Friday 18 August 2017

Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. Splatt Bridge to Saul Junction via Gloucester Docks

We took Legend back up into Gloucester Docks for the weekend. Anne was coming to stay the night and we thought it would be nice to go to the park and watch the firework display marking the end of Gloucester Festival. Our plan had been to go straight to the services before mooring but they were being used, so we backed up and tied up on the visitor moorings just ahead of Sula, the huge red lightship.
(Sula is for sale by the way. We might have mentioned that before.)
When Anne arrived we had a wander round the docks. Where the food festival had been two weeks previously, there was now a beach with deck chairs, a Punch and Judy show and about 50 tonnes of sand with a load of kids digging in it. Within minutes of turning up, Anne and Ann-Marie were in there in the thick of it...
instantly surrounded by a small gang of awe-stricken children who couldn’t believe how you could make a CASTLE out of SAND!
Later that evening the fireworks in the park were some of the best we’ve ever seen. No, scratch that, they were the best. We were in the perfect position with perfect weather conditions, and for a good half hour our entire world was filled with crescendo after crescendo of perfectly synchronised dazzling light. It seems that after several deleted attempts to describe them, mere adjectives verbs and nouns just aren’t adequate. You will just have to take our word for it that they were Really Good.

All that afternoon there had been lots of hustle and bustle on the quay-side by our boat, as energetic and enthusiastic people came along to register and collect their numbers for the Gloucester City Marathon, which was taking place the following day. We were woken in the morning not, for a change, by the seagulls, but by the chatter of 1500 people all preparing to face their own private challenge.
Some were doing a half marathon, but most were going for the full 26+ miles. We went over to Lanthony Bridge to watch the start.
All the physical effort made us feel hungry so we strolled back to the boat for breakfast. By the time we returned to the quay-side the first of the half marathon runners had made it across the finish line. We walked up past the lock to the bridge over the river, about ¾ of a mile from the finish, and cheered on some of the half marathon mid-field. After saying goodbye to Anne, we went back to the bridge just in time to see the 3:15 pacemaker go past. We stayed there cheering on all the runners for the rest of the afternoon till there were only a few straggles left then walked along the course back to the boat. We were quite pleased to find that the advice we’d been giving everyone was actually correct; there was less than a mile to go and the bridge we were standing on really was the final climb before the end.

In the evening Kim, Luke and George popped in on their way back home from Cornwall. Ann-Marie fed them Lasagne, then we had a lovely evening chatting and reading Dr Seuss to George.

During the week we had another crack at the Thames and Severn Towpath walk. This time we drove to Stroud and walked to Nutshell Bridge and back...
...before carrying on to Griffins Lock where the sandwiches ran out once more.
We spotted a pair of Kingfishers on the way in a courtship ritual and managed to get some lovely photos.
Stroud itself is really pretty. It’s really interesting with some fabulous buildings and loads of quirky little shops; definitely worth a return visit, but after a 13 mile towpath walk a quick look round was all we were up to.

Keeping our visits to National Trust establishment above one a month has been relatively easy this summer. The latest one was Newark Park; a Tudor hunting lodge turned Georgian stately home.
We had a very interesting basement tour and a wander round the house and grounds, but the biggest selling point of the place was the view.
Anne’s moving day finally came around almost a year after first deciding to buy her own flat. So it was with great excitement that we drove down to Bristol to give her a hand to move out of her bed-sit. She wasn’t going to be getting the keys to the new place for a week so all her stuff was going to be staying in the van until then, but as she works away all week and lives out of her car, she figured it wouldn’t be any different. When we first saw the VW Transporter that she’d hired we were sure it wasn’t going to be big enough, but with the girls carrying everything down three flights of stairs while Dave played sideways Tetris we managed to get it all in.

The next day we resumed our Thames and Severn walk, this time we parked at the Ship Inn at Brimscombe and walked back to Griffins Lock...
...then forward through Brimscombe Port to Chalford where, even though our sandwiches hadn’t run out, we stopped for a cuppa at the delightful Lavender Bakehouse and Coffee Shop.
We promised ourselves a return visit to see more of both Chalford and the Lavender Bakehouse on the final bit of our T&S walk when we’ll get all the way up to the Sapperton Tunnel.

