Friday 14 July 2017

Gloucester and Sharpness Ship Canal. Gloucester Docks to Saul Junction.

All the bridges on the G&S either swing or lift, effectively removing any height restriction which would otherwise prevent shipping from the Bristol Channel reaching the docks at Gloucester. This, combined with a deep, wide and mostly straight channel can result in the masts and bridges of all manner of craft drifting past the window of your very small looking narrowboat.
There is a gathering of tall ships each year in the docks. All the bridges are manned and controlled by traffic lights, which makes it very easy to navigate, you just approach the bridge slowly, the red light starts to flash which means that the bridge is opening, either by electric power of more traditional methods...

...then once it is fully open you get a green light and away you go. A few of the bridges are high enough for narrowboats to get under them, but you still need to wait for a green light.

Gloucester is a terrific city. We went into the tourist information office; here are some of the things that they told us to go and look at.

This is the timbered house in Maverdine Lane. It was closed off to the public until recently and it is very hard to photograph because it is only a couple of feet from the building next to it but, for the same reason, it is in fantastic condition. we wouldn't have known it was there if the TIO hadn't told us.
Waking up after a night spent mostly wobbling about on a pontoon in the docks convinced us that, although mooring in the city was exciting and vibrant and fun, we really needed to go somewhere a little more solid. Llanthony Bridge, which separates the docks from the canal proper, was only about two hundred yards away, so we gave the bridge keeper a ring to let him know we were coming before we cast off. (Most of the bridge phone numbers are in the Nicholson guide and most of them are right).
We didn’t go far, just to the fourteen day moorings on the quay near Sainsbury’s. There we found some mooring rings that were so big that it took both of us to lift them up, and it gave us some idea of the size of the ships that used to trade here.
Moorings don’t come much more solid than that.

While other boats came and went, Legend remained tied to the Big Rings for eleven days. During that time the Astra took a bit of a beating. First we drove down to Bude to stay with Jacqui and Al for a couple of days. We stopped at Dunster Castle and Water Mill on the way, which was rather splendid...

...then drove over some lovely roads across Exmoor towards Cornwall.
At one point we went through a ford which produced a worrying cloud of steam from one of the front wheels. Closer inspection revealed a sticking brake calliper which, when we got to J&A’s, was very hot and very smelly. Dave and Al had a trip out to Euro Car Parts in Barnstaple the following morning and by lunch time we had a shiny new calliper fitted. And so, our long-standing tradition of turning up at the Allen’s house just in time to use their tools to mend our means of transport was successfully upheld.

On Sunday we all went for a walk on Dartmoor…

…then on Monday morning drove back up the M5 to Gloucester.

Two days later we were off again in the opposite direction; this time to Sheringham to stay with Diane and Richard in their lovely caravan looking out over the North Sea.

Our somewhat crooked trip back to the boat took us to Karen’s for post and tablets, Mum and Dad’s for a Father’s Day lunch, and an overnight stop in Hungerford on Large Marge with the lovely Laura and Alison.

By the time we got back to Gloucester for the second time the trip meter was heading for seven hundred miles. Poor old car.

Despite watering them before we left, after five days away we half expected all the plants on our roof to have shrivelled up and gone crispy, but happily we were wrong; they were all still green and verdant. On the table we found a note.
Jim and Jenn are a couple with whom we had had a brief chat as they passed our boat on the previous Wednesday. While we were away, they’d moored next to Legend and looked after our plants for us. How kind is that? We really wanted to say thank you, but after such a brief meeting we really weren’t sure we’d recognise them again. However, when we moved down to the moorings at Rea Bridge we spotted Nb Dire Straits tied up ahead of us and it struck a chord. It was a fabulously hot afternoon and we all sat in the shade by the towpath comparing waterway notes.
Lovely, genuine people. Now we know Jim & Jenn, Jim & Den, John & Jac and Jon & Jo.

Over the next week we emptied the bedroom and sealed it off from the rest of the boat before sanding down the roof and wall panels and re-varnishing.
This was the last room to be done and now, apart from a little bit in the corridor, matches the rest of the boat. We’ve used Dark Oak Satin on the frames and Clear Satin on the panels to give it more depth and we’re really pleased with the result.

