Monthly Archives: June 2016

River High, Mountain Deep…

While the transport manager was shunting around the country on trains and cars on Friday, the Severn continued to rise. We stayed overnight and left on the Saturday morning, by which time the Severn had come up three or four feet.

River Avon, Severn Level @ TewkesburyRiver Avon, Severn Level @ Tewkesbury

These pictures are actually of the River Avon, but at the level it flows into the Severn. The previous evening Biggles had been on the mooring pontoon at least six more steps further down, supping from the river. We’d nearly moored under the block of flats in the distance, but decided not to as it meant climbing up several feet from the boat to the quayside (now under water).

It clearly didn’t look like it was going to back to normal any time soon: the decision to abandon ship looked increasingly the right one.

Errata: it seems my reference to the Essex Girl were in error. She’s off to Lavenham in Sussex. Staying at The Swan it seems. Can’t think how she can afford it – must ask for a rise in pocket money!

Man Plans. <Insert Your Deity Here> Laughs

Friday morning, and we wandered down to see Nic and check it was all OK to head on up to Worcester, usually a two day exercise… she asked where we were planning on mooring en-route, and we said “Upton on Severn”.

“Ah…” she said, “I spoke to Upper Lode earlier, and they say the level is coming up and they might need to close later today; Diglis at Worcester are also taking a hard look, and reckon they might need to close tonight”. So we’d get to Upton OK, but maybe no further onSaturday. Calling the Diglis lockkeeper for an update at about 11:00, he said “The river’s coming up faster than we expected: Upper Lode have just closed, and we’ll close just as soon as two narrowboats heading this way get here. We don’t expect to reopen until Monday at the earliest.”

Time for Plan B.

We really didn’t want to go all the way back up the Avon to Stratford (and couldn’t manage it before Essex girl needed to depart), so thought we’d see if we could get a mooring at Pershore or Evesham marinas on the Avon. Both were a day or so upstream, and both had railway stations. We could then come back when herself returned and the Severn had settled down to resume our journey to Stourport,

On returning to Nic with the new plan, she said “Ah… Evesham have just gone on Red Boards, and Pershore will very shortly – there been lots of rain in Rugby and it’s working it’s way down to here…”

Time for Plan C.

After consultation with the Captain, and Nic, it was decided to leave Song & Dance on flood safe moorings near the lock under Nic’s watchful eye, while we all went home for a week. This meant the cook could go to Essex and back from winter quarters, and easier exercise. And so the transport manager was despatched by taxi to Pershore to get a train home – don’t let anyone kid you there’s a useable train service at “Ashchurch For Tewkesbury”. Returning with suitable ground transport, the skipper, the contents of the fridge and freezer, and mounds of dirty washing were stuffed in the car, and on Saturday morning we all headed darn sarf for a week or so. We’ll be back!

Debris Dodging and Jumping Salmon

The chief cook needed to leave the boat and Biggles for a few days next week, and head for Essex (don’t ask…). The plan was to head up to Worcester via Tewkesbury and Upton-on-Severn over the next few days, moor up in a boatyard near Worcester station, and despatch her off. The bo’sun and skipper could then spend some quality time together catching up on the – by now – large backlog of laundry.

A phone call to the Upper Lode lockkeeper at Tewkesbury first thing on Thursday morning elicited the response that there were no problems as far as he could see, and he’d be expecting us. He said he didn’t know what the Gloucester lockkeeper was on about. So we waved farewell to Gloucester Docks, locked down onto the Severn rather more quickly  than  we’d locked up, and pointed Song & Dance uphill.

With miserable-ish weather, the only possible mooring for a pub lunch-stop full of other boats, not much to see, and a fairish flow on the river, it took what seemed an awfully long time to grind all the way up to Upper Lode. There were very few other boats about, and a lot of debris coming downstream: leaves, twigs, logs, branches, even most of a tree, so the helmsman/woman/cat had to concentrate all the way.

Another call to the Upper Lode lockie shortly before arrival had it all set up waiting for us, and once again it seemed a huge lock, just for a foot or so difference in level.

