Fresh Summer Menu at Bristol’s Hotel du Vin.

Bristol’s Hotel du Vin sits in the city centre — a grade II-listed sugar warehouse converted into a stylish restaurant and hotel. With traditional decor, attentive staff, non-stuffy service and relaxing feel, it’s somewhere I’ve been fond of for a while now.

Following a visit last winter — when my menu choices were all dark meats, deep reds, and heavy puds to match the season — I was recently invited back to sample the new summer menu. The à la carte menu still offers the same fresh ingredients and bold flavours as ever, but the seasonal prix fixe is where my attentions lay.

I was idly scanning the wine list when the waiter sidled up to take our order, and offered the services of the in-house sommelier. Instead of choosing one bottle to accompany your meal, you can choose one glass per course. Knowing what we’d ordered, the sommelier arrived and took us through the wine options — with obvious knowledge and passion for his product. This is a very lovely touch indeed, and allows diners to listen out for the flavours which best complement the food.


Mrs. C went for the kale and butterhead Caesar salad to start, and that’s obviously fair enough. But if I had to live on a desert island and survive on one food item, cured meat would be it. With that in mind, I started with the Woodall’s black combe air-dried ham, and found it delicate and full of flavour. The ham arrived elegantly laid out on the plate alongside perfectly formed balls of Galia melon and a little greenery for effect — a fine balance of meat and fruit if ever I saw one.

The Normandy chicken salad arrived next, with roast chicken, Roquefort cheese, avocado, soft boiled eggs, pancetta and tomatoes arranged neatly over a bed of lettuce and topped with crunchy brioche croutons. I wouldn’t normally opt for salad as a main for fear of leaving the table hungry, but there’s no danger of that here. Mrs. C went for the grilled Cornish mackerel, and the feedback was very positive.

When the plates had been swept away, our friend the sommelier returned with the third and final round of wines he’d selected to match our meal. Muscats and sweet wines from Italy dominated the selection, and complemented the poached peaches to perfection.


Hotel du Vin’s summer fixed price menu costs £17.95 for two courses and £20.95 for three. Menus are inspired by seasonal ingredients with a strong twist of French flavour, and you’ll find more information on the restaurant’s website here.

Images courtesy of the Hotel du Vin.

A New Home for Bristol’s Top Cider Shop

The thing I enjoy most about this blogging game is that it allows me to throw light on good people doing good things in and around Bristol. When I moved here 6 months ago, one of those good people was Pete Snowman — owner of the Bristol Cider Shop. I went along to one of his wonderful tasting sessions and produced a few lines on the subject.

The latest news from Bristol Cider Shop HQ is they’ve moved from their previous spot on Christmas Steps to the stylish and contemporary confines of Cargo, on Wapping Wharf. (If you’re not sure where that is, it’s by the Harbour on the corner of M-Shed.)


The Cider Shop is one of the first Bristol businesses to establish itself in Cargo, and the doors will swing open to the city’s cider-loving public on Saturday the 15th October. As before, the shop will showcase a superb range of real cider and perry from Somerset, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and beyond, but the focus has grown to include cider-and-food pairings.

Alongside the shop, the cider café will serve traditional cider-related food such as pork-and-cider pies by day. By night, the venue will host those wonderful cider-tasting evenings for which the Bristol Cider Shop is famous. During the tastings, participants will step into the world of cider and learn how pairing it with cheese brings out the delicious flavours. Like the cider, the food will all be sourced locally from independent producers. So it’s good news all round, really.

Once up and running, The Cider Shop plan to host tasting evenings every Friday night. Alongside this, we can expect a calendar full of cider-and food-matching evenings, cider dinners and ‘Meet the Producer’ sessions. Groups can book private tasting sessions, and the venue will even be hosting cider-themed Christmas parties for the first time.


To book a tasting, to check out the online shop, or to see details on the ciders available, contact The Cider Shop here. Tastings cost £20 per person and include 10 award-winning ciders, Somerset Cider Brandy plus bread and cheese. Highly recommended. Cheers babbers.

R’n’R in Bristol and Beyond; hidden gardens and open parkland

It’s a busy city, Bristol, with gigs, galleries, theatres and museums to keep locals and visitors of all ages entertained all year round. But what to do if you want a break from all that? Sometimes what we really need is a breather — a chance to relax, kick back and watch the flowers grow. It’s therapeutic, you know?

Starting in the very heart of Bristol and moving out to the North Somerset countryside, here’s a little look into a few of the hidden parks, secret gardens and open green spaces where you can return to nature and find space for a deep breath away from the city.

