Something old, something new...

Date Posted: 28/02/2010

Jeannine Williamson updates us on Bristol, Bath and Somerset.

One is famed as a pioneering industrial centre and the other has been a city of pleasure since Roman times. With only 13 miles between them it’s easy for your group to enjoy the different attractions of Bristol and Bath combined with the beauty of surrounding Somerset, with its enchanting villages, green countryside and seaside resorts. It’s a bumper year for new developments and exciting events, guaranteeing groups plenty to see and do throughout 2010.

Weston 200 and re-opening of Grand Pier

Weston-super-Mare is a resort packed with traditional seaside attractions, including beach donkeys. This year the town is celebrating the 200th anniversary of tourism, a major seafront regeneration and the unveiling of the new Grand Pier, following the devastating fire in 2008.
The Royal Hotel opened its doors in May 1810 and visitors flocked from Bath and Bristol to bathe and take the air, marking the birth of tourism in the once small fishing village.

Throughout 2010 there will be a variety of celebrations, including musical events, fireworks and displays giving a fascinating insight into the history of the resort. The promenade is being completely transformed with new seating, lighting and surfacing, public artworks and a smart new Pier Square.

A highlight of the commemorative programme is the re-opening of the Grand Pier this summer. The new look pier will have a viewing platform, Edwardian tearoom and top quality amusements, and a programme of special commemorative events will take place throughout July and August.

All aboard Brunel’s ss Great Britain

The great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel made his mark on this part of the country with groundbreaking projects including Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Great Western Railway and the mighty ship ss Great Britain. Launched in 1843 she was the world’s biggest ship at 322 feet, and combined the cutting-edge technologies of steam power, the propeller, and iron.

Although effectively a prototype, ss Great Britain travelled 32 times around the world, clocking up nearly one million miles at sea. The ship was finally abandoned in the Falkland Islands until an ambitious salvage effort brought her home to Bristol, where she is conserved in the dry dock where she was built. This year marks the 40th anniversary of that homecoming and a new attraction is The Incredible Journey, an animated exhibition featuring memories of people involved in the salvage and those who witnessed the ship’s return. To coincide with the anniversary a new visitor centre is opening in May, and the Brunel Institute, a free conservation and learning centre housing a vast collection of maritime and Brunel artefacts, opens in September.

Upstairs at Tyntesfield

From March, five more rooms will open at Tyntesfield, the extravagant Victorian country house at Wraxall, eight miles from Bristol city centre, that’s topped by Gothic towers and turrets. Groups will be able to take a look at one of the grand guest bedrooms along with three family bedrooms and a bathroom. When the scaffolding surrounding the house comes down in the summer these rooms will also boast stunning views across the Yeo Valley.
Saved for the nation in 2002 following a fundraising campaign, the National Trust embarked on the huge project to conserve and restore the country estate. Home to four generations of the Gibbs family, Tyntesfield contains everything from grand Victorian designs to 20th century objects.

Once in a decade pageant

The Axbridge Pageant takes place once every ten years and is a spectacular costume drama outlining the history of this ancient Mendip town from its Saxon origins to the present day. The two-hour pageant, involving more than 500 townspeople, will be performed on the three days of the August Bank Holiday weekend. It takes place in the town’s medieval square and includes colourful parades with local people wearing period costume. For more information visit axbridgepageant.org.uk.

At any time of year your group can discover artefacts from various phases of Axbridge’s long history in the free museum housed in the rather inappropriately named King John’s Hunting Lodge, which is actually an impressive Tudor merchant’s house dominating one corner of the square.

Battle of Sedgemoor anniversary

This year marks the 325th anniversary of the Battle of Sedgemoor, the last battle on English soil that saw Englishmen take arms against fellow Englishmen. Plans are afoot to mark the anniversary with a large-scale re-enactment on the battlefield outside Bridgwater. The weekend is planned for 3rd to 4th July, involving over 400 members of the Sealed Knot re-enactment society. Visiting groups will be able to watch the Royalists under the Duke of Feversham take on the Duke of Monmouth’s rebel army - and look out for the ghost of Monmouth that’s said to haunt the battlefield.

The area in and around Bridgwater is steeped in English Civil War history and whenever you visit your group can uncover the past and follow an interactive trail around the Battle of Sedgemoor site in the village of Westonzoyland.

Take off

2010 marks the Year of Flight in Bristol, celebrating a century of aviation innovation in the west of England. Starting with the founding in 1910 of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, BAC went on to form the basis of Bristol-Siddeley Engines, British Aircraft Corporation, British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce (Bristol), Airbus (Filton) and other major companies. Look out for high-flying commemorative events taking place in the city throughout the year.

Christmas market celebrations

It might be too early to think about festive shopping at the moment, but it’s worth making a note that 2010 will be the tenth anniversary of Bath Christmas Market (pictured). To mark the occasion the market will run for an extended season from 25th November to 12th December, providing more opportunity for GTOs to plan a trip to this popular event, featuring over 100 traditional wooden chalets selling unique, handmade and local gifts.

Ten great group attractions

1. Blue Reef Aquarium: The spectacular Blue Reef Aquarium opened on Bristol’s Harbourside in November. Groups can embark on a magical journey of the British coast, Mediterranean and exotic tropical seas. Special talks and feeding displays are available for groups and free entry to the IMAX 3D cinema is included in the admission price.

2. Roman Baths: The heart of Bath’s World Heritage Site is centred around Britain’s only hot spring, a magnificent Roman temple and bathing complex that still flows with natural hot water. Meet Roman costumed characters every day and hear the stories of those who lived and worked here 2,000 years ago.

3. West Somerset Railway: Take your group on a trip back in time on board one of Britain’s longest heritage railways, taking in ten stations along a 20-mile scenic route. New for 2010 is a train trip from Bishops Lydeard to Dunster where your groups will be met by a classic road coach for lunch, followed by an old-fashioned mystery tour and return rail journey.

4. Dunster Castle: Remodelled in the 19th century, but an important fortress for more than 1,000 years, this romantic castle occupies a dramatic hilltop location with sweeping views over Exmoor and the Bristol Channel.

5. Wells Cathedral: Dominating the attractive small city of the same name, in the heart of Somerset, one of England’s most impressive cathedrals has survived eight centuries with all its associated buildings still around it.

6. Fleet Air Arm Museum: Housing the largest collection of naval aircraft anywhere in Europe, four impressive display halls at the Yeovil museum portray the development of naval aviation from World War One to the Gulf War.

7. Glastonbury Abbey: Once the grandest and richest abbey in England, 2,000 years of history and mystery can be found at the legendary burial place of King Arthur.

8. Bristol Zoo Gardens: Offers special guided tours on subjects such as biodiversity and the role of a modern zoo. There are 12 acres of award-winning gardens, over 450 species and nine animal houses.

9. At-Bristol: With two packed floors of interactive exhibits and fascinating exhibitions, there’s no end to the hands-on entertainment and scientific discoveries that await groups. The attraction will celebrate its tenth anniversary with special events throughout July.

10. Royal Bath & West Show: GTOs can plan a summer trip to coincide with one of the UK’s top country shows, combining traditional rural exhibits and livestock classes with contemporary entertainment. The Shepton Mallet show from 2nd to 5th June offers discounted tickets for coach parties and new for 2010 is a Ladies’ Day.

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