Wednesday 24 October 2018

Gloucester Dock

Today's Canal - Gloucester and Sharpness

We set off earlier than usual as we were keen to pass through Gloucester Lock and out on the  Severn with enough time to get at least above Upper Lode Lock where the river stops being tidal.

The sun was up but still barely shining over the tops of the trees onto the canal.

This isolated dwelling reminded us that we had seen very few homes along side the canal, apart from around the various crossing points. At this one, breakfast was being prepared!

At this point there was once another swing bridge but little remains to show for it apart from this splendid former bridge keeper's house. Hardwicke Bridge carried a private road that connected two parts of the same estate and was demolished in 1985 to save the cost of a bridge keeper.

The sun shines on one half but not the other as we passed under one of the last bridges before arriving at the outskirts of Gloucester.

Gloucester Rowing Club are building a brand new home - they train some of the country's leading rowers and this place will cost nearly £2 million when complete.

There are several timber merchants alongside the canal, a reminder that this was once one of the principal trades for the canal and the new port of Gloucester.

This recent housing development is on a site whose prior use we have still to establish (not the Quedgeley Oil terminal that we at first thought but that is further back) but may well have been yet more timber yards. In 1965 BWB built a new quay for the timber trade (see here)

But before then we needed to stop at Sainsbury for a top up.

And then past the lightship (for sale) to the service point just before Llantony Bridge.

As Mike and Andrew were doing the servicing, Christine called the lock keeper to book our passage through the lock as soon as possible, Alas, she was informed that there was a problem as a large work boat and crane had just locked down to go a short way up the channel to remove some fallen trees that were obstructing passage for larger vessels. He did not know when it would be possible for us to leave. We had seen a stoppage notice yesterday warning of work taking place but it did not indicate and stoppage to navigation.

So, we had to cross over the dock and moor on the visitor  pontoons and make some coffee.

Mike walked to the lock had a good chat to the keeper. He had just heard from the crew on the work boat and the earliest that we might be able to leave would be between 1.30 and 2 o'clock. This would not leave us with enough time to pass through Upper Lode today. In addition he said that at the moment a tide is running (it only does so between Gloucester and Upper Lode when there is a high spring tide and over tops the weir) This morning a large amount of floating debris had collected and he strongly advised not mooring overnight on one of the pontoons which are available. Safer to make a prompt start tomorrow.

Mike and Andrew walked into the city centre to find Wilko or some other supplier of panel pins (!) as a minor repair was needed to one of the main bedroom door frames, leaving Christine to finish her lentil soup - with extras - for lunch time.

After enjoying our soup and sandwiches we set off to walk around the Barge Arm part of the docks to visit the Waterways Museum housed in one of the former warehouses. Along the way we came across the Mariners Church (formally opened in 1849) and took a look inside. Although quite small, it has a number of stained glass windows including this more modern one. Its original purpose was to look after the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people who worked on the boats and in the docks.

The waterways museum had a particular focus on the Gloucester and Sharpness history but also covers other aspects of thew wider canal system. Of particular interest (at least to Mike) was a series of video 'talking heads' of men who had worked all their lives on the canal, river estuary or the docks. What made the stories even more interesting was that they all began their working lives in the 1960s but gave testimony to how much working conditions have changed in the time since. One especially highlighted the different attitude towards health and safety, referring to one captain he worked for would happily look down into the tanks of petrol  they were transporting whilst at the same time having a lit cigarette in his mouth!

Early days of commercial trade used these sailing trows - each part of the country had its own designs, developed to suit local conditions - there were several models of how they looked.

Of course, wind was overtaken by engine power.

Outside, the oldest narrowboat in the museum collection is on display - nb Northwich. It was buyilt in 1898 and worked mainly on the Trent and Mersey Canal before being retired in 1963.

The canal and docks are in constant need of dredging and this vessel has been here since it was built in Holland in 1926, making the journey around Lands End to enter service here for the next 56 years. On three occasions it sank and had to be re-floated.

Inside the museum there is a recreation of a typical narrowboat cabin showing just how cramped conditions were once whole families were forced to take up permanent residence on the canal.

After completing our visit to the museum we all walked different ways. Mike and Andrew walked over Llantony Bridge to the other side of the dock and looked into the two dry docks where two boats are either being repaired or restored.

They also saw a former pump that lifted water from the river into the canal. Although the canal level is largely maintained from natural sources including two rivers, water for lock operations is also needed. This pump was in operation from 1964 to 2001 when it was replaced by pumps twice as powerful but which are now underground. The water is also now important as it feeds into the treatment pant at Purton which provides drinking water for Bristol.

The new pumps were in operation this afternoon as the extensive bubbles indicate.

After continuing around the dock, Andrew walked across to the weir on the river and Ike returned to the boat to use the pin (singular!) that was bought earlier. (Anyone want 99 pins?)

Meanwhile Christine had been to the main shopping area and bought a pair of shoes and a new top.

As the sun set we were treated to a wonderful red sky over the tops of the now darkening warehouses.

7.5 Miles - 0 Locks

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