Sharpness Ship Canal
Runs from Gloucester to Sharpness in Gloucestershire
Sailing ships started regularly negotiating the treacherous tidal River Severn in 1580 when Queen Elizabeth I accorded Gloucester the status of a port. As the port became busier it was decided in 1790 that a ship canal should be built to bypass the notoriously dangerous sections of the river at low tide.
A 16 mile (25 km) level canal was built between the Gloucester Docks and the Sharpness Dock with a lock at each end to control the river tides. The canal is crossed by numerous swing bridges which used to be hand operated.
Bridge Keepers' Cottages
Beside eight of these bridges are beautiful bridge keepers’ cottages. Built in 1840 in the ‘classical’ style they make delightful photographic subjects. Now privately occupied, many of the cottages have been extended out from the canal however the cottage at Fretherne Bridge looks just as it was in 1840.
Away from the termini the canal meanders through peaceful, willow lined meadows. The towpath can be accessed at any of the bridges and there is usually parking available.
Just south of Fretherne Bridge, about 8 miles (12.9 km) from Gloucester, is Saul Junction where the canal crosses the line of the 1779 Stroudwater Canal. It was the only crossing in the country of two independently owned canals. A lock was built at the crossing to raise the Stroudwater canal to the level of the Gloucester Sharpness canal.
The Stroudwater Canal was derelict; however there is every hope that it will be restored in the future to form a continuous waterway from Saul Junction on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal to the Thames at Lechlade & will include the 2¼-mile (4km) Sapperton Tunnel. The Cotswold Canals Trust website has interesting information and maps.
Industrial History of the Canal
Coal was brought from the Royal Forest of Dean to power the cloth mills in Stroud. The cloth was carried from Stroud to Lechlade where it joined the River Thames for onward transport to London.
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Visitors Centre & Boat Trips
The Web Link: Saul Junction Cotswold Canals Trust Heritage Centre is open Saturday and Sunday afternoons throughout the year, and Sunday mornings from April to October.
During summer weekends the Trust runs Web Link: Boat trips on their boat Perseverance. For visitors interested in visiting the Heritage Centre and maybe a trip on their Canal Boat, visit the trusts website links above. Investigate the very popular Saul Canal Festival in July each year.
To get to Saul Junction car park take the Whitminster turn off the A38 just north of the roundabout near Junction 13 of the M5. Continue past Whitminster church and over the Stroudwater Canal, then turn right, and immediately after crossing over the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, turn right along the towpath as far as you can go to the big car park.
Sharpness Dock has two entrances. The old entrance was made redundant in the 1870s when larger ships came into use and which could no longer travel up the canal. The New Dock enters the river through the tidal basin and visitors are welcome to watch the operations of the modern port from a picnic area on the south side of the tidal basin. The ships come and go at high tide.
The Gloucester Docks end of the canal has retained its old 18th century warehouses, elegant buildings and has a number of interesting museums in these old buildings. It is well worth visiting.
Visitors can take a forty minute guided cruise from Gloucester along the canal, leaving Victoria Dock and passing through some of the swing bridges. Moored at some of the 19th century wharves can be seen old sailing ships, steam tugs, dredges and cranes.
To find out more about the history, barges and people associated with the canal go to the following excellent website Web: Gloucester Docks
Google Maps - Sharpness Dock