A hidden network of pitch-black tunnels that run under the ruins of an 11th century castle have been explored by two kayakers armed with cameras.
The kayakers used a torch to guide them as they paddled through the tunnels under Bristol’s Castle Park.
However, after navigating their way through the passageways that were complete with submerged push bikes and trollies, as well as their fair share of cobwebs, the kayakers arrived somewhere throughly modern – opposite a Harvey Nichols department store.
The castle occupied the whole of the eastern end of today’s park, just east of St Peter’s Church to Lower Castle Street, reports the Bristol Post .
By the 16th century the castle was ‘tending to ruin’, and following his victory in the English Civil War Oliver Cromwell decreed its destruction in 1655, a process which was completed within a fortnight.
The castle had stood on the main route from Bristol to London, and following its destruction a commercial avenue opened along Castle Street from the mediaeval city towards Old Market.
The demolition of Lawford’s Gate at the eastern end of Old Market Street extended this into West Street, creating an uninterrupted route into the bustling heart of Bristol.
People may be unaware that when they are walking around the centre of Bristol, beneath their feet is a warren of underground passages.
Some of the tunnels date back to the 12th century when Bristol was the centre for wine imports.
The wine was stored in magnificent stone caverns which have survived the bombing of the second world war.
Many of these underground tunnels were inter-linked, making it possible to walk from Corn Street under the centre, to Castle Park.
One example which has managed to survive the test of time is the entrance to two wine cellars in High Street.
Built at some point during the 1300s or 1400s, the two cellars, which can now be found beneath High Street, were used to store wine and other imports brought to Bristol via the River Avon.
Peter Fleming, who is a professor of history at the University of the West of England, said one of the cellars would have been used to keep barrels, while the other would have served as a showroom.
He told the Bristol Post: “I have been down there and been inside and I have seen the vaults.
“Members of the public aren’t normally allowed down because the entrance is very narrow, and I don’t think some people would be able to make it down.
“I don’t think we know precisely when they were built but we believe it was some time during the 14th or 15th century.
“There are two cellars down there. One is very workmanlike and the other one has some nice stonework. The nice one was intended as a showroom.
“We know there was a guy who visited Bristol around 1480 called William Worster and he mentioned that these cellars could be found in High Street, Corn Street and Wine Street.”