The Southern Canal


This page covers the canal from Fretherne Bridge to Sharpness. This is, in my opinion, the nicest stretch of the canal.

Just below Fretherne Bridge on the W bank is the large Saul Manor house, at one time the residence of the Chief Engineer of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal Company. It had in recent years become rather derelict, but is now largely restored. Cream teas are served in the garden in the Summer, accessed via a gate in the hedge about 200 m below Fretherne Bridge. The owners also apparently arrange dinner parties in the house on request.

The road to the west of Fretherne Bridge leads eventually to Arlingham. Arlingham is a small village on a long peninsular around which the Severn flows on three sides. This is the area where the narrowing river triggers the Severn bore at spring tides. It is quite a long walk to the village (about 5 km), but the footpaths nearby can be used to make a good walk. To the S of Arlingham village, the river is borded by a low cliff, reputedly good for fossil-hunting.

The New Inn in Arlingham is a pleasant, small pub used by locals. Another km or two down the road is the Passage Inn, at the extreme end of the Arlingham loop. The pub is now a restaurant (although it does serve a good pint of real ale), specialising in fish. It is truly excellent, with a price tag to match. At one time, a ferry crossed the river here, and was on one of the important routes from Cirencester and London to the Forest of Dean and S. Wales. It is still possible to trace on a map the lines of the Roman road which stretched from Cirencester past my front door out to Arlingham.

Back on the canal, just beyond Fretherne Bridge, the river Severn becomes visible as it swings back in from the Arlingham loop, now much wider than at Gloucester or in the upper river. As the tide runs up towards the Arlingham loop, the river narrows rapidly causing a wave front to build up - this gives rise to the famous Severn Bore. The bore, a wall of water which surges up towards Gloucester and often overtops the weirs at Over and Maisemore, occurs regularly at spring tides.

The canal follows a straight course with views over the river to the W and over Frampton on Severn village to the E. Splatt bridge is about 1.5 km below Fretherne Bridge. The E bank just above Splatt bridge is reserved for permanent moorings (with water point), but the W bank is popular with visiting boats.

Splatt Bridge: 33 kB

From Splatt Bridge, it is a pleasant walk across the fields to the rear of Frampton Church. The footpath can be reached from about 100 m along the permanent moorings past the bridgekeeper's cabin. A path continues along an avenue of ancient chestnut trees to the bottom end of Frampton village green.

The Three Horseshoes pub at the bottom of the green is well worth a visit. There are usually four or five real ales available, and a good selection of local ciders. The food is mostly home-cooked (good Sunday lunches, although the kitchen hours can be somewhat erratic. It also sells Sunday newspapers. The butchers shop next to the Three Horseshoes closed in Spring 2002. There is a small cafe/restaurant a few doors along (recently in new hands - untested!).

Farther along the green is a ladies' hairdressers and, near the top of the green, a post office / general stores. On the corner at the top of the green is the Bell, a large pub with good children's play area. There are usually a few real ales on sale, and the food is quite good, albeit rather more up-market than that of the Three Horseshoes.

Frampton Village Green is reputed to be the longest in England. It has plenty of pleasant old houses along it sedges. Frampton Court is the large, Georgian building to the E of the green, and frequently hosts horsey events. Frampton Manor is the spectacular half-timbered building to the W of the green.

Below Splatt Bridge, the canal continues more-or-less in a straight line to the bend just above Cambridge Arms bridge. At the bend, the narrow Cambridge Arm enters the canal on the East bank. This arm, which extends for about 2 km to the village of Cambridge, could readily be restored. There is a good depth of water along it and only a couple of obstructions: a bridge by the water pumping station and the (former) swing bridge at the junction. There is a footpath along most of the length of the arm, which is a pleasant walk. Cambridge lies on the A38, and has two pubs. The George, at the end of the arm, is a large, foody pub with a caravan park: prepare to be underwhelmed. The White Lion, just to the S on the A38, is a much more pleasant pub with real ales and a children's play area. The post office in Cambridge closed recently.

Cambridge Arm Junction: 27 kB

The Cambridge Arm bridge only serves a farm track, but near here is a nice spot to moor. About 1 km farther on is Patch Bridge, a very busy area for boating.

Just before Patch Bridge, on the E bank, is Slimbridge Boat Station (also known locally as "The Black Shed", although it's now a sort of creamy colour). There are permanent moorings here, and a chandlery / boat fitters / brokerage business with diesel and pump-out. SBS sell newspapers on Sunday, has a small cafe, and also sells a range of provisions.

Below the bridge, the E bank has visitors moorings (often busy) with two water points, and permanent moorings beyond. It is often easier to moor on the opposite bank, but mooring spikes are needed as there isn't much piling to tie to. The pub at Patch Bridge, the Tudor Arms (known locally as "The Patch"), is much pleasanter than it appears from the outside. It serves a good range of beers - well worth stopping at. The food is also very acceptable, and there is a family room to one side. The pub doesn't have much of a garden. Associated with it are a small hotel and a caravan / camp-site.

