As part of Spring Green, a commission for the Architecture Centre Bristol and Groundwork Southwest, Rebecca Beinart has been exploring the river Malago and its tributary, the Pigeonhouse stream. Stretching from the edge of Bristol to the city centre, the Malago is a green corridor that provides a space for wildlife, and a route for pedestrians and cyclists.
The river starts with a series of springs on Dundry hill, just south of the city’s border. It then runs through Hartcliffe, Withywood, Bishopsworth and Bedminster before reaching the New Avon Cut. The Malago was once a larger river with a troublesome tendency to flood. However, it has been culverted and much of the water now runs through underground tunnels.
The route of the river, although interrupted, provides a transect through the city – a line that passes through very different areas of habitation. Rebecca has walked the Malago with various companions, each one offering a different way of seeing the river, and revealing the multiple relationships that surround this stretch of water, and the land that borders it. She walked with a birdwatcher, a herbalist, historians, a conservationist and campaigner, a representative from the South Bristol Riverscape Project and Bristol City Council.
The Malago has a long history of human habitation, human reverence and human interference. Many local groups take care of different parts of it, but some areas still feel forgotten. The Malago is a wildlife haven in some places, a rubbish dump in others. Surprisingly the two do not always contradict one another. Walking the river, one gets the sense of being on an edge, behind the scenes of the city. There are glimpses of back gardens, gasworks, industrial estates, and occasionally moments when you could believe yourself to be in a rural valley.
The material from these research walks will inform a public walk, being developed in collaboration with Pete Harrison.
Many thanks to Helen Adshead, Anton Bantock, Peter Coates, Kathy Derrick, Max Drake, Clare Hickman, Maggie Hughes, and Margaret Swatton, for their generous help in researching the Malago and sharing their observations and stories.