I was in the Bristol area with a couple of hours to kill on Saturday and in such a situation I always try to visit somewhere new on the waterways. So while the sun was shining I made a quick detour down to the Severn to check out Portishead Quay Marina, the overnight staging point for narrowboats making the upstream trip from Bristol to Sharpness.
It surprised me when I first learnt that when leaving the Avon at Avonmouth boats need to turn left and head downstream rather than the obvious upstream approach. When you see the 15-20ft rise from low tide up to marina level at the entry lock to Portishead marina then it helps to understand why! If the tide can rise this much then a poor narrowboat isn’t going to have a chance of making any headway while it is running in the wrong direction, and so doing a full run upsteam on a rising tide would make lots of sense. Furthermore the approach to Sharpness lock can only be made an hour or so before either side of high tide so you need to time arrival fairly precisely.
Portishead marina is being rapidly developed in typical waterside style with more than enough new flats to choose from and several new waterside brasseries seem to be opening. All of this within a few minutes walk of the quite pleasant town centre, and on the site of the old power station. There are boats of all shapes and sizes but no narrowboats today. I guess than even in the summer they are still fairly rare visitors.
The lock was however in full swing – operated from a modern control cabin, it has floating pontoons along each side and so boats have a steady mooring – the water looks quite turbulent as it enters the lock by cracking the gates open rather than by conventional sluices, and quite a Saturday afternoon crowd had assembled to watch the operations. There’s even a mobile cafe at the lock, plus a much more sophisticated Lock House brasserie/restaurant in the old lockside buildings. The lock is actually a shadow of its former self having been vastly reduced in size when the marina was built, allegedly saving some 4 million gallons per operation, and old Vickers of Newcastle hydraulic gear is pleasantly preserved along with some of the old lock gates. Altogether quite an interesting place, and I look forward visiting by boat and spending a night here in the future, although I understand it will not be a cheap place to stay!
So now I know what to expect when we come down beyond Bristol. Quite exciting really – I wonder if we will have time to do it this coming summer?