A long way to go just for a walk…

Tewkesbury – Gloucester- Saul Junction – Sharpness – Saul Junction: 36¼ miles, 3 locks

It was an offhand remark in the winter – one of those “I wouldn’t mind going to…” thoughts that get spoken aloud – that sparked a plan and became a project.  It was to be Destination Sharpness to view the Purton hulks for the 2017 Cleddau cruise.

So, on Tuesday there was just the matter of getting down the River Severn from Tewkesbury to Gloucester before the rain properly started…

A chat and farewell to the What a Lark crew     – and a manoeuvre into  Tewkesbury’s Avon Lock to drop down onto the Severn, a seriously big river.

There is no commercial traffic these days – and certainly there was not much else on the move, just one upcoming narrowboat crossed at Haw Bridge     so there wasn’t even sight of the steerer.

These structures are prepared for high water   and just look at the size of the debris caught midstream by a signpost. 

Down the river, in bumpy and blustery conditions…    The bank showed signs of low water    – would the threatened rain raise the levels much?

Close to the city there are the three bridges,    a brown tourist sign,    and then the deep lock which raises boats 18 feet 6 inches up into Gloucester Dock.

Gloucester Docks never fail to impress, by day, by night,


 in the sheeting rain  – and eventually, in sunlight.

Onward on Thursday, through the Llanthony Lift Bridge,    onwards down the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.

Oh, how wide it is…   You know it’s going to be wide, but even so its dimensions (width 86 feet, depth 18 feet) are a little different from those of the narrow Macclesfield Canal! The G and S was designed as a ship canal and when constructed (it opened in 1827) it was the widest and deepest in the world. There are narrow boats    and wide beams galore    down here these days, but also some rather different vessels…         

Spectators down here next week might catch a glimpse of some Tall Ships since there’s a festival in Gloucester Docks over the Spring Bank Holiday.

The Sharpness Canal is remembered most though for its swing bridges (operated by bridge keepers) and its charming (but no longer used) bridge keeper houses.  

Eight miles along the canal there was an overnight pause at Saul Junction – and time to liaise again with the fellow 2014 Wash crossers (Patrick and Angela), last seen in August at the Bosley Locks HALOUS. Thanks very much for the edibles, folk!

Saul Junction is a hive of activity. It’s a canal “crossroads”,    there’s a boatyard, a marina, Wycliffe College Rowing Club, a heritage centre promoting the work of the Cotswold Canals Trust, two large trip boats,    a busy café and (more in a later post) good boater facilities.

But onward on Friday – the last eight miles to Destination Sharpness. It’s a familiar route for Cleddau (first visit was over twenty years ago) but nonetheless one that thrills.There’s deep water … wide water. At Frampton-on-Severn comes a glimpse of the parallel silvery ribbon,   the impressive River Severn. More swing bridges… trip boat picnickers …    a graceful sea-going vessel…   then the solid stone structure of what remains of the Severn Railway Bridge…   the Lifeboat and Flood Rescue Centre prominent on Sharpness Old Dock…    and the two bridge access to Sharpness Docks.     (Boaters wishing to go further downstream under the Severn road bridges   must pass through the commercial dock).

Moored up, just the long grey stone wall separates the canal from the estuary.    Only feet away is a beached hulk, one of over eighty part buried in the reeds and silt…The end of the canal is a strange and lonely place. There is soft swishing in the breeze of the reeds, the call of birds over the mudflats, the sound of the wind whining through the Old Dock railings.    White streaks indicate river current and tidal rip,   the incoming tide laps over the mud banks.    The water, rippled in some places, flat in others,    hides the channels and hazards beneath the surface.

The sign beside the Severn Railway Bridge is a stark reminder of disaster. Five men lost their lives in heavy fog in October 1960 when two tanker vessels missed the Sharpness lock, collided and struck the Severn Railway Bridge. The mix of cargoes (heavy oil and petrol), combined with a ruptured gas main carried by the bridge and a cut main electricity cable led to a catastrophic explosion.

Still visible today at low tide are the remains of one of the tankers involved in the disaster. 

Close by are small memorial markers.  It is along this stretch of the Severn bank  at Purton that many ships’ hulks have been beached and left to act as reinforcement between the canal and river.   Over many years silt and grass have been washed into the hulks, stabilising the bank and protecting the canal. Enormous efforts have been made to identify the origin of each hulk. The plaques outline each ship’s name and when built. Many are dedicated to the memory of particular crew members. These skeletal shapes, their floating function long past, but a new purpose found, are a moving tribute to the boat builders and seamen -and to the historical researchers who have detailed their past.

To view this isolated graveyard involved a walk through reeds,    on flattened mud paths, at sea level, just yards from the river.



And yes, it was well worth the 281 miles and 518 feet change in elevation to view these ghostly forms.

Post walk Cleddau and crew headed north on Saturday afternoon, back to Saul Junction, midpoint on the G and S Canal. There was urgent need to be close to a tap – more on that next time…

Stats since Higher Poynton: 289 miles, 4 tunnels and 153 locks

 Monkton Moments*: 9 (Recent places mentioned – Crundale, Brawdy, Haverfordwest, Fishguard,  and Angle. ” Lived in Angle between 2005 and 2009,” said a young lady. “Angle beach is the very best place in the world…”)

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)









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4 Responses

  1. Adrian Moore says:

    Enjoying the blog and Monkton Moments , such a coincidence the mention of Angle, my wife and I are heading there on holiday first week of June. Have never holidayed anywhere in Wales ever in our 33 years together. Always canals or Devon Cornwall or Dorset. Hope it is the best beach in the world!

  2. Sue Deveson says:

    Hello Ade,
    “Best beach in the world” is what the lady said – but if you have a car, check out Broad Haven (South), accessed via the Lily Ponds from Bosherston, ( a great family beach), Freshwater West (wild Atlantic -facing beach not far from Angle), Barafundle (picturesque, accessed via a 15 minute walk from Stackpole Quay , N. Trust car park), Freshwater East (another good family beach) and Manorbier ( good castle not far from the beach).
    Hope the weather is good for you!

  3. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    I love the ghostly, weathered forms of the wooden timbered boats half eaten by time amidst the sand and grass and mudflats. Lovely post as usual.

    Jaq xxx

  4. Adrian Moore says:

    Thanks for the info boatwif

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