On the 9th of July, a balmy summer's evening, myself and the two creative consultants for the Bristol case study site, Iain Biggs and Antony Lyons, met with about 25 others on the Vauxhall Bridge on the Avon 'New Cut'.
The geological/historical walk led by historian Roy Gallop and geologist/geophysicist Peter Andresen with the FrANC was very stimulating. I counted around 25 people in the group and Antony, Iain and I spoke with many of them individually while walking, and gathered some initial thoughts on what this body of water means to people in the city.
The talk included discussion of the path taken by the Avon through the Gorge and theories (possible effects of an ice block from the last ice age, or a fault line) about why it did something seemingly unlike a river in carving through a gorge rather than spreading out. Interesting in terms of thinking of the agency of rivers, as well as the way in which scientific information relies on being able to construct and tell a convincing story as much as anything else. (Click 'Read More' below to read the rest of this post)
Another interesting aspect of the talk was thinking about change over geological time in comparison to what we usually consider historical time. The slow changes and movements over billions of years, vs. the human impacts over the last few tens of thousands of years, and mostly in the last few hundred. Striking how much change to the landscape has come about through human activities in a relatively short period.
(From my sketchy notes) The rocks in the area are estimated to be from the Devonian era, and between 360 and 420 million years old. But it didn't take long for people to realise that the Avon Gorge contained carboniferous limestone ideal hardness for road construction, and to quarry it for this purpose, leading to the steep sides it has today. Coal mining too has been occurring in modern day Bristol since Roman times, with much of the underground of the city a labyrinth of excavated caves.
The floating harbour too is a constructed water course, 'transforming the city' when it was built in 1809 (http://www.bristolfloatingharbour.org.uk/), leading to the 'Avon New Cut' along which we were walking, the diversion of the River Avon with it's incredible tidal variability.
Yet, though it's easy to focus on the engineering of the landscape and waterways by human activity, human settlements and activities are also influenced by water. The path of the river, and the pattern of marshes, flood areas and hilltops influenced where people settled in what would eventually become Bristol. So just as people have shaped the waterways, the waterways have shaped people, and of course this interaction continues. A hydro-city indeed!
Update: Antony made a recording of some of the talk, which can be heard here: https://soundcloud.com/novaformula/river-avon-new-cut-geology-1
FrANC has a great deal of further information about the area, including wildlife surveys and information about future events on their website here: http://www.franc.org.uk/