Stokie at Patch Bridge: 43 kB

The road to the W of Patch bridge leads to the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust's grounds (about 1 km). This is an extensive site of wetlands founded by Peter Scott. There is an indoor visitor's centre (with lots of things for smaller children to do), a rather good restaurant, large pens with ducky jobs from all over the world, and hides from which visiting birds can be observed. Very large flocks of waders, ducks and swans visit every winter.

The canal continues through very attractive farmland towards Purton. There are good views of the Cotswold escarpment to the E. The large hill which is now fairly close is Stinchcombe Hill, which rises above the town of Dursley and Cam. The two towns are now joined by sprawling housing estates. Dursley is famous for the main factory of Lister and Petter diesel engines, found in many boats. Listers is a much smaller concern than in the past: the factory now only assembles engines from parts manufactured elsewhere.

As you travel south, a tower, looking like a factory chimney, appears from behind Stinchcombe Hill. This is the Nibley Monument, erected in memory of William Tyndale, translator of the Bible into English and subsequently burnt at the stake for his efforts. It is possible to borrow a key to the monument from a house near the bottom of the track leading down from the monument in order to climb to the top. The view is worth the effort, although it would be a long walk from the canal. The Lister-Petter engine rally, one of the largest in the country, is held in fields near the Nibley Monument at the beginning of July each year.

About 2 km below Patch Bridge on the E bank is the Purton water works. This extracts water from the canal for purification and despatch as far south as Bristol.

There are two swing bridges at Purton. Purton Upper Bridge (the northmost one) is remote controlled from the Lower Bridge about 200 m away. The towpath side is quite shallow near the Upper bridge and between the two. As visibility is poor, it is essential that the traffic lights are obeyed here. Purton Upper Bridge serves a farm track, and the Lower Bridge as short stretch of road leading to the river.

The large house on the W bank just above the Lower Bridge was until recently a well-known pub, the Berkeley Hunt, also known as "Musselwhites" after the tenants. Part of the Berkeley Estate, it was unchanged from probably the fifties if not earlier, beer being served from a hatch at the end of the corridor. It is now closed as a pub and converted it into private housing. A great loss!

At the end of the lane crossing the Lower Bridge is the small Berkeley Arms pub. It is in a wonderful location overlooking the estuary. The pub is known locally as "Ted Lord's", after the landlord. It opens rather erratically, (according to the sign, 12-2 at weekend lunchtimes and from 7 every evening). There usually is a real ale or two on (no food other than rolls, crisps etc). The back room has a magnificent, ancient settle. Worth a visit.

Berkeley Arms: 30 kB

Mooring is not permitted on the towpath side between the bridges or S of the Lower Bridge as far as the dredger station. On the off-side by the Lower Bridge are permanent moorings (mainly for disabled boaters), but visitors can tie up beyond these moorings. There is a water point.

There is not much else to see in Purton, which has no shops. Purton Church offers teas and items for sale, like books/plants, on Sunday afternoons regularly throughout the summer months to raise money for church funds.

Beyond the Lower Bridge is an attractive row of white-painted cottages. Just past the cottages is the dredger station, where mud brought in barges is liquified with a water jet, extracted by a suction system and discharged into the river. There are usually a few barges and often a dredger tied up here.

Dredger Station: 22 kB

Almost opposite the dredger station is one of the two entrances to the timber ponds. These large areas of water were once used to store floating logs. Logs were unloaded in Sharpness Docks and awaited transport as floating rafts up to the timber yards in Gloucester. The timber ponds are now the largest area of reed-bed in Gloucestershire (gasp!).

It is worth climbing through onto the river bank behind the dredging station. From here down to Sharpness are the remains of many old barges - the "boat graveyard". These were left in place in an attempt to prevent bank erosion following a landslip in the early 20th century. At low tide, the remains of a boat can be seen mid-river, the remains of one of the many that have sunk on this stretch of water.

The Boat Graveyard: 61 kB Wreck in the Severn: 48 kB

A little further on is a large, round tower on the W bank. This was the base for the swing bridge which carried the railway line from the embankment on the E bank out to the old Severn Crossing. This was a multi-arched bridge running across to the far bank. On a foggy night in 1965, two tankers (Wastdale and Arkendale) carrying petrol up to Sharpness Docks collided outside the docks entrance. They drifted upstream and collided with one of the bridge piers. The resulting explosion and fire destroyed the bridge, sank the boats and killed several of the crew. The bridge was never repaired, and was eventually dismantled and exported to Chile.

Old Severn Bridge: 24 kB

At low tide the bases of the piers that supported the bridge can be seen protruding from the mud and sand of the river bed. The stretch of canal near to the old bridge is a lovely place to moor. The W bank is open across the wide river, and the E bank is densely wooded. There are often lots of owls and bats around on summer nights.