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  • 4.0 star rating
    12/6/2007
    First to Review

    Lydney harbour, on the banks of the River Severn, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, by virtue of being a rare example of an unspolit 19th century harbour, built for sailing ships. It offers an attractive combination of industrial archaeology, excellent views and verdant wildlife.

    Lydney itself is a small town on the edge of the Forest of Dean. There has been a port here since Roman times, to ship out the iron ore and coal for which the Forest is famous. Until Elizabethan times, there was even a substantial ship-building industry here, although, as was so often the case, silting of the River Lyd gradually undermined the importance of the port.

    Industrialisation in the 19th century gave fresh impetus to Lydney, however, and a new port was developed where the Lyd flows into the Severn. Accessed by tramway and a canal, this flourished and between 1810 and 1823 the current harbour complex was built, as the highest point where sea-going ships could travel up the River Severn. A unique feature of the Severn is its extreme tidal range, of up to 15m (the second highest in the world). The lock gates are therefore suitably impressive in height.

    The last commercial traffic finished in the 1970's, but the harbour was saved by its designation in 1980 as a Scheduled Ancient Monument: as the last improvements were made in 1875, it is unique as a sailing harbour to remain in essentially its original condition. The harbour was fully restored in 2003-05.

    The harbour itself consists of a short stone pier, an outer dock, lock and inner harbour, with a long stretch of the canal to Lydney (currently unrestored, but offering a lovely stretch of water for wildlife). The swing bridge at the entrance to the canal is itself a listed historic structure.

    The banks on the side of the Severn are lined with the remains of Severn trows, beached to help prevent erosion. The trow is a unique design of flat-bottomed boat, peculiar to the Severn, and common on the river in the 19th century, designed to cope with the fierce currents and shallow waters.

    The harbour now is full of pleasure sailing craft, and is the HQ for Lydney Sailing Club. The Environment Agency has incorporated interpretation boards on the site showing its history and development, and there are wildlife reserves for plant, insect and bird life. A 1.5km long footpath on the western side of the canal provides a pleasant walk or cycle through hedgerows as an alternative to the road access, which is rather less scenic (it is still rather industrial) and has no footpath. The pier offers fine views of the River Severn across to Sharpness Docks, 2km away, and on a clear day both Severn Bridges (15km away) can be seen.

    NB The deep water and 15m sheer drops make it unsuitable for small children unless very closely supervised, although there is a safer fenced-in viewing platform on the down-stream side. The site is accessible by wheelchair - radar keys are required to open the pedestrian gates - but care should still be taken due to uneven and slippery surfaces, deep water and the unfenced quaysides.

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