Tag Archives: John Cabot

Bye bye England

In the hostel I was unpacking my bags and talked to a German student who was happily bubbling about his upcoming studies while a slug fell out of my backpack. He hadn’t even noticed and while he kept talking I surreptitiously picked it up and disposed of it in the toilet.


Sketch of a dog or a horse or something

From Cardiff I cycled in one day to Bristol.

Bristol was known in the eleventh century as Brycgstow and most citizens still seem to pronounce it that way. In 1497 the Venetian explorer John Cabot sailed from here to North America. He was commissioned by Henry VII, who, years before, had turned down Bartholomew Columbus who had an idea for a similarly outrageous expedition to be undertaken by his brother. This was the second of three voyages that John Cabot made. On the first he discovered nothing but more of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s very big, he told bystanders after coming back. On his second voyage he sailed in the Matthew a caravel of which I saw a replica in the harbour of Bristol. It was unbelievably tiny and seemed to me hardly sufficient to discover Ireland, but it was with this vessel that he made landfall in New Found Land which seemed to be as good a name for a new country as any. On coming back to England he received the sum of ten pounds which at the time seemed ample reward for discovering America. Some thought it was way too  much. Little seems to be known as to the results of his third voyage… maybe he discovered America again, maybe he didn’t.
Reading through the Wikipedia pages I found some more interesting stuff on Hy Brasil, a mythical island off the coast of Ireland where it was said to appear for one day every seven years out of an impregnable mist. Having been in Ireland now recently, that suddenly didn’t sound so outlandish. It was said that Bristol men in trying to find this island had discovered North America before 1470 (that is twelve years before Columbus) but later couldn’t find their way back to America. It’s not that big after all…

In Bristol I tried some watercolours on an equestrian  statue of William III in the park.

Horses are difficult.

Another famous person from Bristol is Banksy, a mysterious street artist whose identity is not known. Several of his works can be admired in Bristol. His paintings sell for millions and he doesn’t pay any taxes. He is very much against it.


Banksy in Bristol


More conventionally, there is the Bristol Museum which had some nice works. I liked Harry Watson’s Holidays which showed the artist’s magic with sunlight. Watson had lived for two years in Canada but it had been too cold: his paint froze solid and his fingers turned blue.


Photo of a detail of Holidays, a painting by Harry Watson

Then I got an email from Lukasz who I had met several years before in Faro in the south of Portugal. He was going to drive his van to Poland and asked if I wanted a lift. Since I had done most of my most rewarding cycling in Wales I didn’t feel the need to ride all the way back across England again and gladly accepted his offer.

The hostel in Dover was a disgrace. It was said to date from the 18th century and it showed. But it had to do for one day. The bar man cracked jokes with two elderly ladies. They looked like caricatures and after making some polite small talk I excused myself from their company. Then I made the mistake of using the toilet in the bar and wished I hadn’t. It looked like the Worst toilet in Scotland that famously features in the movie Trainspotting. A sign on the door of the hostel said the premises would be open 24/7 but most of the time it was locked up. Eighteen dear pounds it cost me.


Having a coffee in St. Margaret’s Bay, Dover.

Bye bye, England.