Lydney to Ilfracombe 16th August 2011

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

Lydney to Ilfracombe 16th August 2011

Boarding the train at Cardiff I couldn’t see any of the regulars in the carriage I was in.  But on arrival at Lydney once the other passengers had boarded or departed the station, there were just 5 of us standing on the platform, all bound for Balmoral and the trip to Ilfracombe.

With plenty of time to kill, we headed for the Harbour Café and breakfast.  Once fed and watered we then joined the stream of people heading for the harbour, arriving just as the gangway was being put out.  Already there was a long queue waiting to board – a quick guestimate of well over 300.  All aboard, we scraped our way along the stone pier out into the tide for the 5 minute trip across to Sharpness on the other side of the river-  where another good size crowd was waiting to board – including 8 of the Ilfracombe regulars who leave home at some unearthly hour to drive to a distant upchannel pier, where they board, do the full cruise, then drive home again,  arriving back in the small hours. – they’re either a dedicated bunch, or nutters!

Balmoral stemming the tide off Lydney (photo 2009)

Inching in, about to make the final turn to lie/be pushed onto the quay wall (2009)
part of the queue at Lydney (2011)

Lydney and Sharpness are quite a difficult places for our ships to get into and out of.  For timing reasons, the ships visits coincide with spring tides, when the tidal stream is at its strongest. I reckon the tide is running at between 6 and 7 knots across the entrances.  Slack water here is nonexistent – it’s rushing in, it slows, it stops for a few minutes, before it starts slowly running out, and then rushing out – all within about 15 minutes. So timing, especially the departure from Sharpness, is crucial.  But get out on time we did, with over 500 aboard.

The weather forecast for the day was a cloudy start then sunshine and showers with a brisk breeze.  There was a light rain shower whilst alongside at Sharpness but as we proceeded down the river Severn the clouds started to break and the sun made brief appearances.  With all that tide in our favour we were soon speeding downstream, first close in to the south side then following the channel across to the north side before passing under the Severn Bridge (M48)  then the Second Severn Crossing (M4).  We had to put into the entrance to Avonmouth dock briefly to drop off our pilots – there was a slight delay before we could go in, as we had to wait for the outgoing sand dredger Welsh Piper to clear the entrance.

Passing under the Second Severn Crossing (photo taken 1996 or 7)

Pilots off, we proceeded to Clevedon where about 150 got off for a few hours ashore before being bussed back to their respective ports.  We then proceeded down channel under sunny skies.  After passing the Breaksea light we went through a spell (about an hour) of lively conditions (wind over tide making short steep seas combined with a slight/moderate swell).  We could see rain showers over the English and Welsh coasts, the centre of the channel was clear.  The only water coming aboard was the spray over the foredeck – much enjoyed by about 8 or 9 youngsters who were lining the starboard rail, shreiking and laughing each time they got a soaking.  A number of other passengers didn’t find the ships movement at all to their liking – with the inevitable result……

Ilfracombe looked busy as we rolled into the harbour.  Our captain made a very good job of his first berthing at ‘Coombe.  It was a pity that (Roy) the Town Crier was not there to give us his usual welcome greeting.  2 hours ashore, time for a walk up to the town then back down to the harbour to check out the boats, buy and eat local fish and chips.

We had the only short shower of rain of the day as we queued to get back on board.  Once we’d departed, with a following sea and light following wind it was a pleasant trip back up channel.  Off Barry, we had to slow down to board a Cardiff pilot from their cutter Providence. Rounding Lavernock Point on the approach to Penarth we were treated to the clouds being coloured with reds and orange by the setting sun – a  perfect end to a long but perfect day.  At Penarth there were 8 coaches waiting to take the passengers home – I had to walk up to the town to catch a service bus home.
Peter Havard