Sunday, August 15, 2010

Scouting round Gloucester

Have you ever boated down the Severn to Gloucester? Nor me, but I couldn't waste the opportunity of some research while we were in the area so here is my travel guide to Gloucester by boat.

This is best read in a voice similar to that of Mr Cholmondley Warner, preferably with an old 78 rpm record of light music playing in the background.

Historic Gloucester docks are well off the beaten track of England's inland waterways because of one thing. The River Severn.

Despite having links to the Staffs and Worcester Canal at Stourport, the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Worcester, Shakespeare's Avon at Tewkesbury, and the mouth of the Bristol Avon at Avonmouth, this mighty river is not beloved of boaters. This is because they fear they would die
a) by drowning as the boat sinks in the floods or rip tides, or
b) of boredom because of not being able to see over the high banks and having to cruise long distances between mooring points.

Many boaters particularly fear times of the full moon in these parts. Contrary to popular belief this is not because of the prevalence of werewolves, but rather that the tides may be higher at these times. Actually the statistics show that a surprisingly high proportion of boaters attempting the Severn live to tell the tale.

In years to come there is hope that the Thames-Severn link via the Cotswold canals will make Gloucester accessible canal boaters who prefer not to risk the tidal Severn.. In the meantime my advice would be to avoid the vernal and autumnal equinoxes when tides tend to be bigger. Dry periods between these times would lend the river a much more benign prospect.

Once arriving at Gloucester a lock lifts boats from the Severn into the evocative surroundings of the dock basin with its imposing warehouses. Here we can see the tidily restored remnants of a once thriving inland port, now bustling with pleasure boats instead of the ships and barges that once brought goods bound for the midlands from far off lands.

Some pleasure boats provide more pleasure than others. I had a great deal of pleasure (much of it liquid induced) last week when I boarded this converted paddle steamer for the wedding reception of Mr Tim Bunnage.

Boaters who simply can't get enough of waterways history and canalia might like to cross the basin to visit the Waterways Museum. Here one can spend a jolly hour or two touring the many exhibits and learning about the history of the docks. A special treat is the showing of a 1960s BW publicity film about the benefits of water transport through the docks. This seems to be presented by Mr Cholmondley Warner in disguise and is a true delight.

Visiting boaters are well catered for in the basin by the provision of these well laid out mooring pontoons
At the other end of the basin a lift bridge lets you through to the wide, deep and straight Gloucester and Sharpness canal. Narrowboaters who like to annoy people by exceeding the speed limit will be disappointed to discover that no matter how fast they travel down this canal, their wash will be unable to unsettle the boats moored along the banks. A suggested alternative might be to play a radio very loud.

Eventually the canal will take you to Saul junction where the Stroudwater navigation joins the G&S. In future years this would be where you would turn to enter the reopened (we hope) Thames / Severn link route.

Here there are plenty of mooring spaces, and there is much to entertain you if you like boats and canals. If you don't like boats and canals there is nothing to entertain you. However there is a cafe.

Further on down the main line of the G&S canal, the boater reaches the locks which guard its entrance from the terrifying Severn estuary. Here you can hire a pilot to guide you on your boat down to Avonmouth. Personally I would rather hire a pilot to fly me down to Avonmouth as I am a coward.

So ends our travelogue of this attractive and stimulating corner of the inland waterways. I hope one day to introduce Herbie to its delights, but I will pick my time with care.


Anonymous said...


Sue, Indigo Dream

VallyP said...

Great piece of writing Neil, and the photos are great too!

Captain Ahab said...

Its a lovely place. We were stranded there by floods in August!