UK 2019 Day 3: Redcatch Park, SS Great Britain, Clifton Observatory

Posted June 17, 2019

May 11, 2019

I had forgotten how much longer higher latitude days are in Spring. Even before the March Equinox arrives, the long twilights running up to dawn and lingering after sunset make for extended daylight. I was up early on our third day to checkout the local park.

Redcatch Park [map] is just a quick walk away from our flat (I’ve always wanted to say that! A flat!) amid  proper football fields, a community center, a community garden, some tennis courts, and a playground. It’s a lovely patch of open space with copses of trees here and there, with nearby houses and gardens (what we’d call back yards, sort of, here in the USA).

As I walked to the park, Bristol’s urban dawn chorus was in full swing, with wood-pigeons, robins, blackbirds, chiffchaffs, and tits all singing and calling. I was happy to encounter most of these species in my walk through the park.

eurasian-blackbird
Eurasian Blackbirds are in the thrush family – similar to our American Robins. They have a melodious, flute like song. This male was singing and defending territory from other males.

It didn’t take long after I arrived for people to start entering the park to walk or play with their dogs. Most were on leashes, and those that were not seemed to ignore the birds and the birds, no doubt used to the canine interruptions, gave the canines a slightly wide berth but generally went about their business.

Dunnock_01
This tiny brown bird is a Dunnock. It was hard to get one framed up and standing still for any length of time.

As the sun grew stronger and the temperature rose up from 4 Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) more of the smaller birds became active, including Great, Blue, and Long-tailed Tits, and House Sparrows. Robins were already singing their beautiful thrush-like songs. Common Chaffinches started singing from treetops, the males’ rosy-chestnut plumage brilliant in the sun.

Common-Chaffinch_01
A male Common Chaffinch atop an evergreen tree. His song dominated the park for a while.

I got some looks at birds I couldn’t immediately identify, but determined later to be Black Redstarts (a bird in the same taxonomic family as the European Robin). There were also Eurasian Jays, Common Starlings, and Carrion Crows flying or walking about the park.

european-robin
Another European Robin, watching me as I watched him. 

It seemed to me most of the birds were foraging – probably for nestlings or fledglings – or defending territory. This makes sense, given the time of year. The only courtship behavior I saw was between two Common Wood-Pigeons.

common-wood-pigeon-couple
A Common Wood-Pigeon couple, nuzzling and grooming each other.

I made my exit and walked back to the flat to get ready for the day’s further adventures in and around Bristol.

The eBird list for Redcatch Park: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56112419

I went back to the flat to meet with the others for our next day around Bristol. This time our focus was at the harbor and in particular to see an important piece of maritime and engineering history: The SS Great Britain.

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of this ship. It was the first large ocean liner and the first to be powered by a propeller (or ‘screw’) as opposed to paddles, as had been the case before. This ship performed many functions over the years after it’s luxury cruising days were over. Perhaps one of its most important was to help lay the first transatlantic telegraph cables.

ss-Great-Britain_01

Designed by engineering genius (and by many accounts, jerk boss) I. K. Brunel, the ship is a linchpin in the design history of maritime transportation and the turning point for how ocean travel would progress from that point. You can read about her history at the official SS Great Britain website.

The ship, abandoned and scuttled on the Falkland Islands was recovered, towed back to Bristol, and restored and rebuilt more or less to its days as an ocean liner. Important original pieces of the ship – including hull plates, rivets, railings, and masts – are cataloged and stored in the adjacent museum.

ss-Great-Britain_06
SS Great Britain sits in a dry dock originally built in the 1830s.

A clever bit of engineering makes the ship seem to float in water up to its waterline, but this is an illusion. Several centimeters of water is sandwiched between two layers of glass plate. This boundary is actually part of the preservation method for the ship’s hull.

On the outside, the ship’s detail are exquisitely recreated, including the stern decorations, and even the English coat of arms with unicorn and lion. “God And My Right” had been the English monarch’s motto since probably the 12th century. It signified the King (or Queen’s) divine right to govern.

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Windows and decorations a the top of the stern, just above the nameplate. 
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A goose (I think) over a cornucopia and some curtain effects.
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Lion, with the first half of the English coat of arms motto, “God And…”
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Close up of the lion. Those are some serious canine teeth!

 

ss-Great-Britain_08
Second half of the motto, “…My Right”. I think it’s ironic that “My Right” is on the port, or left, side of the ship’s prow.

