Take a fresh look at our landmarks from top deck
If you've never been for a trip on Bristol's colourful, eye-catching Sightseeing Tour Bus then, I tell you, you've missed a real treat. On a fine day, what could be better than to sit back on the open top deck and let someone else do the driving in Bristol's busy, stop-go traffic.
Not only that, but the top deck makes a great viewpoint as the city's history – aided by a knowledgeable guide – reveals itself all around you.
The owner of this popular tour business, 60-year-old Warwick Hulme from Yatton, has been involved with public transport for well over 30 years.
In fact, he helped set up Bristol's first open-top bus tours, run by the long-defunct Bristol Omnibus Company.
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At the turn of the millennium, Warwick decided to take up a franchise with the world's largest open-top tour company, City Sightseeing, which has its origins in London.
One bonus of this is a ten per cent discount available to Bristol ticket holders on any Sightseeing buses in any city in the world – except, apparently, London and Rome.
Operating seven days a week, and for most of the year, the Bristol business has over 30 well versed (and well turned out) guides and five regular drivers.
For those who are keen on buses (and I know many BT readers are) the fleet, which is garaged in St Philips, near to Temple Meads, consists of an ex-Edinburgh Leyland, an ex-Dublin Volvo, and an ex-London half-top, low-floor, Dennis.
A veteran 1956, ex-Devon General bus, is also available for corporate hire as well as for weddings and other special events.
The driver on our 75-minute trip around the most historic parts of the city was 43-year-old Ian Watkins, who has worked for the company for six seasons.
And my knowledgeable guide, on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, was retired printer George Locker, a veteran of six seasons.
Despite an ever-growing trend for pre-recorded audio commentaries, the Bristol tour company is a firm believer in local, well trained, enthusiastic guides, who love to share their intimate knowledge of the city with others.
These part-timers, from a variety of backgrounds, are either Blue Badge or company trained.
With about 30 people – including a sprinkling of foreign-speaking tourists – signed up for the trip, we rang the bell and pulled out from No 1 stop, near Cascade Steps, to start our adventure.
As our tour guide, George explained, The Centre's current fountains and gardens cover what was, for hundreds of years, Bristol's main, navigable, harbour.
Most people, it must be said, looked very surprised to hear that.
Edward Colston's statue gave George the chance to introduce Bristol's past involvement with the slave trade – but then it was off down the busy Hotwell Road, utilising the bus lane, of course, for a short stop and quick rundown on the history of Great Britain and the Hotwell.
A turn back along the Cumberland Road – the nearest we got to South Bristol, incidentally – gave visitors a glimpse of the New Cut and, thanks to our guide, some idea of the complexity of Bristol's 200-year-old harbour system.
Next, as we travelled towards it, we had some wonderful views of another of Brunel's creations, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, before making our way up Bridge Valley Road to Sea Walls and the Downs.
It was here, as a wonderful vista opened up, that we really did appreciate being on the top deck.
Beyond the wonderful gorge, river and hanging woods was Portishead, the industrial Royal Portbury Dock and beyond, the glistening River Severn and the Welsh coast – a foreign land, as George informed us.
After a trip around the Downs – and a quick lesson about the Romans in the Bristol area – it was past the zoo and into delightful Clifton village.
After that it was down Queen's Road, past the Museum and Art Gallery, down Park Street and back to The Centre.
During this time people had been getting both on, and off, the tourist bus.
In fact, one of the great advantages of this City Sightseeing tour is being able to alight at any one of the 21 official stops and spend more time in a certain area before (at no extra cost) getting back on.
But our trip still had some way to go and, as we made our way along Nelson Street, past St John's-on-the wall, the city's only surviving medieval gate, there was a chance to look over See No Evil – Bristol's contribution (apart from Banksy) to international street art.
After Baldwin Street, and then over Bristol Bridge, our trip took us to Temple Meads – yet another link with Brunel – where we turned about at the incline to make our way back past Redcliffe's famous church and so back to our starting point in Prince Street.
Amazingly, in just over an hour, we had travelled through a thousand years of Bristol's history.
For more information about the City Sightseeing bus call the information hotline on 0806 7112191.
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