Then, as we crossed past the upper weir entrance towards the junction between the Severn and the Avon, a huge salmon leapt totally clear of the water. Twice. Quite a spectacle.

We locked up onto the Avon so the Skipper could meander round his favourite mooring spot, and Nic the Avon Lock lockkeeper said she once had a narrowboat arrive with a salmon stranded and expired on top of the cratch. The boaters were squeamish, but it was still nice and fresh, so Nic had it for her tea.

The Storm Clouds Gather Over a Large Jigsaw Puzzle

Finally leaving Slimbridge on Sunday morning, we made it all the way back to Gloucester Docks, via a short diversion at Saul for fuel (both diesel and human food). We moored back up on the Llanthony pontoon, in weather that looked increasingly ominous.

Llanthony Pontoon

The plan for Monday afternoon, was to do a proper tour of the cathedral: we’d been told they were filming something on the Monday morning.

Gloucester DocksGloucester Docks

Heading towards the cathedral over the lock gates as the large holiday hotel/cruise boat departed the dock, we were slightly intrigued by the red-haired young lady with the colour coordinated carrier bag. She looked for all the world as though she was mournfully waiting for her ship to come in. But at the last minute, a crew member of the boat appeared on the starboard side of the boat, and with arms outstretched by both parties, the bag was passed up onto the boat. Clearly a last minute delivery of supplies from Sainsburys.

Gloucester Cathedral

The cathedral was a little bit of a disappointment: the filming was not only going happening on Monday morning, but all day all week it seemed. The local car park was full of support vehicles, the cathedral surrounded by generator lorries, and full of film studio kit. Large parts of the cathedral were out of bounds to visitors, although a very friendly knowledgeable guide gave us a tour of the bits still open, which was most informative, and let us into some areas normally only available to paying guests, as a consolation prize.

Gloucester CathedralGloucester Cathedral

Here’s a couple of pictures sneaked from the whispering gallery. Seemed they were making an American production of some medieval story. It seemed odd seeing knights in armour speaking with strong NY accents, although Scottish actor Kenneth Cranham was spotted in a side chapel, in a  bishop’s outfit.

The wonderful  medieval glass window (the size of a tennis court) was removed and packed away safely during WW2, with half stored in the crypt and half in the cellars of a nearby stately home. After the war, the boxes were recovered and opened, and the glass had all survived intact. Unfortunately, however, both storage sites had been damp, and all the sticky paper labels had faded, smudged or come off. So the glaziers had the largest jigsaw puzzle in the world… and had to go and buy picture postcards of the window so that they could make a start.

After the disappointment of Monday, the quartermaster spent half of Tuesday wandering around the new “Outlet” shopping area while the FO moved the boat to attend to certain plumbing necessities (and back) while the Skipper jumpp ship and went walkabout around Gloucester college. Wednesday passed in a blur, but involved  a wander round the museum of the Royal Gloucester Regiment, a visit to the railway station, and more shopping.

With all the heavy rain that had been going on everywhere, we were getting interested in whether we there was going to be trouble heading North up the Severn. Asking the Gloucester lockie on Wednesday evening whether there were any issues heading up to Tewkesbury on Thursday morning, he said that he’d just got back from a few days off, the river had risen significantly, and the Upper Lode lock at just South of Tewkesbury was talking about shutting… we’d need to talk to them first thing Thursday morning. Hmm…

On The Naming of the Beast

Leaving the hulks behind on the Friday morning we were soon back at Slimbridge, and had a lovely day wandering around the various hides. We still felt there were parts to which we’d not done justice, so we had another wander on the Saturday. This time the FO took a camera, but even when fairly tame, getting decent photos of the critters isn’t always easy.

A pretty comprehensive guide as to what’s at Slimbridge can be found at this site, but here’s a few of our photos, in an attempt to make bird identification and nomenclature a little easier.


This chap (or chapess) has orange-red legs. It’s called a Redshank.

Ruff (M)Ruff (F)

The female of this pair (the second photo) looks vaguely like a Redshank, but when the male gets excited he sprouts a large ruff of feathers around his neck…

Ruff (M)

The birds are called Ruffs.

