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