Wednesday, July 21, 2010

End of the line.

That’s it, we’re as far south as we’re going to get, for this year at least.
We set off with clear blue skies, but that sneaking wind from the south-west is back, unfortunately.

NB Dreamsong comes through Cambridge Arms Bridge
Near this bridge is an un-navigable feeder running down from the Cotswolds, just visible on the horizon.
The canal stays pretty remote, settlements on the canal occur where there’s a bridge crossing.
Patch Bridge is the closest to Slimbridge, the world renowned Wildfowl and Wetland Trust.

Patch Bridge.

The village of Purton straddles the canal, and boasts two swing bridges. They’re both controlled by one guy, who has CCTV to warn him of traffic approaching the upper, unmanned, one.

Below here, on the estuary, is a boat graveyard, the Purton Hulks. More tomorrow on that.
Just under a mile from the docks there’s the remains of a railway bridge that crossed the estuary from Wales on cast iron pillars, then the canal on a swing bridge. It was built to carry coal to Sharpness from the highly productive South Wales pits.

Railway bridge pillars.The squat tower on the right was the swivel for the swinging span, and housed a steam engine.

In October 1960 tragedy struck. In thick fog and on a fast flowing tide two tankers missed the entrance to the docks. Trying to turn in the stream the Wastdale H and the Arkendale H collided and together drifted down onto the pillars supporting the central span, bringing down the line and disrupting gas and electrical supplies. Their cargoes of petrol and oil caught fire. Of the eight men crewing the two vessels, 5 were lost.
A lot more detail about the accident here.

The remaining section of the bridge was finally demolished in 1967. At low tide the remains of the wrecks can be seen in the channel. It was not feasible to salvage them, so they were destroyed with explosives.

We pulled in not far after the bridge pillars, within sight of the docks at Sharpness.

Excellent views out across the water.
We’d got tied up by noon, but at around 2 o’clock there was a sudden flurry of activity on board the large motor cruisers nearby. 4 or 5 set off down towards the docks. I knew that high tide was around 5 o’clock and guessed they were heading out onto the Bristol Channel.
By this time though the weather had closed in, black clouds bringing a very heavy shower, so I did the sensible thing and made a cup of tea while waiting for it to ease. Then Meg and I set off to watch them leave the sanctuary of the canal.
What I didn’t know was that it’s a bit of a trek around the docks to get to the point, and by the time we got there the craft were heading out into the wide blue yonder.

They’re out there somewhere…..
All was not lost, however. The MV Ben Varrey was waiting to come up into the dock.

In she comes, along the pier…..And into the lock.
Not wanting to be left behind a motor-sailor arrived and joined the freighter…..
Then finally a narrowboat cast off from where she was waiting against the dock wall and motored in as well.

In goes NB Fish Eagle
Half an hour later, all three were up to the level of the dock, with very little drama. Both the smaller boats were secured to the Ben Varrey as the lock filled.

Lock filled.
The freighter moved into the dock area to be loaded with 1450 tonnes of grain and the two pleasure boats set off up the canal.

MV Ben Varrey in the dock area.
The picture is hazy because that black cloud overhead in the last picture has just let go!
This general cargo vessel seems to spend most of her time pottering about between UK ports. She’s loading for Silloth, Cumbria, due to arrive just after midnight on the 27th.

We walked back to the boat, wet through, but I at least was well satisfied.

I wasn’t alone gongoozling. There were also the crews of two narrowboats watching the proceedings with rather more interest than me. They are going out on the next high tide, at 4 o’clock in the morning! It’s early, I know, but if the weather is fine it’ll be magical as the sun rises over the water. Good luck, guys. Have a safe trip.

Locks 0, miles 5½

1 comment:

Alf said...

Do walk down the lane from the "manned" Purton swing bridge & visit the pub at the end of the lane, itwill transport you back in time better than the Tardis !