Llanthony Warehouse, Gloucester Docks, Gloucester, GL1 2EH | (01452) 318200
Housed in a grade II listed warehouse at Gloucester Docks, The National Waterways Museum Gloucester tells the fascinating story of Britain’s canals and rivers, and is the perfect place for a day out.
From learning about life on the canals to playing with mini working locks, and taking a serene cream tea cruise down the River Severn, the SoGlos team enjoyed a sunny Sunday afternoon at Gloucester Waterways Museum.
Gloucester is positively steeped in history, with its centuries-old Victorian docks and canals providing vital links and revolutionary transport systems to the outside world throughout the ages – today becoming one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
And being born and bred in this wonderful city, I’m ashamed to say that while I have frequented the docks on many occasions, I’d never actually visited Gloucester Waterways Museum or enjoyed a cruise down the canals and rivers, so it was high time I learnt a little more about the history and heritage of where I grew up.
We entered the grade II listed warehouse on a scorching Sunday afternoon – the perfect day for a cruise but perhaps not for a history lesson – and unsurprisingly it was a little quiet, although there were a few curious tourists and families perusing the exhibits.
While the impressive gift shop sits on the ground floor, along with examples of steam and petrol engines, weights and tackle, and a working mini canal lock which brought out the inner child in both myself and my partner, the museum itself is spread across a further three floors above – with a lift available for those less able.
We could instantly see why Gloucester Waterways Museum is a popular pull with families, tourists and schools alike, for not only is a wealth of information at the fingertips through various artefacts, displays, videos and photographs, but you really feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, with attention to detail spanning cargo crates, winches, locks and boats, even stretching to an atmospheric musty smell following you around the museum – with the chance for kids to dress up too.
The first and second floors are vast – much bigger than we expected – and filled with written, visual and audio representations on everything from family and working life on the canals, to engineering, war and even music of the waterways.
Up on the top floor, there’s a vibrant area dedicated to the colourful Roses and Castles canal folk art next to an education centre, where kids can take part in craft, drawing and painting activities.
Before we knew it, it was time to hop aboard the King Arthur pleasure boat and set off for a three-and-a-half hour Saul Junction Tea cruise down the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal – departing from just outside the museum.
Unfortunately one of the bridges along the route was closed, so we settled for a leisurely jaunt down the River Severn instead, joined by 40 silver-haired pleasure seekers, a couple of families and the more than knowledgeable skipper-cum-birdwatcher, who proceeded to regale us with amusing tales of the river’s history, whilst pointing out the odd jay, kingfisher, swan and even a couple of salmons along the way.
The King Arthur itself, although a little rough around the edges from near enough daily use throughout the warmer months, provided plenty of space for the group below deck, but lacked enough outdoor seating for all to soak up the sunshine – prompting a few grumbles amongst the group.
It did, however, boast a licensed bar, which we took full advantage of and sipped refreshing ciders whilst taking in stunning riverside views – almost forgetting that we were in Gloucester – as the water gently lapped at the sides of the boat.
The quintessentially British cream tea was served in the bar area below, with immaculately laid tables laden with lemon cake, scones, preserves and bowls of clotted cream promising a feast for the eyes and rumbling bellies.
As we returned down the same stretch of river from whence we came, it was touching to see the seaman literally showing a young apprentice the ropes as they prepared the King Arthur for docking back at the museum, demonstrating that while the famous docks’ purpose may have changed over the years, they will still be vital to – and enjoyed by – generations to come.
With its amiable and attentive staff, abundance of information spanning land and sea – well, river – and array of cruise options on offer throughout the year, Gloucester Waterways Museum comes in high on the list of must-see attractions in Gloucester, making for an enthralling, cultural day out for all ages.
By Shelly Elcock
Wednesday 17 July 2013
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