Monday 13th June, Gloucester to Sharpness, 20 miles 0 locks
You imagine a boat to be a self-contained floating island of rest and tranquillity, water gently lapping beneath the vessel, the boat a cradle at the end of a sunlit day… The truth can be somewhat different. The disco at Upton-upon-Severn was recorded before. But no mention was made at the time of the Upton duck explorers, creatures keen to walk the plank (or the metal) at dawn above a would-be sleeper’s head. And so to Gloucester, where is based a trip boat (King Arthur) which gently cruises the River Severn by day, but by night turns into a raving, beat-bopping, light-flashing party boat. On Saturday evening, at about 11pm, it throbbed back from its evening cruise, lights a-flashing, disgorging its jolly party-goers at Victoria Dock a little further on from Cleddau’s mooring, before cruising past and turning round at the head of the Barge Arm and mooring up. Later, still in the dark hours, there was a scrabbly visitation upon the boat’s roof. How Gloucester’s seagulls must have fallen in love with Cleddau for they left messages of endearment all over the boat, from one sixty foot end to the other…
So Monday morning started with watering – water into the tank and water to wash away the messages!
The bridge-keeper at Llanthony raised his huge span from horizontal to vertical, turned on the green for Go light and we cruised through. On the other side, after several attempts in gusty breezes to moor up, finally we tied up to use essential services. While the Captain dealt with sanitation (always his duty) Boatwif continued work with the squeegee mop.
“Bore-da!” Hailed we were from the footpath, by a pair of boaters, late of Port Talbot. “Always spot a Welsh boat!” Their winter at Stafford Boat Club, their trip up the Huddersfield, and to York and to Lincoln… Our destination beckoned – and finally we began the last leg of the Poynton (on the Macc) to Sharpness (the Gloucester and Sharpness Shipping Canal) cruise.
Four bridges were passable without help; nine needed swinging or lifting for us. The bridge-keepers, remembered as a rather surly breed when last here seventeen years ago, were friendly, helpful and no longer taking set lunch breaks. On the western side of this wide and deep waterway runs a well-kept towpath, now named the Severn Way. Mooring places are well-marked and often explosions of floral colour decorate the canal’s edges. Memories were of few boats on this canal, but of meeting a couple of (seemingly) massive grain barges. Now boats of all kinds are moored and cruising: small cruisers, “wide” narrow boats, small Dutch-style barges, large live-aboard vessels, sea-going leisure boats bristling with radar and aerials, motorised sailing boats with very tall masts. Familiar was Saul Junction, where the Cotswold Canal may one day re-create the route from the Thames through to Gloucester. Then there was again the odd sight of the bridge-keepers’ cottages, built with a nod to neo-classicism. (Why??)
There were glimpses at first, then more frequent sightings of the silvery River Severn, the canal only about twenty five feet above it. Green Gloucestershire hills line the other side of the estuary, a two coach train tootling along the railway line to Lydney. Sharpness came into view: the sturdy remnants of a railway bridge, cranes, and a large metal bridge above the sea-dock entrance. This is a remote place, an “end of the line” sort of place. Moored alongside a sturdy stone wall we gazed down at two of the Purton hulks (beached deliberately to protect the banks), at the soft reeds, at the sandy banks, the river a mere channel between them. Low tide. Blustery winds. Treacherous waters. The last stretch of canal to Sharpness Old Dock is now a marina. Access to the river is via the tidal lock in the Sharpness New Dock. Choose a clear day and the view downstream stretches to Lydney, the two east bank power stations and the two modern Severn Bridges.
All camera opportunities exploited the boat was turned and re-moored two bridges up, at Patch Bridge, from where tomorrow an expedition to Slimbridge is planned.
[Footnote to Sisters: a Monkton Moment. Came across nb Little Billy H, of Sir Penfro, dragons festooning the boat:
“ Wiseman’s Bridge.”
An afterthought: didn’t this conversation occur before, about two years ago, somewhere near Llangollen!]