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Ships ahoy in Gloucester!

Shaun, one of our team, visited the annual Tall Ships Festival in Gloucester recently and here is his blog... 

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Gloucester docks and quay have been transformed in the last ten years, and now provide a bustling nautical hub for the city, so it was exciting to be going back to somewhere I hadn’t visited for quite a long time.

Gloucester is a historic city on the River Severn in the south west of England, which was once a busy port, but the trade ships have long gone, to be replaced by leisure craft these days. It has a splendid cathedral and numerous medieval buildings.

The annual Gloucester Tall Ships Festival is now a firm fixture in the calendar, celebrating the era when sail was king, and it was good to see the crowds out in force. Taking place on and around the water, there were a number of tall ships attending, as well as vessels of all shapes and sizes, from different parts of Europe, including France and Denmark. 

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The replica of The Matthew, which is usually moored in Bristol, was one of the highlights of the event for me, as it is such an amazing reproduction of a 15th century sailing ship. It always makes me wonder how on earth so many men crammed onto such a small ship navigated across the Atlantic!

The re-enactors around one of the ships really brought the atmosphere to life as they chatted and explained about life at sea – we could have been stepping into the pages of Treasure Island, half expecting Long John Silver to appear from a quayside tavern at any time!

Talking of pirates, Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean and a number of his shifty crew made their appearance at the festival and a ‘pirate show’ featured cannon fire, ship-hopping buccaneers and sword-fights. 

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As well as the ships there were dozens of other activities taking place. In the main square, a stage had been erected and a variety of singers and musicians entertained us with sea shanties and songs of the sea. In fact, alongside the Tall Ships Festival, a Sea Shanty Festival was taking place in the city and singers and groups were performing in the streets and at local inns throughout the weekend.

Sea shanties are the traditional work songs sung by sailors and evoke a romantic era of life at sea, even if at the time it was anything but romantic. Originating from different parts of the world, but mainly Europe and North America, they tell of life at sea and the exotic places visited, from Australia to Hawaii.

One of the most fascinating venues we visited in Gloucester to listen to the singing was The New Inn - well, not so new these days! Dating back to the Middle Ages this is one of the best surviving galleried courtyard inns in the country and I had never seen anything quite like it. The New Inn was where the announcement that Lady Jane Grey had succeeded to the English throne was made in 1553, only for her to end up in the Tower of London some weeks later when Mary Tudor became queen.

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At the festival, there were also numerous craft stalls and eating places, as well as a funfair and activities such as a zip wire, gravity jet suit displays and a wakeboarding competition, all set in and around the quay. For me, the sand sculpting was especially interesting - as shown in the photo above.

Although the weather was a bit changeable (as it so often is in the UK!) it didn’t spoil the atmosphere and the sights and sounds of the festival will stay with me for a long time.

To find out about some of our favourite festivals, click here. And if you or your group would like to enjoy a tailor-made tour of the UK taking in a festival or two, or visiting some of the country’s historic sea and river ports, please do contact our friendly team today. 

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