Andrew Swift takes us on a swashbuckling walk around the harbourside
On 19 September, the Long John Silver Trust will unveil a Treasure Island Trail around Bristol’s docks, with old barrels planted with palm trees marking sites of interest en route. This month’s walk takes the trail as the starting point for an exploration of Bristol’s maritime past, and, in honour of Long John Silver, Bristol’s most famous pirate-publican, there are pubs – past and present – aplenty, plus the chance to visit the ss Great Britain en route. We start at the Neptune statue in the Centre. Unveiled on a conduit in Temple Street in 1725, it now stands amid fountains where the waters of the River Frome once flowed. On your left – looking towards the cascades – is Broad Quay, where ships unloaded their cargoes, and where a line of pubs once stood. The last to close was the Sedan Chair at No 4, now home to the Urban Tiger ‘gentlemen’s club’.
● Walk along Broad Quay to the George V fountain, and bear left towards the pink-painted Merchants Almshouses, built in 1699, and the site of the first barrel. This, as far as Treasure Island goes, is where the story starts. One of the ex-mariners who lived here was William Williams. He wrote a novel called The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, which included an encrypted pirate treasure map and provided Robert Louis Stevenson with the inspiration for his classic tale.
● The Chinese restaurant next door also has a literary connection, for it was Bristol’s first library, built in 1740. Ahead lies King Street, once lined with pubs, several of which survive. The Small Bar – the letters StN on its wall indicating that it stands on the boundary of St Nicholas parish – was the Bunch of Grapes. Opposite, the King William Ale House originally occupied the two-storey building at the back before being extended forward. The Naval Volunteer was also much smaller, starting out as a beer and lodging house. Further along at No 7 was the Royal Oak, but beyond that is one of Bristol’s most celebrated pubs, the Llandoger Trow, originally owned by the master of a trow that ran between Bristol and Llandogo in Wales, and the site of the second barrel. There were inns with similar names – such as the Cardiff Boat and the Chepstow Boat – nearby, but they have long gone. It originally occupied only the building on the right, before being extended into the adjoining two in 1962.
● The Old Duke opposite was originally the Duke William. There were two more inns – the Cardigan Arms and the Britannia – to the right of it. The Britannia was lost to bombing, the Cardigan to developers.
● Turn right at the end along Welsh Back, which was also lined with pubs. The Cross Keys, the Bell, the White Hart and the Golden Bottle all survived into the twentieth century, before being lost to bombing and redevelopment. Opposite Mill Avenue – once known as Ferry Avenue because a ferry to Redcliffe Back ran from here – is the third barrel.
● The fourth barrel can be found at the end outside the Hole in the Wall, originally the Coach & Horses. It is famous for its ‘spy house’, a tiny room on the waterfront with narrow windows from which a lookout was kept for press gangs, and may have been the inspiration for Silver’s Spyglass Inn.
● Carry on along the Grove past the former Sailors’ Home, founded in 1851. In the early nineteenth century a ship converted to a floating chapel for the use of seamen was moored in the Mud Dock opposite.
● Turn right into Grove Avenue, left into Queen Square and on into Royal Oak Avenue. Royal Oak House, on the left, stands on the site of an inn bombed in 1941, while on the right is the former Seamen’s Church & Institute of 1880. Turn left past the Shakespeare Tavern, part of a grand townhouse built around 1725, and cross Prince Street Bridge, where you will find the fourth barrel at Merchant’s Landing on the left.
● Turn right along the harbourside past the M Shed and a replica of The Matthew, and carry on to the ss Great Britain.
● Turn left along Gasferry Road, and after passing a derelict malthouse, turn right along an alley past a dry dock. Head towards the Orchard pub – originally the White Horse – turn left along Hanover Place and left along Cumberland Road. After passing some imposing early-Victorian houses, you come to modern flats incorporating a fragment of St Raphael’s Church, built in 1859 with six almshouses for ex-seamen attached. The bridge on the right was built in 1935 to replace a ferry over the New Cut. A little further along, the ruinous gatehouse of the old gaol was built in 1833 to replace one burnt down during the Bristol Riots.
● At the end, head to the right of The Louisiana – originally the Bathurst Hotel – along Bathurst Parade. Bathurst Basin, on your right, was built between 1804 and 1809, on the site of a millpond, to link the floating harbour to the New Cut. Steam Packet House, two doors down, was once the Steam Packet beerhouse. The end house has a stone marking the old boundary of Bristol and Somerset.
● Carry on past a warehouse built in 1874, with two-tone brick teased into exotic exuberance, and cross the bridge. To the left of a tunnel, through which the harbour railway ran to Temple Meads, is the eighteenth-century Ostrich Inn – and the fifth barrel.
● Head up Guinea Lane past the old General Hospital. Opposite the Golden Guinea – originally the Victoria – on the corner of Alfred Place is a former beerhouse known as the Old Arm Chair, once famous for the chair that hung above its door.
● Head along Alfred Place, cross Redcliffe Parade and, a little way along to the right, head down a ramp leading past Redcliffe Caves to the sixth barrel. Bear right along Redcliffe Wharf past the final barrel, cross the road and, just before the bascule bridge, bear right down a slope beside the river. Carry on along a cantilevered walkway and turn right along an alleyway. Turn left along Redcliffe Back, once home to numerous dockside inns, and bear left past a barrier into Buchanan’s Wharf. After passing an Archimedes screw from an old warehouse, walk through a covered area alongside the harbour. Turn right past the Exploration sculpture, and head along Thomas Lane, to the right of the church, to the final port of call, the Seven Stars, one of Bristol’s most celebrated inns, where a plaque commemorates its role in the abolition of the slave trade.
Distance: 3 miles
Time: About 2 hours
Level of difficulty: Easy
Information about the Treasure Island Trail can be found at www.longjohnsilvertrust.co.uk