Royal Fort Gardens

Just a step up the hillside from the traffic and noise of bustling Park Street, the Royal Fort Gardens offer a haven of peace and tranquillity in the centre of Bristol. Students swot on manicured lawns, gardeners busy themselves in the flowerbeds and all around, an enduring sense of calm pervades. Visitors can follow the garden’s circular stroll — Convocation Walk — and ponder life’s complex questions the way the students undoubtedly do.

The site’s original fortifications date back to the Civil War in the 17th century, but the building you see today was built in the mid-18th century by Thomas Tyndall — a local merchant. Keen-eyed visitors may spot three different styles in the building — Baroque, Rococo and Palladian — after three different architects submitted plans.

aaaTo get there, head up Park Street, swing a right at the Wills Memorial Tower and follow your nose straight.

The Botanic Gardens

Like the Royal Fort Gardens, the Botanic Gardens fall under the protectorship of the University of Bristol, and they’re widely used for teaching, studying and research on a broad range of courses and workshops.

Visitors to the Botanic Gardens can explore winding walkways through diverse landscapes where exotic flora and fauna from across the globe thrive. The gardens sit over four zones; Evolution, Mediterranean, Local and Rare Native Plants, and Useful Plants — the latter home to herbs prevalent in Chinese medicine. Huge glasshouses hold tropical and sub-tropical plants which wouldn’t otherwise survive our colder climes.

bbbThe collections are carefully curated to educate visitors on the plants’ behaviour and natural habitats, all set on the edge of Durdham Down — within a healthy stomp or short bus-ride from Clifton and Bristol city centre.

Tyntesfield Estate

Across the country, the National Trust protects some of the UK’s most beautiful and valuable parks and estates — and Tyntesfield is a fine example. This Victorian country house and estate was home to four generations of the Gibbs family, wealthy landowners who made their fortune importing guano (bat poo) from South America for use as fertilizer by English farmers. A tour of the house is enough to show any visitor just how successful this slightly niche enterprise turned out to be.

cccBut it’s perhaps for the gardens that the majority of visitors come… With sheltered play areas and sculpture trails to enjoy, the grounds around Tyntesfield are a haven for families with kids. You’ll find visitors young and old exploring the herb garden and rose garden, the orangery and orchards, the dense woodlands and rolling parkland — and each new season brings fresh surprises.

To reach Tyntesfield, head out of Bristol on the B3128 and swing a left after Failand. Discounts in the café and shop are available to visitors coming by bike or by public transport.


Further reading:

For more details on the Royal Fort Gardens, click here.

To plan a visit to Bristol’s Botanic Gardens, click here.

And to read more into the National Trust’s Tyntesfield Estate, click here.

For more Bristol-based tales, find me on Twitter @cjcallaghan

Outdoor Swimming In and Around Bristol

A chance to forget the stresses and strains of the daily grind, rest the mind and relax in nature, outdoor swimming is a wonderfully life-affirming pursuit. Across the country, stretches of open water including lakes, rivers and coast attract hardy souls to whom no chlorinated leisure centre pool would ever really appeal.

With teeth chattering, knees knocking and hands tingling, outdoor swimmers embrace the cold… many bold coastal dwellers even unwilling to go a day without a dip. There’s something about the adventure that many people love and, when you’re in and warmed up, there’s no feeling quite like it.

Around Bristol, Bath and beyond, a whole host of amazing wild or open swimming spots are just waiting to be discovered. From heated outdoor pools and luxurious lidos to open rivers and windswept tidal lakes, this corner of the country is a haven for outdoor swimmers.

Portishead Open Air Pool

Portishead Open Air Pool celebrated its 50th anniversary recently — 5 decades of outdoor swimming history dating back to 1962. The pool has been heated through its entire life; first, by hot water created as a by-product at the nearby phosphorus plant, then by an oil-fired boiler.


Years of neglect and underfunding saw the pool threatened with closure until, in 2009, local supporters established the Portishead Pool Community Trust to keep it afloat. Their resounding success is evident, as today the pool is heated by an eco-friendly boiler to a balmy 28 degrees, and welcomes keen swimmers young and old from the local community and beyond. Volunteers help run the show, and they’re always looking out for more people to get involved.

The best thing about visiting the Portishead Open Air Pool is that it doesn’t matter what the weather’s doing. It was tipping with rain on my visit, but with the pool heated so pleasantly it was warmer in the water than out of it! A handy on-site café is a fine spot for cake and tea when you’re done swimming.

Lido Bristol

Lido Bristol sits at the top of Park Street, behind the Victoria Rooms in Clifton. One of the country’s oldest surviving lidos, it dates back to 1849 and welcomes keen swimmers all year round.


