Night after night we’d criss-cross the centre like a knitted sweater, connecting up places with thread. Then we’d pick a colour and chart a course through the night and in our heads to find the perfect setting.
Passing through the heights of Kingsdown, we knew every one of those tower block lights, twinkling with promise. Then we’d dip down to Park Street, not quite our scene except for a few sidestreets in between where the shirts didn’t go.
In the old town, we discovered bars where possibilities resided. The tunes were different, Bacardi Breezers didn’t feature and black wasn’t only for metal kids. Late nights, not fighting, but trying to find a sense of belonging was our commonality.
Weekends were spent on Gloucester Road, sitting in coffee shops before we knew what real coffee was. All the way down the stretch, we felt like we were keeping it all in check, clocking changes when a shop rejigged its name or a familiar figure no longer looked quite the same.
Sometimes we’d end up in St Andrew’s park, but I never went for that daytime lark, the air stiff with smoke and the sound of beer cans under foot while kids flew past their grans on bikes. Curiosity might push us on to the cusp of Montpelier, where, like tourists, we’d stare over the allotments and into the east, its neighbourhoods infamous and out of reach.
Occasionally, when the city got too much, we’d head up to the Downs and over to Ashton Court. Mess about in trees and talk awkward stuff on the grass, before wheeling it back down through Clifton, insecurities surpassed by the breeze and our expertise for shortcuts.
I feel like a proper adventurer as I emerge from the scrub following my conquest of the tunnel.
The sun breaks out again and I hot-wheel it down the pavement, the bridge flickering through the trees above. The end of the gorge is in sight now, rock giving way to Hotwells and the unsightly tangle of the Cumberland Basin octopus junction.
But its not over yet. This place still has a few surprises and the next one is perhaps the most surprising of them all. Set into the cliffs like a lost temple to transport is Clifton Rocks Railway, a Victorian construction that once saw a funicular train carry people up inside the rock to the top of gorge. The last I heard, there were attempts to get it running again, but as I cross the road for a closer look, there are no signs that this is the case. In fact, there’s not really much to look at apart from the bath-stone carved exterior and a gate, through which a glimpse of a tunnel is shortly consumed by darkness.
In case you’re wondering why so much effort went into ferrying people from bottom to top and back again, an answer lies in the adjacent buildings of the Colonnade and Pump Room, part of the Hotwell Spa that once existed here. They are a grand set of buildings, and at one time would have attracted a very grand class of clientele who came to benefit from the water’s health-giving properties. But much like the railway, they are largely ignored these days, except by the occasional rambling tourist or some commuters who happen to get stuck alongside during a traffic jam.
Opposite, is an old landing pier for steam boats that once graced the river and dropped off out-of-towners to the spa. It’s now rotting away in spectacular fashion, with great bows of wood bending or broken and gradually sinking in the merciless mud. It runs for 50 metres or so until a newer, concrete version replaces it, before the Brunel locks open out and the New Cut begins.
Looking across from 200ft up are the houses on The Paragon, majestically clinging to the very ends of the gorge. Then the rest of the neighbourhood sweeps down into Lower Clifton and beyond. I turn off here and negotiate the obstacle course-of-a-cycle route that cuts across a bridge and two locks, seeking out that waterside pint.