A Trip Down the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal

By Anna Watts

Starting off

 

Our mooring is at Saul Junction and we enjoy the whole of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal. I thought I would describe a trip from one end to the other. It takes place late winter or early spring. We start off at Gloucester Dock. Whenever we are at the Docks I imagine what it used to be like with all those trading boats, seamen, ropes, chains and loud voices. It's all silent now except for the mewing of the gulls. I don't know if I approve of the new buildings being erected. Another one is about to go up on the water's edge to replace one erected not many years ago: a little ironic considering the warehouses still standing over 100 years after construction! I guess the next generation of boaters will look at it all and have a different opinion about the view they look at from their boats. However, it is still a great place to moor and a contrast to the rest of the canal.

 

Heading out of the docks

 

People look at the moored boats and ask the usual questions such as "Do you live on board?" "How far have you travelled and where are you going?" Heading out of the docks our first encounter is with Llanthony Lift Bridge. I always feel a little guilty as we go through. I think of the pedestrians and motorists we are holding up on their way to work or shopping, but then I think how much I used to enjoy watching boats cruise by. I hope we have enlivened their day. We cruise on a little way before encountering a bridge under construction, later to be named High Orchard Bridge, where, if you are a female steerer, you try to ignore the wolf whistles which I get even at my age. It still happens which shows you how bad some men's eyesight must be. All along the bank changes are taking place. I notice that BW have tried to tidy the trees and vegetation but there is still a lot of wood floating in the canal. It is not from the local trees but from much further afield, all imported from far and wide. It has overflowed from the timber yards along the bank. However, I don't mind this mess as it is all part of the nostalgia of how the canal used to be.

 

A D Marine and beyond

 

After Hempstead Bridge we pass A D Marine with its covered dry dock usually containing one or two boats, which brings back memories of our early boating as it is where we had Platypus rubbed down and undercoated after we first bought her and were looking forward to trips like this one. She was called Willow at the time. Then on to the bright new Netheridge bridge carrying the bypass road over the canal, and the straightened stretch of canal, dug out with mechanical diggers, not by spades, wheelbarrows and sweat like the old canal it replaces. We are now on the outskirts of Gloucester and passing new housing estates hidden behind trees and high banks. I wonder if they realise what they have on their doorsteps as you hardly ever see anyone canal side even at weekends; no walkers, cyclists or fishermen, not even picnickers on the canal side. We pass under two bridges close together looking for terrapins, either escapees or dumped as unwanted pets, but none seen today! However we do get a cheery wave from the bridge keepers but possibly not for much longer as some bridges will become user-operated.

 

In the country

 

The next bridge is more distant but after it the view opens out and we are in the country with cows in sight and accompanied by bird-song although this is sometimes drowned by the sound of our somewhat noisy engine. In the same way the scent of wild flowers, new mown grass and cow-pats is sometimes hidden by a slight whiff of engine, but she is our boat and we love her. Once in a blue moon we pass a boat travelling in the opposite direction and we wave as we pass. In the distance we see Parkend Bridge and as we watch it appears to slowly approach us rather than the other way around, especially when it is calm. Passing The Castle, a grand name for a boat club and private moorings, we must have dinner one day at their restaurant. We never seem to have time, or I have already decided what we are having for dinner when we think of it. As my husband says, "if you have a dog why bark yourself!" We then negotiate Parkend Bridge and pass another one of the old canal cottages with Doric columns that are so much part of this beautiful canal On the left is moored the old steam boat, Swallow. What a fantastic view we now have, farms dotted around with the odd house here and there. The Cotswolds are on my left and the River Severn on my right, not yet quite in view but I know it is there hidden in front of a backdrop of the Forest of Dean up on the hills. On those same slopes I can see houses dotted about in the distance. I wonder if they can see me. It's so peaceful here when I am on my own just with my dog, Kanga. I feel so grown up steering the boat; I hope my cup of tea is nearly ready! I call down to my galley slave to find out.

 

Saul Junction to Splatt Bridge

 

We are now almost half way. We are approaching Saul Junction and pass our permanent mooring and wait for the bridge lights to turn green. This must be the nicest place on any canal, not just because it is a great venue for a festival or the junction with an old canal.

