An Art Gallery on a Boat? You Must be Mad! Part Three

Gloucester to Sharpness

A month after buying the barge, here we were, watching the canal banks slip past and all was well. At least, all was well until the outskirts of Gloucester where, in the middle of a fishing competition, the long neglected engine of the Nancy spluttered and died.
There was utter silence, both on the decks of the barges and the banks of the canal, as slowly the boats lost steerage and started to jack-knife across the canal. The silence was suddenly broken by the cries and swearing of the anglers, as first the bows of one barge and then the stern of the other, started to tangle their lines and tear their keep nets out of the bank. But their oaths sounded as innocent as a child’s prayer when compared to the torrents of invective that poured from the mouth of Peter, as he expressed his opinions concerning those that had nothing better to do with their time than sit on their arses, watching a canal all day.

As Peter rants, Kate and Mo try to keep straight faces.

As Peter rants, Kate and Mo try to keep straight faces.

As Peter disappeared down into Nancy’s engine room to sort things out, Kate, ever practical and diplomatic, suggested to the anglers that if they would like to take a line from the bows, they could pull the barges straight and sort out their lines. At this they did a remarkable impression of being deaf: I’m sure some of them actually whistled at the sky! In any case it shut them up, and in a minute or two the engine coughed back into life and we resumed our progress.
There is not really that much to tell of the rest of that day, other than it was a day full of dreamy memories of the Gloucestershire countryside, bathed in gentle autumn light for which there are, really, no adequate words.

We had one more moment of excitement when, just before Saul Junction, the engine died again and once more, the barges swung across the canal. As the fuel blockage was being cleared, we saw a danger approaching that was far more threatening than angry anglers! One of the tankers which served the oil depot at Quedgley, was approaching at quite a speed.

A cause for concern

A cause for concern

As I went forward to warn Peter, the engine once more spluttered and coughed into life. He emerged from the engine room, cast an eye at the approaching tanker, unhurriedly took the wheel and straightened us out. To me, it seemed like a close thing, for the barges were barely against the bank before the tanker was sweeping past. I was also a little concerned at the thought of locking onto the Severn and making the trip to Avonmouth the following day. But, after a stop for some more maintenance at Saul, the engine did not miss another beat all the way to Sharpness.
The afternoon sun was westering as we passed through the swing-bridge at Purton and glided along the final straight stretch of canal before Sharpness. Wide vistas opened up of the Severn which, here, runs alongside the canal. The banks of the river are strewn with the hulks of old barges and coasters, scuttled here at the end of their working lives to help to protect the riverbank from erosion.

Halfway down this stretch stand the mournful remains of the old Severn railway bridge, destroyed in the early sixties when a couple of tankers, which had collided in the fog off Sharpness and caught fire, drifted up and destroyed the bridge.

In Sharpness docks

In Sharpness docks

After the rural idyll that was the canal, Sharpness came as something of a shock. On a Saturday afternoon in November, the docks were deserted, but apparently, so was the town. It was like a ghost town, not a living soul stirring. We needed a taxi to get us back to Gloucester to retrieve our car and eventually found a telephone box opposite the (closed) Post Office and general store.

As luck would have it, a taxi firm had left their card inside. When we got through, we were informed that they only had two cars, one was broken down at the garage and the other was doing a wedding and would not be back until late evening. Next, we found a card in the shop window and tried that number for about an hour – and still there was no reply. This was, of course, long before the advent of talking pages and mobile phones and there were no telephone directories in the call box. We were beginning to wonder if we would end up stranded, when the owner of the post office arrived home. She apologised for not having taken the taxi advert out of the window when the firm had closed down, two years previously. But at least she was able to give us the number of a cab firm in Gloucester, who sent a car to pick us up.


To be continued.


Next post 5th July




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