#29: Visit and photograph the Ships’ Graveyard at Purton COMPLETED

Why it’s on the list: I read about the Ships’ Graveyard at Purton, Gloucs in one of the Guardian’s supplements, possibly the Secret Britain one. LOng ago some old boats were deliberately beached to shore up the eroding shoreline and since then more boats have been left there as they reached the end of their useful life. There are now the remains of 81 vessels, in various states of decay. It sounds like  fascinating place that I would love to visit. There are some “official” tours at weekends and also some archaeology activity weekends, all sounds good fun.

How/when I’ll judge this task to be completed: When I have visited the site, taken some photos and put them in a Flickr set.



While my Flickr set uploads I’ll tell you a bit about Purton and the Ships’ Graveyard … for I have completed this task and visited!

In 1909 some semi-redundant wooden sailing boats were deliberately beached near the village of Purton in a bid to shore up the banks of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, which runs adjacent to the River Severn. This was the beginning of the Ships’ Graveyard and over the next 50 years 81 boats, barges and ships were abandoned at Purton. Sadly the site was not owned by anyone which meant that vandalism was rife, with people stealing the wooden decking for house renovations and firewood – some people even used parts of the boats to have alfresco barbecues on the river banks. In  2008 The Friends of Purton was formed, and this group set about trying to preserve the remains of the ships. The “Graveyard” – also known as the Purton Hulks -is of huge archaeological interest and many of the ships have been identified; the Friends have positioned name plaques near the remains of those boats, and have found sponsors for each one.

We arrived at Purton not really sure what to expect, despite having seen photos of the Graveyard online. As we walked along the canal towards to start of the site, I was concerned that I would be disappointed, that there wouldn’t really be anything much to see. That wasn’t the case at all.

Our first “find” was a 68ft ship called Envoy which was one of the first to be beached. We thought it was really high up the bank, but later we found another part of a boat at shore level and, having looked at the Friends of Purton website, I think it’s probably all part of the same boat. Considering the boat is wooden, and has been there since 1909, it’s amazing just how much of it remains.

We then walked along the path and discovered some much larger, more solid boats …. these were concrete barges. Now I’ve never heard of such a thing (apparently they were used for mounting floating homes or rigs on) but there were half a dozen jutting out of the river bank. We climbed on one, walked along the edge, peered into the hull and were very impressed.

We continued walking along the bank and there was boat after boat after boat. I’m no boat expert so I can’t tell you what was what, but there seemed to be boats of all shapes and size. Some are partially constructed still and the shape is clear to see; others are merely a stump of wood, the rest of the boat having been taken by vandals or buried in the silt. A couple still have the boat name visible on the back, and one even has some blue and red paint on the hull.

There were quite a few people around but the place has an eerie atmosphere. In some ways it’s quite sad to see all these old boats in their various states of disrepair; in other ways it’s good to see that they were put to use long after their seafaring days were over.

After spending a couple of hours exploring the river bank taking photos we sat down and looked out over the Severn Estuary and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I loved our trip to Purton, and I’m hoping we can go back again, perhaps in winter when the vegetation will have died back and there may be more remains visible.

More photos on Flickr

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