Our flight from Perth landed at Heathrow just a few minutes late at 5.10 am after a seventeen hour non-stop flight from Perth. We were through immigration and customs very quickly. Australians can now use the electronic passport gates at Heathrow and this helps eliminate the two-hour long queue that we faced last time we were here. Actually, we were lucky in that today, we were able to use the express line and this made things even quicker.
We had a short wait for the shuttle over to the Avis depot and we were on the road by 6.15 am. It only took us a couple of hours to get to Bristol which we chose as our jumping off point for our tour of Wales starting tomorrow.
We missed a couple of turns getting on the M4 because we were blinded by the bright morning sun and some road markings were very obscure. However, we were on our way to the west of England quite early.It was a bright sunny day with a temperature of 10C that warmed up to 20C during the day.
The countryside was very green and the grass in the fields looked to be knee deep – a real contrast to last year in England. The canola in the fields was already in flower.The traffic in Bristol was quite heavy and we were held up for the last few kilometres to our hotel by traffic jams. After all, it was the morning peak hour traffic rush.
We reached the hotel at 8.30 am, just in time for breakfast. I knew we were going to be early so I had booked a room for the previous night to ensure that a room would be ready for us as we arrived early.After breakfast we did a quick Google search to find the best places to see.
This region is where the famous British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel did much of his work. He built dockyards, the Great Western Railway, a series of steamships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, and numerous important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.
On a previous visit, we had seen his SS Great Britain which is now preserved in the same dry dock in which it was built. Today, we drove through the centre of town to see his famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. Apparently there is a famous view from the bar of the Avon River Gorge Hotel but we were a little too early for the bar to be open. I didn’t have any change for a parking ticket in the heavily regulated and crowded street parking. Instead. I made a quick dash from the kerbside to a lookout and grabbed a few shots.
The bridge spans over 214 metres, and is 76 metres above the River Avon, Brunel did not live to see the bridge finished, although his colleagues and admirers at the Institution of Civil Engineers felt it would be a fitting memorial, and started to raise new funds to support its design. Work recommenced in 1862 and was completed in 1864, five years after Brunel’s death.
The receptionist at our hotel also suggested that a good place to visit was the Bristol Aerospace Centre at Filton, to the north of Bristol. The nine-acre site on the old Filton Airfield site includes two First World War Grade II listed hangars that provide over 5,000 m² of museum exhibition space, The exhibition covers over 100 years of aviation history through two world wars, exploring the role of aircraft in these conflicts, through the drama and technological advances of the space race and on to the modern day.
Aircraft enthusiasts will remember aircraft such as the Bristol Fighter, the Bulldog, the Blenheim, the Beaufighter, and the Britannia. In later years, much of the preliminary work which led to the Concorde was carried out by the Bristol Aircraft Company. In 1956 the company was split into Bristol Aircraft and Bristol Aero Engines. In 1959, Bristol Aircraft merged with several major British aircraft companies to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Bristol Aero Engines merged with Armstrong Siddeley to form Bristol Siddeley. BAC went on to become a founding component of the nationalised British Aerospace, now BAE Systems. Bristol Siddeley was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1966, who continued to develop and market Bristol-designed engines.
We enjoyed looking around at the exhibits which included a numb er of original WW1 aircraft and some other transportation equipment.
In a seperate hanger is one of the retired Concorde planes. These were the first supersonic commercial aircraft and still look beautiful with their sleek lines and curved features. Only 20 Concords were built and 14 entered airline service. They operated from 1976 until 2003. The plane had a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph or 2,180 km/h at cruise altitude), with seating for 92 to 128 passengers. First flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued flying for the next 27 years. It is one of only two supersonic transports to have been operated commercially; the other is the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144, which operated briefly from 1977 to 1978.
The retirement of the Concorde was caused mostly by cost although a crash at a French airshow highlighted some operational weakness of the aircraft. Basically, the airlines were not making back the money spent on the safety modifications and other upgrades, Both BA and Air France wrote off very large sums of money.. With the premium first class market disappearing after 9/11, there was no hope of paying back the modification cost to start with, forgetting about any further investment that was required to keep the aircraft in the air. Day to day the aircraft still broke even, but it could no longer pay back any big expenditure items, so its days were numbered.
At the muesum, I was able to go inside and see the cockpit and the interior of the passenger section.
We stopped for a snack at the cafe but returned to our hotel early as we didn’t want to risk being too jet lagged after our long flight. Although the Qantas Dreamliner has many features that reduce fatigue, I think we will be having an early dinner and then an early night. Tomorrow we have a full day of exploring our first pat of Southern Wales.