Image courtesy of Lido Bristol



Lido Bristol fell out of public favour in decades recently passed, and went through a long period of neglect and decay. The doors closed in 1990 and remained so until the ‘Save the Lido’ campaign was launched. English Heritage protected the venue with a grade II listing — preventing demolition — and the rest, to coin a phrase, is history.

Today, visitors to Lido Bristol can enjoy a heated outdoor swim in the heart of the city. If you’re in need of a little tlc or a spot of pampering, there’s a broad range of relaxation, mood enhancement and body rejuvenation therapies available. Of course, you can always just swim.

Warleigh Weir, aka Claverton Weir

Known to some as Warleigh Weir and others as Claverton Weir, this is a dream swimming location that many would undoubtedly like to see kept secret. The weir sits in the valley floor just east of Bath, surrounded on all sides by rolling hills, open fields and dense forest. The Kennet and Avon canal runs gracefully past, with boaters and cyclists enjoying the picturesque journey between Bath and Bradford-on-Avon. The whole place is just idyllic — there really is no other word for it.


Visitors can relax with a picnic in the field near the weir before braving the frigid waters for a dip. Those plucky swimmers that do take the plunge are treated to what must be one of the country’s loveliest and most natural wild swims.  You head upstream over the reeds — with the weir behind you — and within a few moments it’s just you, the river and perhaps the odd swan or two. Bowing trees trail their branches in the flowing waters as dragonflies hover overhead. When you’re done swimming upstream, you can simply lie on your back and let the gentle current carry you back to the weir. Magical.

Unless you know your way round Bath, Warleigh Weir is a bit of an arse to find, frankly. First time I tried, we spent about 2 hours pratting about on the wrong side of the valley… we could see the weir, but it was way out of reach. In short, do your research, approach it from the west (Warminster Road / Ferry Lane) and you should be fine. If you can car-share with pals, fellow swimmers will thank you as parking is very tight indeed down there.

Clevedon Tidal Pool

Clevedon’s marine lake is set in Salthouse Bay and plans for the build — according to records — date as far back as 1896. By the late 1920s, the lake was finally built and ready to be officially opened. There followed decades of regular use, with the pool playing a huge role in public life.

By the 1980s, however, the pool was in a sorry state. Funding had dried up, vandals had left the place a mess and the whole site needed a massive overhaul. That came in 2000, when the renovation campaign began picking up pace. Before long, diggers were in place and plans afoot to breathe new life back into Clevedon’s outdoor swimming scene. By 2014, Heritage Lottery funding had been secured and poured into further regeneration works. Today, the lake is enjoyed once again by locals and visitors alike.


Image courtesy of Steve Bridger on Flickr

The pool is emptied and filled with the tides, and stretches an impressive 200 metres across Salthouse Bay. The estuarine waters are pleasant to swim in but diving down to explore the bed is pretty pointless — you can’t see past the end of your nose! Still, for a fresh dip on a hot day it’s a very tough act to follow.

Aside from the aquatic theme, the one thing that ties many of the country’s outdoor swimming spots together is dereliction and neglect. Public opinion comes in and goes out like the tides, and our interest in outdoor swimming is no exception. Portishead Open Air Pool, Lido Bristol, Clevedon Tidal Pool and countless other swimming facilities across the land have lived through periods of uncertainly and many, sadly, have paid the price — permanent closure.

But for now at least, outdoor swimming is enjoying something of a renaissance. Splashing kids, happy families, triathlon trainers and silver swimmers alike are united in the shared joy of getting in the water and enjoying a swim.

Further reading…

Portishead Open Air Pool:

Lido Bristol:

Warleigh Weir, aka Claverton Weir:

Clevedon Tidal Pool:

For more Bristol-based adventures, follow me on Twitter @cjcallaghan

The West Country in a Glass

With fertile orchards flourishing across Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire, the West Country is surely the home of cider in the UK. In Somerset alone, traditional cider-makers ply their trade in the Quantock Hills, through Yeovil, Glastonbury, Cheddar and into the Mendips to Bath, preserving a trade that dates from time immemorial.


Somerset Cider & Apple Juice; a Guide to Orchards and Cider-Makers.

A year-round industry

For cider-makers, the work never stops. The orchards must be pruned and protected during winter, while the last year’s harvest needs careful blending. March and into spring is the planting season, during which the roots are laid for cider-drinking generations to come.

Through summer, the blossom blooms and the apples start to form on the boughs. September, October and November is harvest time — perhaps the hardest but most important part of the cycle. Then, before winter ticks round again, the apples are pressed and prepared for fermentation.