White Faced Whistling Duck

This pretty little chap has a white face and whistles cheerily and continuously as he goes about his business. It’s called a White Faced Whistling Duck.

Indian Running Ducks

These ducks come from India, and run around upright in small gangs like they’re in the Olympics. They’re called Indian Running Ducks.

Bar Headed GooseBlack Winged Stilt

In a completely different vein, this goose has black bars on its head: it’s a Bar Headed Goose, while the tall chap with stilt like legs and black wings is called a Black Winged Stilt.

Black Headed Swan

In a staggering demonstration of lack of imagination, this bird is a Black Necked Swan.

Crested Screamer

And finally, a hard one. This sizeable bird has a notable crest, and is known for screaming so loudly it can be heard 2 miles away. Apparently it’s a Crested Screamer.

So that’s all clear, then.

The Incredible Hulks

The Severn runs just below, and very close to the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, and just a mile or two from Sharpness, at Purton, there’s the largest ship graveyard in Britain. Known as the Purton Hulks, from 1909 onwards attempts were made to prevent the Severn eroding the canal bank, by deliberately beaching redundant barges there.

Not wanting to head all the way – admittedly not far – back to Slimbridge only to find mooring a problem late in the day, we stumbled on a pleasant spot to moor up just above the hulks. The Captain was intrigued, and immediately set off to investigate. It’s really not far from Sharpness: the wind turbine in the picture looms over the docks and you can see the old lockkeeper’s cottage too, through the haze.

Hunky BigglesPurton Hulks

There’s supposedly over eighty barges beached along here. The earlier, wooden ones, have become rather more assimilated into the scenery and greenery, and acquired other boats on top, so there’s not so much visible evidence of them. But the concrete barges still stand proud even if I still have difficulty with the concept of building a boat out of concrete, but there you  go.

Purton HulksPurton Hulks

Purton HulksPurton Hulks 

Watched over by the Forest of Dean on the other side of the river, it’s million miles from anywhere and an odd and unique spot.

The Milk Run

We knew wanted to go back to Slimbridge, were 99% certain we weren’t going to head down the Severn Estuary to Portishead and Bristol even though weather conditions had been clement, and we needed some milk… Sharpness was calling. The cruise down alongside the River Severn didn’t take long, and we were soon moored up at Sharpness Junction. That’s where there’s the old arm that leads to the original basin and lock down onto the river. Proceeding any further would have taken us into the docks themselves, and needed 24 hours notice (presupposing we were heading down the Estuary).


Severn at SharpnessHere’s the old basin and lockkeeper’s cottage, and a photo looking down the old lock exit. The river was at high tide and running fiercely. If you click on the picture and enlarge it you can see the flowing area. If we ever needed confirmation that this wasn’t the place for a unseaworthy narrowboat without a qualified pilot, this was it!

Sharpness DocksSharpness Dock

Sharpness Low Bridge

Although little large ship traffic goes up the canal to Gloucester these days, a wander round the docks showed plenty of activity.

Sharpness LockSharpness Lock

This is now the lock / basin leading down to the river from the docks proper: the gates at the far end can only open around high tide, so all movements have to be planned. It all makes Song & Dance look very small.

Quick GetawayKeep Out

Not sure why this boat carries its own helicopter… it would be more useful if had some rotors. Perhaps it’s a early prototype for the Super Puma (he said, cruelly). And while we often see electric fences for keeping animals in place, this one seems a bit OTT.

Flower BasketCrane Farm

Having located the shop and pub (miles from where we were moored) and purchase the milk, wandering back Fran decided she’d found the perfect hanging basket for home. There also seemed to be a crane factory, as well.

Sharpness JunctionLow Tide

And when Song & Dance hove back into view, we’d clearly been long enough for the tide to go out.

We’d heard, anecdotally, that most of the 60 or so small boats that transit the estuary per year did it from Bristol/Portishead to Sharpness. As such a trip may well involve waiting days for the right combination of tides and weather, we now understand why, and resolved there and then that if we were going to do it, we’d start from the Kennet & Avon. With nothing to keep us at Sharpness, we turned the boat around and headed back for Slimbridge and Gloucester.