Gloucester Waterways Walk
This walk takes in both urban landscape and grassy meadows which can be muddy in bad weather. Good walking shoes are recommended.
Gloucester is the most inland port in England and transported goods to and from international ports to the Midlands until the port ceased operating in the 1980s.
Walk starts at Gloucester Docks Lock
The walk starts from the north end of the historic Gloucester Docks where the massive lock gates give entry to the tidal River Severn.
The lock is 182 foot (55 metres) long and can hold up to six narrowboats at a time. There is a drop of 16 feet (5 metres) to the level of the river below. Before 1892 there were two shallower locks end to end but to speed up operations they were amalgamated. If you look carefully you can see the mark in the walls where the third lock gate once stood.
Walk to the end of the lock and cross the narrow road bridge, keeping the River Severn on your left. Now you are walking along the site of the old quay.
In 1580 Queen Elizabeth I granted Gloucester the status of a port and it is here the coastal ships unloaded their cargo. If you look carefully you might see the place where the stone steps used to lead down to the water level.
The granting of port status meant that shipping no longer had to pay tolls to Bristol and Gloucester received the revenue instead. Across the road can be seen the old Customs House which was built in 1725.
Continue along the footpath beside the busy road following the blue road signs to Highnam and Maisemore until you reach the footbridge crossing over the East Channel of the River Severn. Cross the footbridge and while doing so, look at the new Westgate Bridge. The bridge might be new, but the crossing is ancient.
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The Romans settled in Gloucester because they could control the route to Wales at this location. This was the lowest point where the River Severn could be crossed. The river divides into two channels here and later joins up again forming Alney Island. The Romans built two bridges here to control the crossing.
Originally there were three channels but one has now dried up. The remains of a medieval bridge lie under modern Westgate Street. However, bridges gave way to ferry crossings known as ‘lodes’ which is how St Mary de Lode Church got its name.
Continue over the bridge using the footpath along the main road for about another half a mile (1 km) until the road curves to the left (the road signs indicate Ross/Chepstow). Use the road bridge to cross the West Channel and turn through the gate on the left signposted ‘Gloucestershire Way’.
Thomas Telford's Bridge
Now double back towards the old stone Over Bridge. The great Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford built this bridge in 1829 to replace an old 16th century bridge which had been damaged by ice. Walk on to the bridge and admire a fabulous view of Gloucester Cathedral and the surrounding countryside.
While you are there look for the Bridge's ‘sunken’ parapet. Don’t worry it is quite safe but when the bridge was built the crown of the bridge ‘sank’ about 10 inches (25 cms) when the temporary framework supporting it was removed. Telford always blamed himself for this. He freely admitted that he was at fault in providing inadequate support for the thrust of the bridge, and it's said he regretted the error for the rest of his life.
Telford delayed opening the bridge for 3 years to see if it would sink any more, but all was well and the bridge opened in 1832. It carried heavy traffic for 140 years and is now preserved as the oldest large-span masonry road bridge remaining in England.
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We are now about halfway through the walk. After crossing Telford’s bridge descend the steep embankment to the river level below. Turn left and follow the footpath south. Now the walk becomes a pleasant riverside ramble along the banks of the willow lined river until you reach the Lower Parting.
This point is where the East and West Channels meet forming the southern point of Alney Island. The river mud flats are a haven for birdlife. Turn right and continue along the path keeping the river on your right hand side. The path skirts the Oxlease meadow bringing you back to the narrow road bridge at Gloucester Lock.
Contact & Further Information
Google Maps - Gloucester Waterways Walk