Later in the week, Mum and Dad had to go to a funeral at Weston Super-Mare. As the service was in the morning, we went to have a British Seaside afternoon with them. It was a lovely clear day and before we met up we had a paddle in the sea and a walk along the beach.
It reminded us a bit of walking along all the beaches in Spain and Portugal. When Mum and Dad turned up we walked down the prom in the sunshine, watched the donkey rides and the kids playing on the beach and had an ice-cream. As Legend was only about an hour away we decided to all go back to the boat for dinner. As usual Ann-Marie produced a roast chicken dinner for four from our tiny galley at the drop of a hat before we almost had to kick them out so they’d get home before midnight.

Next morning we cast off and moved about a quarter of a mile to Sandfield Bridge via Saul services. While we were taking on drinking water we went to use the showers but they were freezing.

After breakfast we packed up some sandwiches and headed out in the car for our fourth and final assault on the Thames and Severn towpath (Western Approach). We parked right outside our new most favourite place; The Lavender Bakehouse and Coffee Shop, and walked up the last two and a half miles of towpath to the Daneway Portal of the Sapperton Tunnel. Compared to the rest of the canal, this section is very overgrown and derelict.
Unsurprisingly, hardly any restoration work has been carried out up here; until the CCT achieve through navigation to Stroud and Brimcombe Port, all their effort and recourses will be concentrated there. As the canal and the River Frome wind their way up the valley, it becomes more wooded and secluded. Through Siccaridge Wood the overhanging trees meet each other, large willows tower up from the middle of the canal bed and, where there is water, it is only inches deep.
From the Daneway pub, (whose car park sits directly over an in-filled lock) to the tunnel mouth, the line of the canal and its adjoining river become a nature reserve; the trees and undergrowth edge closer and very little sunlight manages to penetrate the Beech and Willow canopy. The tunnel portal, when it appears with its castellated copings and turrets, is like something out of a fairy-tale.
We could well believe that there might be trolls living in there.
The locks on the Thames and Severn Canal are quite unique and to explain why a potted history is called for.
Are you sitting comfortably?
The Canal runs from Stroud, where it joins the Stroudwater Canal, through the Sapperton Tunnel and then down to Inglesham Lock at Lechlade on the Thames. At the time of its construction, the Sapperton Tunnel was going to be the longest transport tunnel in the world; there was neither the money nor the engineering capability to dig a bore big enough to accommodate the huge, fifteen feet wide Severn Trows. Thames Barges, however came in smaller sizes, and a twelve and-a-half foot wide tunnel was both possible and - it was thought by the engineers - affordable. A large inland port was built at Brimscombe, where goods could be transhipped between the Trows and the Thames Barges. From there the locks towards the Severn were 15’6” by 72’ and towards the Thames they were 12’6” by 90’. Of course during  construction the money ran out several times, it took longer than expected and no-one had given much thought about how the summit was going to be kept in water before the planned feeder branch to Cirencester was completed. This feeder was to be the only supply to the summit, no reservoirs had been planned, but when it was completed it soon became obvious that the promised supply from the river was woefully inadequate; reportedly by a factor of ten.
Never profitable, from its outset the T&S was plagued with problems. Springs burst through the clay lining leaving holes which leaked in dry spells, porous limestone lost more water, and the miserly supply meant that it was closed to navigation more often than not. In an attempt to reduce the wastage of their precious water, the company reduced the length of the locks from 90’ to 72’ by extending the cill into the lock chamber and installing a second set of gates.
And so it is that the modern day towpath walker, on looking into one of the derelict lock chambers, will firstly notice that it is neither wide nor narrow in the traditional sense and due to the lack of a proper water supply, unlike derelict locks on other canals, there is no constant flow over the weirs.
Secondly, when you get a glimpse through the undergrowth you notice that there are two sets of header gate recesses...
...and there is a strange looking arch under the cill... engineering solution to the problem of how to shorten the locks and still use the original paddle gear.
Although it is not going to happen in our lifetimes, at some point in the future this canal will reopen for navigation. When it does, its odd looking locks will no doubt be a very effective attraction for future generations of boaters.

On the way back down to Chalford we came across a couple who were taking a photo of something. We approached quietly and they told us there was an otter in the water. What a treat! Neither of us had ever seen an otter in the wild before and this chap seemed completely unfazed by the bunch of humans pointing a collection of phones and cameras at him.

He went for a little swim and then climbed out and went to the base of a tree where he proceeded to scratch himself.

Back at Chalford we celebrated our otter spotting with tea and cake in the Lavender Bakehouse...
before climbing up the steep twisty donkey roads and steps that wind through the village. Chalford is built on the steep side of the valley with houses perched one on top of another.

After Anne’s house move our poor calf muscles really didn’t know what had hit them.   

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