I was speaking at a conference in Bristol for the first part of last week, and I was reminded once again what a wonderful city Bristol is. As long-time readers may remember, I was an undergraduate in Bristol, and I retain a great affection for the place. If you combined the excitement and urban grittiness of Birmingham, and the physical beauty and quirkiness of Oxford, and you'd get something rather like Bristol. Add one of Britain's most spectacular bridges (Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge), and you've got a winning formula.
The weather was cold but gloriously sunny, and the buildings shone in a clear, bright light. Because of all the steep hills in the city, there's always a great view just around the corner, and the place looked stunning in the sun. I love the way that Bristol somehow integrates both the urban and the wild. The gorge splits the city spectacularly and makes it feel excitingly dangerous, and the river brings the tang of the sea to the streets.
One moment I experienced seemed to encapsulate the 'urban wildness' feel for me. I was travelling on the bus to the railway station to come home, and saw a bright flock of muscular herring gulls wheeling close to the street. One had a slice of pizza, and the others were pursuing it. The pizza holder dropped its slice under the onslaught, and the flock wheeled and swooped against the sharp blue sky to catch it as it fell. Meanwhile, a young couple walking along the pavement had to stop to let the swirl of feathers pass, looking up and laughing like kids watching the snow fall.