Monthly Archives: June 2016

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.

Hot Feet at Slimbridge

Peter Scott started what became the Slimbridge Wetland Centre at his home. Like Topsy, it grew, and the WWT is now a major conservation organisation. We – that is Biggles’ staff – had been meaning to visit for years but never quite got around to it. One of the reasons for travelling the length of the G&S Canal was that it passes within half a mile of the entrance.

Leaving our pleasant hidey-hole at Frampton on the Wednesday morning, we soon made our way through the delightfully named Splatt Bridge, and found somewhere to park at Slimbridge. And after evaluating the entrance fee, we joined the WWT, as it would be cheaper than to pay again on our way back. We’ll have to come back now!

The first thing we learnt, eating a sandwich at the outdoor seating by the café, is that the flamingo enclosures are smelly enough to put you off your food. They’ve all the flavours of flamingo at Slimbridge, and they all smell just as bad. Not sure if it’s the birds or the stuff they’re fed on. Can’t think why they put them next to the café!


Colour Coordination

Anyway, it was pretty hot, and it turned out that Fran’s outfit was inadvertently colour coordinated with the flamingos, although she did smell a lot better.

Also by the café seating was a young lady peering intently into a large telescope aimed at the flamingos, dressed in T-shirt, jeans and huge wool-lined Ugg boots, plugged into her iPod, and occasionally making a note on a clipboard. Bet she doesn’t get cold feet, I remarked to SWMBO.

Nene Goose (Hawaian Goose)Bewick Swan

Peter Scott was very taken by the nēnē, aka the Hawaiian Goose, which is the world’s rarest, and had virtually died out until Peter Scott started breeding them in captivity; they have subsequently been successfully reintroduced. Meanwhile, they’re certainly not rare in Slimbridge – they get under foot everywhere. The other WWT icon is the splendid Bewick Swan – every beak pattern is unique and can be used to identify the birds. Loads arrive for the winter, but this one is a captive resident.

Shelduck ChickMoorhen Chick

Springtime, so chicks aplenty! Shelduck and Moorhen chicks reporting for duty.

Spot the Goose

Spot the goose.

Common Cranes

Following years of breeding Common Cranes at Slimbridge and attempting to reintroducing them into the Somerset Levels, several now return voluntarily to Slimbridge during the summer. There was great excitement because one pair (not the ones above) had actually built a nest on one of the islands, and hatched a chick just a few days before we visited. They were polite enough to do this just a few yards from one of the hides, so everyone was sneaking off to grab a look. The chick is a bright ginger colour, and has been christened – with great inventiveness – Ginger. Some chicks get all the luck.

Anyway, several hours later, as we undertook a farewell cup of tea at the café, the young lady with the big telescope was still there, peering intently at the flamingos and listening to music. There were a lot more notes on her clipboard. And she’d taken her boots and socks off…


The first officer uses a flight planning program to work out how long it takes to get anywhere, but we were progressing down the Gloucester & Sharpness canal much more quickly than expected. Subsequent investigation showed it was allowing 20 minutes for each swing bridge, when in fact the keeper usually had it open by the time Song & Dance reached it, causing no delay whatsoever.

Frampton-upon-Severn looked interesting: a small linear village strung out along the “largest village green in the country”, with a swing bridge and moorings at each end, but the towpath on the side away from the village. Having failed to find anywhere suitable at the first bridge, and fearing for our chances at the other end, halfway down we came across a sneaky little clearing on the village side that looked ideal: someone else was there before us, and it appeared to have footpath access to the village through the fields. And so it proved.

Frampton SwansFrampton Swans

We were immediately visited by a swan family demanding food with menaces. The ducks kept a safe distance.

Frampton SwansFrampton Mooring

The Captain made his views on the chief cook’s priorities quite plain.

Path to FramptonPath to Frampton

And there was a delightful path through the woods and fields to the village.


The village green was indeed large, and there were some interesting and varied styles of houses.

Frampton-upon-SevernA Rose by any Other Name


We were slightly puzzled by this lychgate on the side of a large field rather than a churchyard, but subsequently discovered that there was a church at the far end of the path, out of sight, several hundred yards away.


And wandering back after a bite to eat, the chief bird spotter spotted a linnet, which made her day.

Standing at the Crossroads

After the delights of a Gloucester Monday morning and lunch, the Captain decided he wanted to get out of town for somewhere more rural, so later that afternoon we cast off for pastures new.

The Gloucester & Sharpness canal is unusual: once one that too significant commercial shipping, it is wide and almost river-like in feel, but the sides are normally piled, and there’s a towpath, and you can moor up rather more freely. There are no locks, but loads of low swing bridges, each of which – at the moment – is manned by a bridge-keeper. But there’s mutterings about automation…

Once out of the industrial bit we found a pleasant spot for the night, and were rewarded by a sunny Tuesday morning.

G&S CanalG&S Canal

Setting off late morning, we passed this abandoned barge, complete with resident swan on the nest, and were soon mooring up at Saul Junction for lunch.

G&S Canal: Abandoned Barge

Saul Junction is a unique spot on the British canals: it’s the only place were two canals cross at a genuine “crossroads”. The Stroudwater Canal starts in Stroud (where it joins the Thames & Severn Canal), and crosses the G&S at Saul just before dropping down to the River Severn. The Canal & River Trust are talking about restoring the lock just visible in the second photo, because it will look pretty, although entirely useless to boaters: restoring any further is a bit pointless as no one in their right minds would nowadays want to go down onto the tidal Severn there.