Not because it has a great Heritage Centre, a thriving boatyard or is historically interesting. It also has the best bridge keeper on the canal, though now semi-retired. But best of all it is where we have made some of our best friends. Boating is like that. Past the next bridge we are on the straight stretch past the Chocolate Factory. Unfortunately it is no more, being replaced by a mill. But I have heard wonderful tales about eating too much of the sexy food. But I am getting carried away; it must be the Willy Wonka syndrome. The next bridge is Fretherne leading to one of my favourite stretches. On the right you pass a lovely old house to which I would love to give a lick of paint. In my dreams I buy it one day and restore it to its former glory. A couple of hundred yards farther on the view I have been waiting for emerges. It is a large expanse of open space looking across the river where in the evening you can watch fantastic sunsets, see birds coming in to roost and water fowl settling in for the night. The air is filled with their chatter. I wonder if they think it is as beautiful as I do. The morning is just as magical. We are next to wetland which attracts the birds and just beyond is the wide expanse of the river, looking down as far as Lydney and across to the Forest of Dean. With this lovely scenery to our right we make our way to Splatt Bridge. We first pass Frampton Church on the left. If you have time, stop near the bridge and go to see the beautifully embroidered kneelers.

 

Cambridge to Purton

 

Through the bridge we continue but now instead of wetland we have green fields between us and the river. In season the lamprey fishermen walk down from here to fish in the evening. Just a few weeks ago we saw a mink on the bank, beautiful and black with razor sharp teeth. Very handsome - if I had a gun, I wonder how many I would need for a coat! A long straight takes us to the bend where the Cambridge Arm enters the canal and the isolated Cam Bridge appears. Here in the winter you may have to wait awhile as the bridge keeper makes his way up from the next bridge, Shepherds Patch, more commonly known as Patch, which carries the road over the canal to the Wild Fowl Trust at Slimbridge. As a young girl I was introduced to Peter Scott but I was too young to appreciate how important he was. However, he certainly left us a fantastic legacy. How about slaking your thirst in the Tudor Arms before continuing?

 

That's better - suitably refreshed we carry on towards Sharpness, passing the large vessel, Ambulant. As we pass her I wonder what she looks like inside. This reminds me of occasions when we are moored up and gongoozlers passing by peer through the windows. I guess it's a bit like me wanting to see inside Ambulant. I suppose

men would rather see her engines than her soft furnishing. The next stretch is another isolated length. We have no view of the river, just fields although there are wading birds. It is nice to walk this stretch. The water purification plant near Purton now comes into view. I have great fun telling Bristolians that the water we are cruising in they will be drinking tomorrow. The two swing bridges at Purton are close together. I love the little church there. What a strange shape it is. I remember some years ago we had a drink in the little in the house on the right of the bridge. You couldn't call it a pub; it was more like a private home with a bar in the hall. Fancy having a pub in your own home, or at least that's how it seemed. If you walk along the path from the bridge you have great views of the river.


However, on we go past a row of delightful cottages. Next are the remains of a BW yard and sluice where dredgings were dumped in the river. Moor up a little way past these to view the boat graveyard on the river bank We took our grandchildren down to see them last year It was pouring with rain and every where was muddy; great fun for a 10-year old boy, getting covered in mud. A group of marine archaeologists were researching and recording some of the boats - very fascinating. We are near the end of the trip, the circular tower which used to support the swing section of the 21-arch railway bridge that used to span the canal and river, standing forlorn with the bridge long gone. We moor just past it a little way before the original canal swings to the right to wards the now disused lock down to the river. The old canal is now a marina. On a fine day out come the folding chairs and table and a bottle of wine and we gaze at the view across the broad expanse of river - and what a view it is. I wonder how many people come to see this view or even know of it. From here you can watch the trains going from Lydney to Gloucester on the other side of the river, looking as if they are right on the edge of the embankment. At low tide some of the footings of the old railway bridge can still be seen. What a fantastic sight it must have been, crossing the river by train, when the 21 spans were still in place.

 

Sound travels well over water and last year we could hear people's voices from a pub well upstream and across the other side as people partied into the night. The view from here must encompass 4 to 5 miles from left to right. It is spectacular whether the tide is in or out or it is wet and windy or dry and sunny. We often walk along to the marina from here and enjoy the view southward, across to Lydney and down to the Severn Bridges. Watching the tide ebb and flow it is just like being at the sea-side, without being able to get down to the sand. Then we can walk up the hill on the other side of the arm to the Dockers Club for lunch or dinner. This is a popular venue for weekend gatherings of boating friends, lubricated with a tipple of your choice. I wish I had the power to express how I feel about this canal in poetry. Can anyone out there do it for me?

This page was added by Anna Watts on 03/12/2009.

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