Fa – the name of the Green Dragon

A Place for the Odd Musings of an Expat Bristolian

The Rivers

A Riparian Life

July 20, 2016 Leave a comment

A Riparian Life

Recently, I wrote about my quest to become a good blogger. The main problem for me as I stated was what might be relevant for my readers. So I gave this some thought. In doing so, it occurred to me that my life has be one of living in many different locations. Most of these locations were on or near a major river.

I come from the city of Bristol in Great Britain which is located on the River Avon, a tidal river connected to the open sea. Bristol has a long sea-faring history; it is even thought that cod fishermen sailed out of Bristol  and reached the  North American continent at Nova Scotia many years before Columbus arrived in Florida in 1492. The river is not the same Avon which runs through Stratford upon Avon,  famous as the  birthplace  of William Shakespeare. There are several rivers named Avon throughout the British Isles. In fact the very name Avon which comes from the Latin name Abona  given by the Romans and its  Celtic name of Afon, given to it  long before the Saxon invasion .

Bristol used to occupy parts of  two counties; that of   the  South of  Gloucestershire and the North of Somersetshire. The counties were separated by the river. At the center of the city is a body of water referred to as the Floating harbor. Ocean going ships that come up the river on a high tide, are able to enter the harbor through a set of lock gates. They can remain docked for loading and unloading until ready to set sail, at which time the lock gates are opened and the ship able to depart down river to the sea.

When I was about 12 years old, my father gave me a book. It had the curious title of : Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K. Jerome. In short, it was a story about three men who decided to take a boating vacation on a river and the adventures that befell them in the process. It must have made a lasting impression on me because I have always loved the rivers on or near  which I found myself living over the years. I have also  included rivers which were significant insomuch that while I did not actually live on or near them, thy did play a large part of my life.

I’ll write about these rivers in chronological order. But, just to let you know up front, here is a list of rivers that have played a part in my life. I will be writing about:

  • The River Avon – U.K.
  • The River Severn –  U.K.
  • The River Thames – U.K
  • The Mersey River – U.K.
  • The River Hen – U.K.
  • Hazel Brook – U.K.
  • The River Trym – U.K.
  • The River Swale – U.K.
  • The River Seine – France.
  • The Dordogne River – France
  • The Gironde River – France
  • The River Elbe – Germany
  • The Weser River Germany
  • The Rhine River – Germany
  • The Mosel River – Germany
  • The Mississippi – USA
  • The Chicago River – USA
  • The Fox River – USA
  • The Platte River – USA
  • The Pearl River – China
  • The Yangtze Jiang – China
  • The Amazon river – South America
  • The Orinoco River – South America
  • The Danube – Hungary, Austria
  • The Amstel River – The Netherlands.
  • La Meuse River Belgium
  • The Nile River – Egypt

Before I relate events in my life and the part that  the rivers themselves played, I think I should mention that as a young boy I loved to explore. I loved my city of Bristol and the I was enthralled by the very oldness and historic  place that it was. It got its name from” Bricgstow” meaning “place of the bridge.”

A few famous people are associated with Bristol including Robert Louis Stephenson,  Isambard Kingdom Brunel, John Sebastian Cabot and a few others. I’ll get to these illustrious souls in due course.

During the Roman Occupation of Britain settlements were built around Bristol and several  country villas have been uncovered over the years.A port  called Portus Abonae was established at what today is known as Sea Mills a small suburb of Bristol along the river.

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The River Avon


The River Avon rises in Acton Turville a small village  about 18 miles to the east of the city of Bristol. The river is about 75  miles long making it the 19th longest river in England. It flows to Avonmouth where it enters the Severn Estuary. As the crow flies the distance from Acton Turville to the Severn Estuary is only about 15 miles. So you can imagine how much it meanders through the countryside before getting to Bristol.

Acton Turville is on the southeast slope of the Cotswold Hills. The Avon runs through Malmesbury and then through Chippenham, Melksham, Claverton, Bradford on Avon, and then Bath (a city which was  occupied and developed by the Romans. Known as Aquae Sulis Minerva) continuing on through Keynsham before reaching Bristol.


As a boy in Bristol, I took the river and the docks for granted. I never really questioned the fact that there was an harbour and that ships were there from  different countries. Once, I recall, there was a Russian submarine paying a goodwill visit. The most regular ships to unload belonged to Elder & Fyffes Shipping Co . Their ships, the first to be equipped with special refrigeration transported bananas from central America and the Caribbean to the U.K. The Fyffes ships also carried deck cargo and even passengers from time to time.

All of the Fyffes ships had names which inspired me to dream of a life at sea. See if these names do anything to conjure up a vision of far away places: Chirripo, Corrales, Martina, Turrialba, Changuinola, Tilaka, Tenadores and Zent.