G&S Canal: Saul JunctionG&S Canal: Saul Junction

Meanwhile, the Cotswold Canal Trust are trying to restore the Stroudwater Canal and make it navigable to Stroud initially (currently only about half a mile is navigable), and eventually restore the Thames & Severn all the way to Lechlade-on-Thames. That would make a huge difference to boating in the South West, but will probably only take a couple of centuries to achieve… We won’t hold our breath!

Saul BoatyardSaul Boatyard

You don’t often see RNLI lifeboats on a canal, or seemingly top-heavy pirate ships either. Don’t know what either was doing there, but with access for big boats at Sharpness, the boatyard here clearly had more than narrowboats and tupperware jobs to manage.

Just a-walking the dog...

First time we’ve seen anyone actually taking a dog for a swim…

Saul SwanSaul Swan

And walking back to the boat after lunch we were delayed by a tow-path hog who was disinclined to let anyone pass.

Harry Potter and More Ceilings

Monday morning, and it’s off to the Harry Potter Theme Park, aka Gloucester Cathedral. And very impressive it is too. Although with all the abbeys, priorys and churches on this journey of two rivers, one can’t help but be reminded of the newly-wed bride, who – when asked what she wanted to see on her honeymoon – said simply “ceilings!”

Gloucester CathedralGloucester Cathedral

It’s apparently a local joke that if you ask the whereabouts of someone in Gloucester, the reply always includes “you can see the cathedral from here”; and indeed you can glimpse the tower from almost anywhere, but getting a decent overview of the outside is nigh-on impossible.

It rapidly became clear that a quick whizz around wasn’t really going to suffice, so we did just that, BUT determined to come back and get a proper guided tour when we returned back this way after going down to Sharpness.

Gloucester Cathedral - West WindowGloucester Cathedral - SIde Chapel

The impressive West window is popular with tourists because it’s nice and bright (because it’s Victorian), and there’s some lovely modern glass in a side chapel. The columns just visible in in the right of the West window picture are all different, and relate to different periods of construction. The crowning glory is the mediaeval East window, but not easy to photograph on this day of clouds and sunshine. We’ll have another go in a week or so,

Gloucester CathedralGloucester Cathedral

The Lady Chapel is much more modern, with an interesting side-line in garish tombs and wordy inscriptions. The one for the impressively named Sir Joseph Onesiphorus Paul Bt. was fascinating – clearly an early prison reformer.

Gloucester Cathedral - CloistersGloucester Cathedral - CloistersGloucester Cathedral - Where's Harry

The cloisters are just stunning – although familiar to anyone who’s seen the Harry Potter movies. The reminder for the Fifth Form seemed the icing on the cake. Speaking of which, noshing in the cafe we fell into conversation with a lady from Holland, who was touring with her husband and – presumably Potter mad – daughter. They’d come over on the overnight ferry to Newcastle and driven up to do Edinburgh; the next day they’d driven down to a B&B in Oxford; today, having driven to Gloucester and done the cathedral in the morning/lunchtime, they were off to do Laycock Abbey then Stonehenge before returning to Oxford that evening. Made us tired just to even think of it!

Gloucester Cathedral

Just off the cloisters was this place: no obvious indication of it’s purpose. Perhaps a giant communal wash-hand basin. If anyone knows…

Gloucester Cathedral - Tomb of EII

And a confession (appropriate in a place of worship) – the photos or the photographer got mixed up, and this one is the real tomb of Edward II, not the one photographed in Tewkesbury Abbey last week! Mea culpa!

HOGs for Lunch, Gloucester Old Spot for Dinner

It was warm and sunny, we’d been invited out for a late Sunday lunch cum early dinner of roast Gloucester Old Spot, so a mornings mooch around the docks seemed the best bet.

Harley Davidson meetMod & Rockers

As we walked across Llanthony Bridge, there was a long roaring roll of thunder in a cloudless sky; turning the corner we found the Birmingham chapter of the Harley Owners Group on a day out. We felt sorry for the solitary Mod if things turned into a bank-holiday dust-up, but none of the H.O.G.s looked under 65, so he might have been OK.

Barge ArmDredger, Barge Arm, Gloucester Docks

The Barge Arm was where we’d had tea at the narrowboat, but the impressive looking Waterways Museum was closed for refurbishment.

Mariner's ChapelLittle and Large

Just around the corner, CaRT were running trips in an old Dunkirk Little Ship (and for the avoidance of doubt, that’s the bigger one in the picture).

Gloucester LockGloucester Lock

The lock itself is indeed pretty big (particularly when you’re at the bottom, with no way off the boat)…

Visitor MooringsGloucester Dock

… and the visitor moorings close to the action, but obviously not to Sir’s liking on a Saturday night!

And with good food, drink, and most important, company later on, a pretty good way to spend a day…

Lighthouse for Sale

The visitor moorings in Gloucester Docks just by the Severn lock are superbly situated if you want to be close to the noise and hubbub of the waterside bars and restaurants (shades of Gas Street Basin in Brum), but not really suitable for a humiliated Skipper who liked a certain amount of privacy and space to wander and dig. So once tea and buns were over we headed out of the central dock area through Llanthony Bridge to somewhere more cat friendly.

Llanthony BridgeAcross from Llanthony Bridge mooring

The docks refurbishment hadn’t quite got this far so the breakfast room view left a little to be desired, but on the mooring side was a large area of cleared ground, which suited Sir just fine.

High Orchard Bridge

We were tucked in nicely behind the lightship Sula which used to be an alternative therapy centre but is up for sale. We were quite tempted, but thought getting it to Cropredy Marina for the winter might be a challenge too far…


Anyway, the mooring proved eminently suitable, 100 yards from a 24hr Sainsburys one way, 200 yards from the attractions of the docks the other, and – at night – even a little picturesque.

High Orchard BridgeSula