Sunday, 15 September 2013

Gromit Unleashed

May Contain Nuts (and Bolts)

After the success of the Rhino Trail we decided to postpone our planned next visit to the Kennet and Avon Canal and instead head for Bristol to try out another mascot trail, this time featuring the character Gromit, from Wallace and Gromit fame.  The trail was set out to raise funds for Bristol Children’s Hospital, a very worthy cause and fitting for Gromit to be involved for the Aardman HQ is in the city.  We only just managed to get there in time though, for it was the last weekend before all the mascots were to be taken away.  Sadly, from our point of view, we also had to acknowledge right away that we were never going to see them all. 

Crowds around Bunty
Unlike the other mascot trails we have visited thus far, the Gromits were scattered right across the city and beyond.  I suspect it would have taken someone several days to have managed to find them all, since there were some placed as far away as London Paddington Station (the rail gateway for Bristol), Cheddar Gorge and Westonbirt Arboretum.  Since one of the aims of the project was to bring in tourism I can understand the logic of these placements, but it did mean that we would be restricted to only about half of all those available on our walk around the city (there were 80 in total).

Queen's Square
Remembering how fearful traffic in Bristol can get I boxed cleaver and parked outside the city at the Parkway Station and we took the train.  As soon as we got off the train at Temple Meads we found the first Gromit known as May Contain Nuts (and Bolts).  Given the number of nuts and bolts that must have been used in the building of the Temple Meads Train Shed it was an appropriate one to start with.  Being by the ticket barrier meant that it was mostly ignored by those passing through, but the same could not be said about the one outside the main entrance to the station (Isambark Kingdog Brunel – a tribute to the great man himself).  A large queue had formed to get a picture of the dapper looking dog and any chance of me taking anything more than a hurried snap was surely impossible.

Once out of the station we then had to decide a route.  Knowing that we couldn’t possibly see them all we decided upon a route that would enable us to see the best of the city as well as maximise our chances of seeing as many as we could.  We devised a route around the harbour that then took us up to Clifton and on a loop back through the city centre to the station once again.  Essentially this combined the three suggested routes that were devised for walkers, but also added another loop up on the hills overlooking Bristol.

MV Balmoral
The measure of our task soon became clear as we walked along the streets, seeing dozens of families all with the same idea and at each of the Gromits we were faced with short queues as people politely waited for each other to get their shots away.  We quickly found the next two, the rather colourful looking Blazing Saddles and then Bunty.  The second featured a rather whimsical panorama of the city complete with bunting and lots of flowers.  It really appealed to the girls a lot.

Watch Out Gromit!
We crossed over into Queen Square and decided to have a lunch stop by the very impressive looking statue of King William III, which had been there a surprisingly long time having been erected in 1736!  The statue was interesting in its detail, not least because the horse he sat astride of, looked to have caught its foot on a mole hill.  This incident caused the king to fall from his horse and contributed to him contracting pneumonia, from which he later died.  The statue was given to the city to give thanks for its loyalty towards the king.  It was supposed to be joined by a modern day Gromit, but sadly all that remained was the plinth on which it had once stood.  ‘Bark at Ee’ had sadly been vandalised the week before and would not be making a return to the trail.  Although it was disappointing not to see that one, or Groscar nearby, Queens Square was nevertheless a lovely peaceful place in which to stop for a picnic lunch.

National Treasure
Feeling fortified we headed off in the direction of the docks.  Of course Bristol Docks is not the teeming hub of commercial activity that it once was (in common with many other port cities in the UK).  However, to think it isn’t busy would be completely misleading for it was buzzing with people!  On the north east corner of the dock we spotted the pink and purple Zodiac while inside the adjacent shop was Hound Dog, a homage to the King of Rock and Roll himself (although he wouldn’t be the last).  The paintwork of both of these showed why the medium of fibreglass is so good for these statues – it really gleams!

We crossed to the south side of the docks via the lifting bridge and went into the M Shed, a rather interesting museum that we didn’t really have time for this visit but which will surely be on the agenda next time we come this way.  We caught sight of ‘Watch Out Gromit’ designed by one of my favourite artists, Gerald Scarfe, inside the entrance.  This one featured poor Gromit with a can of paint that had been dropped on his head.  Also inside the museum tucked away in an otherwise unused corner was ‘National Treasure’, completely adorned with coinage even to the extent that his eyes were a couple of antique coins!

Hitching a Ride
With another place to visit added to our bucket list we headed outside.  The MV Balmoral is moored here and is starting to look in a sorry state, having apparently not moved since my last visit here in December 2011 (although I have since learned that she has only been out of service this year).  Alongside were appeal notices asking for desperately needed funds to get her sailing once again.  Let’s hope they are successful in that venture.

Being Gromit Malkovitch
Further along a number of historic vessels were moored, notably a replica of John Cabot’s vessel that he sailed in more than 500 years ago to ‘discover’ Newfoundland.  Perhaps inevitably the ship had a very special passenger, ‘NewFoundLand Gromit’.  This was a very interesting design showing an antique map and was certainly an early contender for being our favourite.  Not surprisingly it was hugely popular with the visitors to the museum and again we faced a queue to get our pictures snapped.

