Thursday, 9 September 2010

Gloucester 2010 - Upton to Gloucester Docks

Upton on Severn to Gloucester
24th August 2010

21 Miles - 2 locks - 5 hours

Upton on Severn visitor moorings

We woke to the gentle but persistent tug of the Severn, with Wand'ring Bark snatching at her moorings in an effort to break free and explore further south.

A fully laden Chub

The plan was to spend half a day travelling, first an hour or so down to Tewkesbury, look round the city and then up the Avon as far as Pershore, spotting as many of the sights recorded in Charles Showell's book as possible. But before we jump onto the Avon there were a few miles of the Severn to be explored. In reality the section down to Tewkesbury is very much like all the rest - broad and tree lined, almost boring. Things were spiced up a bit by an encounter with four gravel barges shuttling to and from wharves above and below the M50 crossing. These seemed very big after all the pleasure craft and seeing Elver, the largest, bearing down on you is something to behold.

The two aggregate wharves

As we came level with the Avon's confluence with the Severn it was immediately apparent that all was not well. The Severn was running dark and deep but into it flowed  the Avon, stirring up a distinct chop as its cappuccino coloured and froth covered waters mixed in. The flow against us to the first lock was very swift so it came as little surprise to learn that the Avon was in flood, on red boards at Pershore and no passages were expected for at least three days. Hmm, time to adopt the much used plan b strategy. How many times have we had to revert to a plan b in our watery wanderings?

A first glimpse into Gloucester Docks

Having taken the advice of the Tewkesbury lock keeper, consulted BBC weather and discussed the options we decided to abandon the Avon for 2010 and instead drop further down the Severn to the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal - which are all new waters to us. There is always the risk that the Severn could rise, but the forecasts are for the rain to pass between Bristol and London and nothing much in Wales, so everything should be ok. Avoiding flood waters is important as WB is still nursing that missing stud on the Centraflex coupling.

Gloucester lies about 14 miles south of Upper Lode Lock, a semi tidal reach which is influenced by spring tides which overtop the weirs at Upper and Lower Parting, and the highest spring tide was only a couple of days ago.

Upper Lode lock
Surprisingly this last reach of the Severn offers the most attractive scenery by far. The endless trees give way to arable fields and pasture, with cows coming down to the waters edge to drink. The river also runs close to the feet of a series of low hills which offer an added element of perspective, first Wainlode and then Sandhurst before reaching the assorted rises on the final run into Gloucester. There reaches are lonely places - we passed just one boat during the 14 miles so we were left to our own devices and thoughts as the river sped us on its flow.

Blustery conditions at Wainlode Hill

Our passage coincided with a very strong south westerly headwind, which kicked up 2ft waves with whitecaps. These crashed against the bows sometimes sending spray the whole length of the boat and into my face. The waves also produced that odd cavitation effect we have experienced on the fens where the troughs allow the prop to pick up great gulps of air with a corresponding variation in engine speed.

The flooded Avon was bringing more than water to the Severn. From here on there was a thick sprinkling of debris to be avoided but perhaps the biggest obstacle was the suction dredger agitating the silt just below Upper Parting. These dredgers don't actually remove any silt, instead they blast high pressure water into it and force it into suspension. The water is then sluiced away into the estuary, moving an obstacle from the navigation channel to a place where it does not matter.

The entry to Gloucester Docks is notoriously tricky, and the Lock Keeper at Upper Lode gave us clear instructions to phone ahead as we passed Upper Parting and again as we approached the collection of bridges in Gloucester. One glance at the river / lock / weir configuration in Gloucester explained their concern. The river has been split into two but the half which runs to Gloucester Docks has been constricted and as a result runs very fast. Add to this the fact that the final weir into the estuary is just beside the lock and there is no room for maneuver as you try and get in, getting it right first time is really, really important.

Our phone calls gained confirmation that the gates would be open for us and to proceed slowly, close up against the training wall and be ready to blast into the lock as fast as we could. We did exactly as we were instructed and were relieved to find ourselves within the safe confines of the lock, rising slowly into the glorious panorama of the docks reborn.

WB was listing quite badly due to a full holding tank and we made for Llanthony Bridge beyond which there is water and a DIY pump out. The Llanthony lift keeper, as well as selling us a pump out ticket, advised that even within the docks the wind was gusting to 40mph, so it was little wonder that our passage down had been a bit bumpy.

Having pumped and purged we crossed over and moored on the east bank pontoon, beneath some part finished developments.

At first glance Gloucester Docks are an amazing place - we will explore tomorrow.

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