Saturday 18 November 2023

Up on the Downs

We were in Bristol last week, and for the first couple of days were more or less trapped inside our flat by successive waves of torrential rain and hail. I took to photographing the view of the Avon Gorge as seen through raindrops on the kitchen window, especially as in between the showers brilliant sunshine would briefly break out, making everything sparkle. Double glazing is not the ideal photographic filter, though, it has to be conceded.

The storms had passed by midweek, and I went for several walks along the Gorge, on afternoons when the quality of the light seemed to be changing from minute to minute. It is getting dark around 4:30 p.m. now, even in southern England, so the opportunities for "available light" photography are quite limited; it's also fairly hazardous stumbling along the narrow rocky paths along the clifftop in the gathering gloom. But I like nothing better than just being out there, getting a fresh perspective on some familiar views, perhaps on the way to scoff a sausage bap from the Mall Deli in Clifton Village.

If you turn round and face the other way, though, you find that you're on the edge of Clifton Downs, a level but bumpy 200 acres of grass partly occupied by football pitches that only see games on Wednesday afternoons (students' playtime) and at weekends; the rest of the week, it's the preserve of joggers, kite-flyers, dog-walkers, and anyone else in need of some fresh air and time away from city streets. It's a good back yard to have when you're in a top-floor flat without a balcony.

But, pleasant as the Downs are, I find the pull of the Gorge to be irresistible. As do others. Quite often as I walk the path along the cliff edge I encounter bird-watchers hunched over their telescopes, for example, keeping an eye on the resident Peregrine Falcons, who have their habitual his 'n' hers perches in separate trees on the other side of the gorge. But not this time. The weather probably meant both watchers and birds were inside with Netflix and/or a nice plump pigeon to snack on.

Looking south-east

Looking north-west
(that's Wales on the horizon)

The Gorge is not only frequented by walkers, photographers, and bird-watchers, of course. It's something of a nursery for would-be rock climbers, too, with well established (but still hair-raising) routes. It's the second time this year I've come across someone guiding a novice up the Sea Walls cliff, using the same tree as a belay, or whatever it is he is doing. The giddy 100 foot drop is immediately behind him.

Back in the summer I was crossing back over the Suspension Bridge from the Leigh Woods side, when I saw some lunatic in casual clothes free-climbing the 300 foot cliff next to the bridge. I watched for as long as I could bear to, and was inevitably reminded of the wheelchair-bound teacher I knew in my gap-year days as a school art assistant who, being late for a wedding in Ireland, had ill-advisedly decided to take a short cut up a seaside cliff. He didn't make it to the wedding, suffering what these days are referred to as "life-changing injuries". Perhaps as a result, and despite a love of mountains and wild places, I have never been even slightly tempted to take up climbing, even under the exemplary supervision of someone like our friend below. Just walking and looking is good enough for me.

(N.B. All these photos were taken on the iPhone 12 mini, FWIW).

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