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The Ghost Ship Shore

One of the good things about local tv news is that it sometimes turns its bloodshot eye to a local place of interest that you might very well have not known existed before. This happened for us with the Purton Hulks.

There being little news about bin collection and rabid newts that particular while ago, the intrepid reporter was sent out to drum up something and to be fair he found a stonker. He was pictured on the windswept shores of the Severn Estuary standing amongst the ribs and keels of a series of historic ships.

They aren’t historic in the way that The Golden Hind or the Victory are, nothing nationally momentous or involving Nelson happened aboard these vessels, rather they are historic because they have come from history. They were each wrecked or beached on purpose at the shoreline at Purton after it was realised that the erosion from the Severn estuary was starting to compromise the safety of the Gloucester Sharpness canal. Over time they’ve become an odd collection of maritime history, different vessels from different decades making up a perfect whole.

I say nothing nationally momentous happened aboard these vessels but I can’t say that for certain. Each old girl lying in the sand, draped with grass or hidden amongst the reeds has her own history. Every vessel had her crew and sailed the waters of the world for a minimum of twenty years. Some of the ships are older than others, the oldest, if memory of the information board serves, began her time in 1879. A lot of tides have risen and fallen beneath these old girls’ keels.

20170506_134354For a site that is, to all intents, post industrial, it is a wonderful and tranquil place. The estuary is very beautiful and on the day we wandered over there, not at all busy. There were no ice-cream vans and hoards of people or even very many dogwalkers. We parked up at the swingbridge and then headed onto the canal path. I think I’ve blogged before about my love for canals and the Gloucester Sharpness is impressive, a new favourite. It’s very wide, rather like the Caledonian canal on account of the fact it was built for bigger ships coming in and out of Gloucester, not just the narrowboats with their cargoes. It serves up a double whammy of canal and coastline too.  On our return journey we were treated to the sight of a three masted tall ship just skimming by.

Over the swingbridge and we turned off at the sign saying ‘Purton Hulks’. Already the hair on the back of my neck was rising at the word ‘hulks’. There is a creak to the word, a heaviness. The place does not disappoint. The path leads you to the shoreline and there are instantly two or three heavy ship corpses draped in the sand of time and tide, swirled with long grass. Bows poke out of the ground, concrete and iron rust and crumble and yet they are still strong, powerful shapes. A rudder lifted into the wind that whips off the water.

The further you go the more there are, some just a last timber or two, skeletal and hard to make out in the sea of grass. Others appear to have vanished utterly until an angle in the grass catches your eye and you see the stern, the timbers stretching, a rusted porthole. Others are like ribcages, bony with rivets. At each there is a small plaque giving the name and some information about their timeline. It is a collection, a reverse archaeology, of trows and barges, docklighters and schooners.

It is one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever been to. There is a deep magical feel, increasing in intensity until you reach the far reed beds, the vessels there lying hidden in the wind whispered stalks.

These were all working vessels, hardworking, lugging and tugging and tonnage. As I stood on the edge of the estuary I had a thought that they are a ghost fleet, anchored and resting. If you needed to, you could call on these ships. Someone somewhere might suggest you’d need a particular kind of sorcery or necromancy to reanimate the ship spirits and bring them to your aid.

You might consider what is required of you and your summoning spell to dredge them from the bank; your desperate need, your panicked beating heart, the prickling at the back of your neck, a high wind and the right words. Ahoy might be brought into play somewhere in the manner of Abracadabra.



You’d be wrong. All you’d need is a bosun’s whistle and they’d come to you my lad.




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