The idea for walking the Gloucester-Sharpness canal came to us while on a day trip to Gloucester. During our exploration of the newly redeveloped dockside area of this understated South-Western city, we realised that it had historically been the destination for cargo laden narrowboats, travelling up and down the man-made waterway that connected the River Severn with the city.
The canal stretches 17 miles (without diversions), with much of this running alongside the majestic river. Our plan, as novice walkers, was to split this distance in two, with an overnight stop in the small village of Frampton-on-Severn. We were very keen on making this a car-free trip, so after a bit of research we had the journey all planned out; 2 buses, with a change at Bristol Bus Station, would take us almost to the beginning of our walk, Sharpness Docks.
The first thing we noticed when alighting at Sharpness was the striking contrast between the industrial backdrop of cranes and shipping containers and the lush green fields of horses and livestock below. From the footbridge we marvelled at the colours, the sounds, the space.
On we went, through the docks, up a hill past the Dockers club (we did not venture in), until some rugged steps led us down to the Sharpness Marina. Here the moored barges bob next to private jetties, with the waters of the Severn flowing in the background, bordered by yellow rushes. Across the stretch, Wales can be viewed, enticingly out of reach.
As we continued along the towpath, a mysterious circular tower came into view. This structure was the last remaining support from a railway bridge constructed in 1879 across the River Severn, to bring Welsh coal to Sharpness Docks.
The tower supported a swing bridge, which would be opened if larger boats needed to pass through towards the docks. There was also a steam engine within the tower which powered the bridge. Sadly, in 1960 a tanker struck the bridge, causing an explosion, the collapse of the entire structure, and the tragic deaths of five of the eight sailors on board. A rusted hull resting in the reeds serves as an eerie reminder of this disastrous event.
Carrying on alongside the canal, we noticed a little pathway branching off to the left. Following it, we came across the most extraordinary Purton Hulks. This is a “Ship’s Graveyard” – a final resting place for over 50 boats that were scuttled in the river silt to help prevent River Severn eroding the bank of the nearby canal.
This is well worth the diversion although, be warned, the ground is marshy and muddy underfoot.
The first real settlement we arrived at was the small village of Purton, right on the banks of the Severn.
Sadly, the pub we’d hoped to visit was closed so we pressed onward to our next stop at Shepherd’s Patch, passing gorgeous canal-side properties with gardens stretching down to the waterfront, some with private moorings and a wide range of vessels, from simple rowboats to larger motorised crafts.
Continued on the next page…