.
You’ve not experienced the real Bristol, unless you’ve driven round and round the one-way system in a failed attempt to find Courtney Road.
13. Donated to a homeless charity, or volunteered for one
Or, of course, given money to someone who is begging or is street homeless. You can’t grow up in or move to Bristol in the past 10 years without realising there is a huge housing crisis – and the visible tip of that iceberg are the people, conversely, at the very bottom of it, who are sleeping rough on the streets, or forced to beg for money as they bounce between sofas to surf or squats to be evicted from.
14. Seen the view from the Northern Slopes
Bristol is a city of hills, and the views from many of them are great – but the best is one of South Bristol’s best-kept secrets.
The Northern Slopes are a collection of wild places that form the steep slope that separates Knowle West from Bedminster, and a mostly covered in impenetrable brambles and stingers, but there’s clearings there too, and from there you get a stunning ‘pano’ view from Ashton Court to Stoke Park, with the city centre, the bridge, the harbour, the spires and towers and everything in one sweep of the eye.
15. Been to Chasers
OK, so this one would be on many Bristolians’ lists for the past few decades, but the Kingswood nightspot is absolutely legendary, and has been for years. Forget all the swanky clubs of the Clifton Triangle or the city centre, or the hipster joints of Stokes Croft, Chasers is a club for people who like going clubbing and dance like no one is watching.
Yes, it’s closed because of the lockdown restirctions, but the staff are still entertaining their loyal clientele.
16. Danced in the streets of St Paul’s
Carnival made a welcome return after a bit of a hiatus in the middle part of the 2010s, and hopefully can get back to business in 2021. Set up over 50 years ago Bristol’s relatively new Caribbean community to showcase that community and bring people of the city together, it’s now huge and needs a heck of a lot of organising. But nowhere else can you dance to really very loud drum and bass in the street along with tens of thousands of other people.
17. Been on a West Street pub crawl
There are many different pub crawls to do in Bristol: You could go around Easton, or up and down Gloucester Road, or Whiteladies Road, or the historic pubs of the Old City, or the pubs of the pirates, or down North Street, but for a proper taste of Bristol, the West Street one is a good rite of passage.
For generations of South Bristolians, who perhaps wouldn’t dream of heading into the city centre, a night out was Bedminster’s Golden Mile from Parson Street, along West Street to East Street.
Many of these pubs have sadly closed now – even the one that doubled up as the Nag’s Head in Only Fools And Horse, but enough are still there to make it a night.
Start at the Miners, then head to the Three Lions, then the Jolly Colliers, the Black Cat and the London Inn, before either heading left and ending at the Steam Crane, or carrying on down East Street for the Assembly, and the newly-refurbished White Hart. Take your karaoke voice, because at least one will have the mic ready and waiting.