And the results? Well, bittersweet apple varieties such as Royal Jersey, Brown Snout and Vilberie come together with sweet and sharp varieties like Court Royal and Crimson King to produce a massive range of colour and flavour, with traditional ciders — from sweet to dry — to suit all palates.

Cider-tasting in the heart of Bristol

The Cider Shop currently takes pride of place on Christmas Steps — but is moving to Cargo on Wapping Wharf, behind M-Shed, in July — and is Bristol’s very own ode to cider. With the tell-tale tagline ‘We sell cider’, Manager Pete welcomes cider drinkers from novice to expert into his shop, and waxes lyrical with expertise and enthusiasm on the flavours and styles available.


Regular tasting sessions take place, during which connoisseurs-in-the-making can sample 10 different blends of cider, perry and even apple brandy. Each new drop is introduced with affection and care, including details of the orchard, style of production and of course flavours to look out for.

The selection

Whether you’re a cider fan of some years’ standing or new to the apple juice with a kick, broaden your appreciation with a trip down there. I did, and here’s wot I drank.

Christmas Steps, Handmade Cider (6.5%) Wiltshire
Pilton (5.5%) Somerset
Vintage, Oliver’s Cider & Perry (7.3%) Herefordshire
Yarlington Mill, Ty Gwyn (5.8%) Monmouthshire
Somerset Redstreak, Perry’s Cider (6.1%) Somerset
Court Royal, Dunkertons (7.5%) Herefordshire
Blackberry & Elderflower, Sheppy’s (4%) Somerset
Perry, Hallets Real Cider (4.5%) Caerphilly
Blakeney Red Perry, Gwatkin (7.5%) Herefordshire
Somerset Royal, Somerset Cider Brandy Company (42%) Somerset


Cider, as far as the eye can see.

This blog was put together with help from Pete at the Bristol Cider Shop and ‘Somerset Cider & Apple Juice; a Guide to Orchards and Cider-Makers’, compiled by James Crowden and Nell Barrington.

5 Top Boozers on Bristol Harbour

From the sheltered waters of the Cumberland Basin to the cobbled corners of the Arnolfini, thirsty drinkers in need of liquid sustenance have a superb selection of pubs to choose from in Bristol Harbour.

In the 3 weeks since S and I set up home on Spike Island, I’ve darkened the doorways of a fair few of them. I’ve wet my whistle with fine ales from nationally known breweries like Butcome and local ones like Wiper and True, and tickled my taste buds with dry ciders from the orchards of Somerset. Here, dear reader, are my findings.

I’ve called this blog 5 Top Boozers on Bristol Harbour — not Top 5 Boozers on Bristol Harbour — because the list is so open to personal taste. (Jus’ sayin’.)

Pump House

The Pump House takes pride of place at the head of the Cumberland Basin, with fine views over the bridges and waterways. The sun-trap terrace out front attracts thirsty drinkers on warm days and the a la carte menu is full of seasonal produce from the local area.

The pub’s main draw though, to my mind, is the spectacular gin selection. If you appreciate your botanicals and you’re looking for somewhere to sample a broad range under one roof, take yourself off to the Pump House and dive in.

The Orchard

The Orchard is tucked away on a quiet street between Spike Island Studios and Bristol Marina — a hidden gem popular among cider drinkers with a taste for the good stuff. It’s one of the closest pubs to my gaff, and I couldn’t be happier with it!

First impressions from the outside are misleading — it looks like it could use a little TLC — but the feel on stepping inside is warm and welcoming. Bar staff are friendly and knowledgeable, you can pick up a pasty or a home-made sandwich to line your guts for the cider and they have live music in there every week. What more do you want?!

orchImage courtesy of The Orchard

There’s a strong selection of barrelled ales behind the bar featuring breweries from Cornwall to London — and they’re on regular rotation, too — but it’s the cider that people seem to love The Orchard for.

The Mardyke

I took a punt on The Mardyke on a stroll home last week and was very pleasantly surprised. It sits on the busy Hotwell Road but inside it was peaceful enough. Snooker and footy were beaming in from the two telly screens but that didn’t bother me — I was far too busy admiring the vintage metal placards adorning the walls.

There was a small but decent selection of ales on the bar and plenty of ciders on offer too, and the pint I had hit the spot perfectly. When a round of 2 drinks came to only £4 I had to ask the barman if there’d been a mistake… There hadn’t. It’s an atmospheric pub offering great value for money, with plenty of nooks and crannies for secretive supping.