SS Great Britain
We wandered along the dock front to find the Aardman HQ set back from the main docks.  Outside was ‘Stat’s the Way to do it Lad’, a rather lurid pink one.  Inside was another that was unpainted; a spare for a vandalised one perhaps?  The next one, outside the SS Great Britain was very colourful but was lost on my children.  “Being Gromit Malkovich’ was a very clever idea and based on a quirky and amusing film that I saw many years ago.  I wonder how many of the Gromit hunters got the joke?

Heading Towards Clifton
From the SS Great Britain we had a fairly long walk around to the next one, which was at the far end of the docks on the edge of Clifton.  The sun was fully out now and the temperature felt pretty hot.  This was perhaps the most interesting and attractive part of our walk for we were free of mascots for awhile and could concentrate on the city itself.  The docks were full of a different kind of activity as alongside children were playing in play areas and on the water sailors were making the most of the breezy conditions. It all added up to a scene of pure pleasure!

Leisure Time
At the far end of the dockland area we passed through a traditional boat builders yard.  It was interesting to see the various techniques at work and had we not agreed to meet a friend for a cuppa near the University I would have liked to linger here for awhile.  However, the girls were keen to get on and spot the next Gromit, the one that was my personal favourite for the day, Gromberry.  Here Gromit was dressed up like a giant strawberry and stood outside a very busy looking pub.  As we stood to take pictures there were quite a few bemused looking pub customers looking at us.  We seemed to be off the main trail now and no queues!

From Gromberry we climbed up the very steep hill into Clifton.  Sadly the one at the top of the hill, Patch, had been vandalised and taken away. Rather poignantly Gromit fans had set up a memorial for him instead!  It was slightly surreal…

Patch Memorial
Clifton village definitely look worth exploring.  Sadly small legs were quite tired from the long climb and their focus was very much on the refreshment stop that we had promised.  We did manage to clock a couple more on the way, with Golden Gromit being accompanied by some morris dancers which added a little extra entertainment to proceedings!

Golden Gromit
We stopped for drinks with our friend and this was a good tonic for tired legs. Sadly the weather had deteriorated by now and time had also marched on, which meant that many of the onward mascots were no longer available as they were placed indoors in buildings that closed for business for the day.  We did manage to get inside the museum, where TutanGromit and Newshound were placed.  The latter one was the only one we found that also had Gromit’s long term sidekick Wallace involved.  I guess being designed by Nick Park himself he was allowed that indulgence.  The museum was so interesting looking that we also indulged ourselves by looking around for a bit to stay out of the worst of the rain.

From the museum it was fairly clear that the children weren’t going to manage much more and with only a couple hours more of daylight remaining we took a snakelike route back to Temple Meads Station, taking in as many of the Gromits as we could along the way.  For much of the way the rain kept coming and going so it wasn’t so easy to enjoy the walk as we would have liked. 

Bristol Cathedral
College Green is the civic heart of the city at the bottom of the hill from the University and Museum. Here the enormous City Hall stretches around in a semi-circle still oozing power even in these days where civic pride has long since gone out of fashion.  Directly opposite is the nicely proportioned and understated cathedral – a real beauty even if it isn’t one that immediately comes to mind when thinking about the great ecclesiastical buildings of Britain.  Sadly the Gromits stationed here were off limits as one was inside the now closed central library while the other was behind a locked gate of the also closed cathedral, although we could catch a glimpse through the cage.

We pressed on through some new shopping areas passing the Union Jack decorated ‘Jack’ and then ‘Gromit-o-Matic’ which was rather clever as it appeared as a blueprint for a robot Gromit complete with a number of gadgets such as a Kornflake Digestion Unit and a Wag-Ometer.  It was rather fascinating to look at and we spent some time here checking him out
Cary Grant at Millennium Square

In Millennium Square just beyond were a number of famous Bristolians immortalised in Bronze such as Cary Grant (yes, really!), William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania), William Tyndale (translator of the Bible into English) and Thomas Chatterton (Georgian forger of Mediaeval Works).  We enjoyed looking at them but sadly none of them got as much attention as Astro-Dog at the far end of the square.  Just inside the adjacent museum was Steam Dog, almost the antithesis of the one outside.  The Aquarium, also in the vicinity, was sadly shut so we could only glimpse the diving Gromit inside.

A Grand Day Out
By now it was hosing down so we didn’t linger too long for the remaining ones in this area and we quickly picked off Salty Sea Dog, Hero, The King and Carosello on the way back through to the River Avon.  We walked along the river bank back to Temple Meads picking off ‘A Grand Day Out’ as the last one on the way back. It seemed a fitting one to finish with.  It truly was a grand day out and we managed to see more than 30 of the Gromits along the way.  We thought this was a creditable achievement in an afternoon and we thoroughly enjoyed the artwork of each and every one of them.  Our only disappointments really were that we didn’t have more time and energy to look for more and that we didn’t learn about the trail until it was almost too late to do it.  Bristol is a fascinating city and we were thankful of the opportunity to explore afforded by the Gromits though.  We hope that the charity appeal on which the trail was based manages to raise a huge amount of money!


  1. I would love to have seen these. There was a horse themed sculpture trail in Calvados this summer in celebration of The World Equestrian Games but we only found out about it near the end so only got to see a couple of them. Here's a link if you are interested

    1. Thanks Rosie,
      I have to say that I am a sucker for these trails - I love the artwork. Sadly my girls have lost interest a bit so subsequent trails have been a harder sell...

      The horse one looked lovely _ I definitely would have liked that one :)