According to the Severn Bore timetable there was going to be a series of two and three star bores coming up the river on successive spring tides at the weekend. We’d never seen this natural phenomenon before and were really excited about the prospect of it being right on our doorstep. Bores on the Severn travel at about ten miles an hour and the river is very twisty so the sport of Bore Chasing is a relatively easy and relaxed affair. We phoned John & Cam and asked if they’d like to come over for the weekend which they did. Over the two days we managed to cram in six sightings at five different locations. On Saturday morning before they arrived, we walked the half mile or so from Rea Bridge to the Severn Way on Elmore lane and watched it come past. In the evening with John and Cam in the back seat, and armed with a rather decadent picnic and our OS map, we set off with a spotting plan. We drove up to Gloucester, over the bridge and down the other side of the river to the pub at Newnham on Severn where, beer in hand, we watched it push a little gang of surfers and canoeists up stream.
After a further ten minutes in the car we arrived at Minsterworth Church where we devoured our picnic while waiting for it to appear round the corner.
Following that there was another ten minute drive to Telford’s Bridge at Over where we watched it for the third time as it churned its way through the bridge supports in the approaching dusk.
If we had been expecting a towering tidal wave charging up the river, destroying everything in its path and flooding the countryside for miles around we would have been somewhat disappointed, on the face of it it appears a rather mild affair, often there isn’t even a wave, just a bulge in the river travelling upstream, however if you watch the edges where it crashes along the bank you see a different story; there is power there, and lots of it. Once it has passed by, you find you are looking out over a much bigger river than you were a moment ago. A bigger, more angry river with large trees bobbing about on it like corks, going hell for leather in the wrong direction. It really is quite spectacular. And that was only a three star; it can go up to six.

The Malvern Hills had been tempting us from behind Gloucester ever since we arrived. On a sunny Monday we finally put our boots on and went for a walk up there.

From Rea Bridge we moved on to Saul Junction where the Stroudwater crosses the G&S at a canal crossroads. The Stroudwater Navigation was built in 1779 to take boats from a tidal lock on the River Severn to Stroud and pre-dates the G&S Canal by nearly 50 years. It was extended to Lechlade on the River Thames by the building of the Thames and Severn Canal and, until the K&A was completed in 1810, provided the only viable inland cargo route from Bristol to London.
These two canals were abandoned in 1954 and, under the new name of The Cotswold Canals, have been the subject of a succession of dedicated restoration societies almost ever since.  The G&S was built with a slightly higher water level than the Stroudwater, meaning that a new lock had to be built at the junction to bring the Stroudwater up to the new level. This lock was recently restored and had new gates and paddle gear fitted.
We’ve only seen horizontal sliding paddles like this on the Rufford Branch of the L&L and they didn’t have the rack and pinion arrangement, so we think they are unique. Towards the river, beyond this lock, the navigation has been in-filled for half a mile or so, but after that it is in water almost to the end.

The last bit however, where the tidal lock used to be, is now the garden of Lock House.

As we were walking through the little village of Saul we noticed a poster for a performance of As You Like It performed by TheHandlebards in the open, at a farm about three miles from the boat. We had a free evening and the weather forecast wasn’t disastrous, so we bought a couple of tickets and went along. Luckily we took the car, because the forecast was as wrong as wrong can be and the heatwave finally broke. It started raining as we left the boat and got steadily worse as the evening progressed. There were thick grey clouds hanging over us with hardly a breath of wind and it just rained and rained. We took waterproofs, so we didn’t get too wet...
...but the four girls who made up the cast couldn’t have been wetter if they’d performed in a swimming pool.
Look who got roped in!

They carried on regardless, bless ‘em, and got a very soggy standing ovation at the end of it.

The next day we were packing for a weekend away. Our niece – Cat - had hired a huge house near Kidderminster and invited about 120 friends and family to help her and Ben celebrate their marriage.
It was a fantastic weekend; endless food and drink, games, music, a really beautiful wedding ceremony and reunions of cousins that haven’t been in one place for years.

We did our bit to help with the cooking of the pizza on Friday night and the full English on the Saturday morning, but as soon as Chloe and Shandy turned up with Caleb we abandoned the kitchen and had baby cuddles instead.

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