Castle Park is in the ancient heart of Bristol, a green oasis, fenced in by the Ring road, Broadmead shopping centre and the Docks. You can easily miss it, because it is high above the throng of shoppers, and separated from the river by a vertical drop of ten metre.
It was the site of the Norman castle, built in imitation of the Tower of London in 1100, and knocked down by Cromwell in 1650 because it had been a vital royalist strongpoint during the Civil War. It was the main shopping centre in the 1930s, then flattened by bombs, and turned into a park when Broadmead was created in 1950.
Trees were planted, grass sown, benches built, and it became a haven of peace amidst the thronging traffic. A few tattered remnants of the castle remain here and there, and the ancient moat that once surrounded it on the east still flows underground. The dock walls go back 900 years, and in them grow two ancient fig trees, whose origins lie deep in mystery, but which flourish despite being regularly pruned back. Swans glide past in the dock. There used to be a flock of up to a hundred in mid-winter, but in recent years this has declined. But two pairs still breed within the dock estate. They are sometimes joined by Canada Geese, and Mallard and Moorhens are always present.
As are Gulls. In summer the large Herring and Lesser black-backed Gulls nest in the city centre in their hundreds, attracted by the way we leave food lying about, and they love to have a daily bath in the water when off nest-duty. In winter there are fewer, but there will usually be a few of the dainty Black-headed Gulls hunting for scraps.
In spring the avenue of Cherry trees is a wonderful sight, and in the early morning passing summer migrants drop by- Blackcaps, Whitethroat, and Chiffchaff have been heard. The residents include many Blackbirds, Goldfinch, and often a few Starlings, who in the past would have dominated the site. As would the Feral Pigeons, whose numbers have been severely reduced by pressure from the gulls.
The grass is close mown, but beneath the screen of trees which masks to ring road on the east Bluebells, Cowslips, Cow Parsley, and Oxeye Daisies can be found. The trees include a Strawberry Tree, which flowers in December, Norway Maples, Silver Birch, and Hazel. There is a very rare Oak tree, the Lebanon Oak, Alders, Willow and Whitebeam. In all there are around a hundred species of tree and shrub that can be found in the park. It is a real oasis, a haven of biodiversity amidst a sea of concrete. Don’t go to the Cabot Circus, got to Castle Park.