23 May 2014 by Walking Class Hero
Walking around Bristol it’s hard to ignore its seafaring past. There’s the floating harbour of course, but mainly it’s because the Cabot Tower seems visible from everywhere.
Built to commemorate John Cabot’s (or Giovanni Caboto, Zuan Chabotto, Giovanni Chabotte, Juan Caboto, Jean Caboto – whichever takes your fancy) 1497 discovery of parts of North America under the commission of Henry VII. This is commonly held to have been the first European encounter with the mainland of North America since the Vikings visits in the 11th century. The official position of the Canadian and British governments is that he landed on the island of Newfoundland.
Cabot was an Italian navigator and explorer who was actually searching for the legendary island of Hy-brasil which was rumoured to lie in the Atlantic, west of Ireland.
In Irish mythology it was said to be cloaked in mist, except for one day every seven years, when it became visible but still could not be reached. It probably has similar roots to other mythical islands claimed to exist in the Atlantic, such as Atlantis, Saint Brendan’s Island, and the Isle of Mam.
On returning to Bristol the king awarded him a bonus of £10 for discovering North America and claiming it for the Crown. So it wasn’t only indigenous peoples we ripped off in those days.
These days the nautical traffic is more local but there’s no avoiding the fact that Bristol prospered on the sugar, slavery and tobacco trades. A much more recent and wholesome Bristol legacy brought me to the mild mild west – Between Hello and Goodbye: The Secret World of Sarah Records - a programme of concerts, exhibition, film and activities being held at the Arnolfini gallery.
Our own @innerlondonramb, in a previous guise, was a co-founder of this seminal record label that released 100 7" pop singles between 1987 and 1995. And to coincide with Get Walking Week 2014 along with Brunel Walking Group she was also leading 3 themed walks around the city.
Operating at first from a telephone-free basement at the top of Blackboy Hill and then from a house overlooking Bedminster station, the label was run on the proverbial shoe-string that required much traipsing and to-ing and fro-ing on foot around town.
As well as displaying a healthy DIY punk attitude, the idiosyncratic label saw its productions as something of a love letter to its home city. Photos of Bristol featured on the centre labels of its singles, compilations were named after local places, and postcards that formed a jigsaw of Temple Meads station were given away.
This all culminated in the label taking out adverts in the music press headed 'A Day For Destroying Things' announcing that the label was over and that they didn't do encores. Since then, Sarah has acquired almost legendary status around the world, and is now the subject of both a documentary - My Secret World, made by filmmaker Lucy Dawkins - and a book, Popkiss: the Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records (forthcoming from Bloomsbury).
The 3 walks over 3 days attracted an incredible 106 walkers. It would also be fair to say that this audience was not your normal gore-tex clad, walking boot shod, grey-haired Ramblers crowd. Of the 106, probably only 6 were already members and possibly 80 had never heard of the Ramblers before, let alone knew they organised city themed walks. As a further experiment we also gave the walkers the chance to donate to the Ramblers work and raised £65.66. Everybody left knowing a lot more about Bristol, Sarah Records and the Ramblers.
And I learned, via a chat to a walker and the power of wikipedia, that many European churches have weathercocks because the popularity of weathervanes exploded following a papal edict from Pope Nicholas I in the 9th century AD which helped bring the weathervane to the skies of most of Europe.
Rome declared that every church in Christendom must be adorned by a cockerel, a symbol to remind Christians of Peter’s betrayal of Christ: "I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me." (Luke 22:34).
While these cockerels were at first not intended as weathervanes, they were eventually combined with the weathervanes that already dotted many church steeples to create the familiar rooster-shaped weathervane common today. This is probably due to the fact that the cockerels atop church steeples were easily visible from anywhere in town, and so were a logical choice to become communal weathervanes.
The weather helped but by all accounts Get Walking Week 2014 was a great success. Bristol like so many cities and towns up and down the UK offers wonderful walking opportunities. So take a stroll out with your friends and family, check Ramblers Routes for some suitable choices, take in the views, eat a little ice cream, drink a beer or two and chat away while you’re doing all this. Or alternatively join a Ramblers group on a walk near you. Or you could even venture out alone – if you’re keen to know more about Bristol follow the Sarah Records route (it’s about 3½ miles) and plug-in your headphones and give the playlist a listen while you’re about it.
Sarah Records route
My Secret World: The Story of Sarah Records trailer
Listen to Walking class hero’s (sarah records) playlist:
Maritime City – Tramway
Between Hello And Goodbye – The Field Mice
Pelican Blonde – The Orchids
Grey Skies – Secret Shine
In Gunnersbury Park – The Hit Parade
Anorak City – Another Sunny Day
Atta Girl – Heavenly
Walking Class Hero is a regular blog contributor. Find out more about him, including his previous blog posts, and follow him on twitter @walkngclasshero.