Above decks, the ship is colorful has several access points to the cabins and stateroom below. I didn’t get any photos belowdecks, though. I think I was too busy experiencing the ship and kind of forgot about my camera! Sorry!

ss-Great-Britain_17
Even though the ss Great Britain is a steamship, like most early vessels of the type, it had supplemental sails. The rigging is simpler than that found in earlier sailing vessels.
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The masts were collapsible and could fold up flat on deck. 

Great Britain is a long ship, and quite narrow in its cross-section. This was done on purpose to reduce drag and increase efficiency of the propeller drive.

ss-Great-Britain_16
View from inside the dry dock looking at the front of the ship. The silver cylinders along the keel are air blowers that put warm, dry air into the space to stop the iron hull from further corrosion.

Inside the dry dock, the environment is controlled to stem corrosion of the mostly original iron hull plating. In addition to “natural” rust and corrosion, there are a series of holes along the hull that were made to sink the ship in the 1930s.

ss-Great-Britain_10
Corrosion on the original hull plating.

The ship was eventually returned to Bristol in 1970 for conservation and restoration. The dry dock dehumidifier chamber is a marvel itself, both functional below and aesthetic above.

ss-Great-Britain_14
Looking up at the glass plate with the water rippling along the ship’s waterline.

The ship was eventually converted to use sails as well, and a winch system was developed to raise and lower the propeller, rudder, and part of the shaft out of the water. That assembly is in the museum building were it is slowly losing a battle against corrosion (the air is not optimal for either the iron fittings or the wooden rudder).

ss-Great-Britain_12
Replica propeller to Brunel’s original design.

The ship and museum are a definite “don’t miss” if you ever come to Bristol or SW England. The exhibits were top notch, and the ship itself is so accessible and present. It seems right at home in Bristol Harbour.

After lunch and a quick drive to the nearby Clifton section of the city to view the Avon Gorge and the suspension bridge that Brunel designed in the 1830s (but wasn’t completed until over 30 years later, with some changes).

Avon-Gorge_01
Part of the Clifton Suspension Bridge over the River Avon. The Avon is part of the Bristol Channel which has the 2nd highest tidal range in the world. You can see the expansive mudflats along the banks when the tide is out.
Clifton-Suspension-Bridge
A full view of the bridge.

The gorge is beautiful, with dramatic cliffs and forested hillsides. There is evidence of old landslides, and the cars and roads below are dwarfed in scale.

Avon-Gorge_02
Old landslide scours, likely from hundreds of years ago.

The area atop the cliffs has a large green-space and people were sitting and laying in the relatively warm sunlight. Birds were happily mingling with the people, mostly Eurasian Jackdaws. A few of the more shy Eurasian Magpies stayed closer to the trees.

eurasian-magpie
The slight fluffiness on the side of this Eurasian Magpie probably means this is a recent fledgling.

A short drive and a walk away is the Clifton Observatory [map]. This building houses a camera obscura that renders a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape onto a central viewing table.

Clifton-Observatory
The observatory’s camera obscura uses a small opening and mirror at the top to project a clear but dim image inside. Such devices could be used for aids in drawing or even to observe celestial events or objects, like a solar eclipse. The were popular in the 17th through 19th centuries.

Beneath the observatory is a long stairway down part of a cave system that opens up on the side of the cliff, about mid-way. A balcony has been constructed to give brave souls an amazing view of the bridge and gorge.

Giants-Cave
Dubbed the Giants’ Cave (nominally St. Vincent’s Cave), the open-grate floor can be intimidating for some.

 

Clifton-Suspension-Bridge_closer
A closer view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge from the Giants’ Cave balcony.

After the observatory and cave we drove around Bristol a little and then made our way back to the flat and settled in for the evening, ready for more adventures.

2 thoughts on “UK 2019 Day 3: Redcatch Park, SS Great Britain, Clifton Observatory

  1. I’m loving this — this is fantastic… I already followed the blog as I attended Florida Tech, worked in Palm Bay, and was a regular visitor to Turkey Creek, but now you’re in my stomping grounds, and it’s very interesting to see the people, the sights, the birding anew, through fresh eyes.

    Good job with the Black Redstart BTW. For me, it is a highly irregular occurrence, and it is only recently that I saw one for the first time as well.

    Thank you once again for sharing.

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