The Cottage

Next time you’re strolling out toward the SS Great Britain’s mooring spot, head past the famous ship and keep walking. The Cottage is nestled on the edge of the harbour, with a terrace out front and panoramic views all the way from Underfell Boatyard over the colourful house-fronts of Hotwells.

cottImage courtesy of The Cottage

The interior is fitted out like a traditional British pub should be and the service is very friendly. Even more importantly than that, it’s a Butcombe pub so you can be sure of a good pint.

The Grain Barge

One of the best things about a harbourside city is surely the floating pubs, and the Grain Barge is a fine example. It hugs the Hotwells harbourside — a perfect spot for watching the tall ships and river cruisers drift by.

The barge began life ferrying barley, wheat and other grains across the Severn Estuary to Cardiff. Following a complete repurposing, it now offers a broad menu with specials updated daily and a strong selection of Bristol Beer Factory’s diverse brews.

Heads up… Wednesdays in the Grain Barge is Pie & Pint night — with a free pint of BBF ale when you order a pie — and if you visit on a Thursday they run an offer on steaks for a tenner!

If there are any other decent pubs around Bristol you’d recommend, please comment below or tweet @cjcallaghan. Am I missing any I really should know about?!

Further reading:

Pump House:

The Cottage:

The Mardyke:

The Orchard:

The Grain Barge:

Sketching an Impression of the Bristol Street-Art Scene.

DSC_0020Bristol is famous for many things; proper cider, Stephen Merchant, hot-air balloons, Massive Attack, tobacco-trading, Adge Cutler… the list goes on. But the best thing to have caught my eye during my first week living here is the street art.

The standard is exceptionally high — it’s skilfully crafted, vibrant, eclectic and captivating — and it slaps you in the face when you’re least expecting it.

A beautiful mural on the side of a bakery, striking tones in a pub beer garden and 70’s high-rises holding your gaze with enormous portraits stretching to the sky. It’s exciting because you never know where the next one will emerge, and the art is constantly changing.


Bristol’s street artists seem to centre their attentions around North Street (a buzzing district south of the Avon), Broadmead (a shopping precinct) and Stokes Croft (a creative hub to the north of city centre — not been there yet…) though I’m sure there are more hotspots I’m yet to discover.

Scattered throughout this blog are some of the most striking pieces of art I found on my weekend’s travels.


I found a Banksy alongside works by Inkie and Nick Walker who, a little background reading tells me, are both also internationally recognised and renowned.



I do admire Inkie’s artwork — I like his bold tones and imaginative themes — but there are loads of other artists whose work impresses in different ways. I’ll be looking out for more as the weeks tick by.

If you’re reading this and you know of other street artworks I should check out, please tweet me @cjcallaghan

If you want to see more collections of the city’s iconic street art, click here.

Cheers then,
C. x



Testing Testing, 1 2 3.

Is this thing on? Seems to be working…

Thanks for tuning in to my new blog. The layout is a bit of a work-in-progress and the whole thing’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’ll do for now.

With the news that S and I are moving to Bristol, I thought this a good time to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while: set up my stall online. A place where I can wax lyrical on the adventures we get up to, and share tales from the West Country with family and friends elsewhere in the world.

I would have started this little page a while ago, but concerns over the self-indulgence of it all and a lack of meaty subject matter held me back. I’ve allayed those concerns now…

Self-indulgent it may well be, but I’ve been told I’m a decent scribe and I hope at least to make this an entertaining read. Somewhere between the Guardian’s Stewart Lee, Vanity Fair’s A. A. Gill and that Katie Hopkins out of the Daily Mail.

Meaty subject matter has arrived in the form of Bristol; a very fine city indeed and — as of last weekend — our new home. Apart from the usual nonsense of turning over a new leaf / starting a new chapter etc etc, it’s high time S and I left the Smoke behind and headed onward to pastures new.

So the boxes were packed, the delivery van filled and a new flat in central Brizzle booked. This is our last weekend in London but we’ll be back to visit, sure enough. I actually reckon I’ll enjoy the place a little more when I don’t live here, but we’ll see…

We’ll be running an open-door policy throughout the summer and beyond to anyone who’d like to visit. I’m ploughing head first into a massive list of new pubs, galleries, museums, theatres and gig venues, and will undoubtedly need a hand to get through it all.


As for Bristol, I’m looking forward to making a new city home. S is raised there but the place has changed a lot since she last lived there. (Turns out gentrification isn’t just a London thing… who knew?)

I was sold on the fine ales and ciders, relaxed vibe and stunning street art, but there’s more to it than that and I’m looking forward to getting involved.

Exciting times ahead!
C. x