Terrifying stories became legendary and part of the dockland mythology about huge spiders that stowed away in the banana stems; attacking and even killing unwary stevedores employed to unload the fruit.


The area around the wharves was also very interesting. There were magnificent town houses, the Old Vic Theatre in King Street, founded about 250 years ago and a park called Queen’s Square, named for Queen Anne as well as a few public houses. The square was also home to a statue of William III King of England and Scotland. He’s mounted on a horse with one hoof raised which would indicate he was wounded in battle. However, as romantic as that may sound he fell off his horse. The fall broke his collar bone and he later died from pneumonia caused by an infection.

Along King Street there is a place called the Llandoger Trow. Built in 1664, the Llandoger is probably the oldest public house in Bristol. It was owned by retired sea Captain Hawkins. He came from the small village  of llandogo, on the river Wye in Monmouthshire South Wales. A Trow is a type of flat-bottomed barges which captain Hawkins used to transport goods from Llandogo to Bristol.


Robert Louis Stephenson wrote Treasure Island and is said to have modeled the Admiral Benbow Inn on the Llandoger.  Another author, Daniel Defoe is also said to have met a Scottish sailor by the name of Alexander Selkirk at the Llandoger and it is upon Selkirk that he based his novel Robinson Crusoe. However, there is no evidence to support this. Defoe did write extensively about pirates. Bristol happened to be the birthplace of Edward Teach otherwise known as” Blackbeard”.

My family lived to the east of the city center and in order to get into the heart of the city your journey took you across the Avon via Bristol Bridge. With a port in the middle of the city there were numerous bridges to cross various bodies of water created when the Floating Harbor was built.


KEYNSHAM and Somerdale

Upriver from Bristol, the Avon runs through Keynsham. There were two events in my life which took place there. The first when Ii was about 3 or 4 years of age. My family all went on a pic-nic on the banks of the river. We situated ourselves in a meadow on the right bank of the river near the bridge which carried the A4 to Bath. Bristol had a pretty good bus service provided by the Bristol Omnibus Company. We did not own a motor car in those days, in fact I don’t think that dad knew how to drive. At least I never saw him drive. Anyway, our day out started with a bus ride to Keynsham. Mother carried a wicker basket with pre-made sandwiches and a bottle of lemonade. Dad brought one fishing rod as he liked to fish. Mother always brought along her Kodak box camera.

The reason I remember this event so well is that after we had eaten my brothers and sister went about their activities. I was left pretty much to my own devices as I did not fit in with my older siblings.  So I decided to look at the flowers growing in the marshy bank of the river. Unfortunately I approached a little too close to a swan’s nest and the ferocious bird chased me deep into the marshy area where I lost my balance and fell into about 6″ to 8′ of water.  What a day trip that turned out to be!

Some 10 years later I found myself back in Keynsham again. This time with the sacred Heart Scout Troop 45 of which I was a member. We were in Keynsham to visit  J.S. Fry and Son’s Chocolate factory. Fry’s was at one time the largest chocolate maker in the world. Reaching its zenith it was acquired by Cadbury’s Chocolate  Company and eventually it was moved to Canada.

The day that we were there was memorable. Not only were we educated about the fascinating chocolate making process we were sent on our way at the end of the tour with a large selection of the Fry’s product.

BATH – Aquae Sulis

The city of Bath  was originally established and settled by the Celts when arriving from Central Europe. For them  it became a religious center as were other locations nearby such as Averbury, Woodhenge and Stonehenge. The Saxon invasion eventually drove the Celts out of the southwest of England. A later Roman invasion drove the Saxons deep into the countryside and Briton became Romanized. The city of bath was renamed Aquae sulis Minerva, literally the waters of the Goddess Minerva. Apparently the Romans anxious to subdue any fears they may have created as conquerors and occupiers combined the existing ancient residual Celtic religion of the Druids with their own brand of worship of the Goddess Minerva.

SEA MILLS – Portus Abonae

Sea Mills was founded by the Romans possibly as one of the closest sites to their garrison at Gloucester. Gloucester, originally named Nervia Glevensium in A.D.97 after the emperor Nerva. The town one of only four in Britain to be established as a Colonia, a special town of high status especially established to accommodate retired Roman legionnaires who opted to remain instead of returning to their country of origin. This was probably because they had accumulated wealth from plunder and possibly acquired  land. It certainly was not for the weather.

Gloucester was later known as Glevum Colonia before the Saxons renamed it Gloucester after the old English name for fort.

Sea Mills was given the name Portus Abonae, literally – Port on the river. The old port is still there. It stands at the mouth of the river Trym where  it joins the Avon. The name Sea Mills is said to come from Saye, a serge-like material which was manufactured in local mills. The Saxons did little to develop the area for commerce preferring to move up river to Brigstowe  (the place of the bridge) which later of course became Bristol.





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