Andrew Swift takes us on a leisurely stroll through our neighbouring city of Gloucester
Gloucester not only has two world-class heritage sites – its docks and its cathedral – but an extraordinary number of historic buildings. Yet, far from being a museum piece, it is a vibrant working city, where history is entangled with the everyday, and many treasures lie seemingly unregarded. All of which makes it a fascinating, if sometimes confusing, place to explore – and the walk described here is little more than a suggested route to inspire your own journey of discovery.
The easiest way to get to Gloucester is by train – with an hourly service from Temple Meads, Filton and Parkway – so the walk begins at the station.
From there, head over to the Station Hotel, cross a dual carriageway, carry on – passing the bus station on your right – and turn right at a roundabout.
● Carry on to the left of the Chambers pub and through a pedestrian precinct into St Aldate Street. At Northgate Street, cross and go to the right of St John’s Church along St John’s Lane. Follow it as it curves left and, at the end, turn right into Westgate Street.
● Take the first right along College Court, past the Tailor of Gloucester’s shop, immortalised by Beatrix Potter, through a narrow gateway, and Gloucester Cathedral, one of the great buildings of medieval Europe, lies before you. Founded as an abbey in 679, the present building was started in 1089, although what you are looking at evolved over several centuries. The reason for this building programme – and for the abbey’s survival – is the tomb of King Edward II. After his murder in Berkeley Castle in 1327, Edward’s body was brought here and soon his tomb became a place of pilgrimage. Hence all the endowments that funded the abbey’s growth – hence too Henry VIII’s refusal to countenance its destruction when he dissolved the monasteries. He made it a cathedral instead.
● Many of the abbey’s ancillary buildings also survived, to be adapted and added to over the centuries. Before going into the cathedral, turn right and walk around the outside to see how it grew and to see buildings of timber, stone and brick, as well as a herb garden in a little cloister on the north side.
● As you enter the cathedral, the massive pillars and the darkness of the nave come as a shock after the lightness and delicacy of the exterior. This is the core of the building – the Norman basilica that was gradually encased by extensions and additions, as architectural styles changed and masons developed ever more ingenious ways of working with stone. When the east window was completed in the 1350s it was the largest in the world and still contains much original glass. The tomb of Edward II saw stone carved with a delicacy never before attempted, while the cloisters (which you may recognise from the Harry Potter films), with the tracery of their windows echoed in fan vaulting spreading like palm trees overhead, are one of the glories of late medieval architecture.
● On leaving the cathedral through the south porch, head through the gates to Westgate Street and turn right. Look out on the right for a jettied building with dates of 1450 (when it was built) and 2009 (when it was restored), the eighteenth-century carvings on the corner of Three Cocks Lane, and Dick Whittington’s pub (c1740). The Folk Museum, on the left, is housed in a building where, on 8 February 1555, Bishop Hooper spent his last night before being burned at the stake by order of Queen Mary.
● Turn left into Lower Quay Street and left into Quay Street at the end. Continue under the police station bridge, passing Bearland House (c1740) – its west wing rebuilt as a fire station – and Bearland Lodge (c1720). At Ladybellegate House (c1706), turn right into Ladybellegate Street, where you will see Gloucester Prison, closed in 2013, to your right. On the left is Blackfriars, the best-preserved Dominican priory in England – despite having been converted to a house and factory.
● At the end of the street are Gloucester docks. Turn right, passing the Custom House of 1845 – now a military museum – and the red-brick Flour Mills (c1850), before turning left through the dockyard gates. This inland port is the terminus of a canal from Sharpness, opened in 1827. After years of decline, commercial traffic ended in 1998 and many of the warehouses have now found alternative uses.
● Turn right along the waterfront, crossing a lock controlling access to the River Severn and passing modern buildings, before crossing the entrances to two dry docks. Cross a road and carry on alongside the college, with views across to derelict maltings and warehouses. After passing the college, turn right across an open space to see, beyond a wall, the remains of Llanthony Secunda Priory.
● Retrace your steps to the road and turn right across the bascule bridge. Just past the Gloucester Brewery Tank – recently opened and serving food all day – turn left through the docks past Llanthony Warehouse (1873), now a waterways museum. When you come to a chapel built for mariners in 1849, turn right past a row of wagons and go through the old tramway gate.
● Cross Southgate Street, turn right and, at a roundabout, turn left along Spa Road, whose elegant Regency houses are the legacy of Gloucester’s attempt to reinvent itself as a spa. Carry straight on when the main road swings left, turn left along Montpelier at the end, and follow it as it bears left. At Brunswick Road, cross and look back at the extraordinary Romanesque façade added in 1900 to a church built in the 1820s, before heading into Brunswick Square.
● Carry on and, when you come to Albion Street, turn sharp right along the Old Tram Road. When you come to some metal bollards, bear left between them and turn right at the end. Turn left at the main road for 100m, before turning left along a footpath to Greyfriars, a monastic ruin with a Georgian townhouse built into its west end. Head to the right of St Mary de Crypt church and through an archway to emerge on Southgate Street, with the half-timbered splendour of Robert Raikes’ House – now a pub – ahead.
● Turn right along Southgate Street – looking out on the right for a carved house from 1650 (now Costa) and the figures above Baker’s Jeweller’s. At the crossroads, continue into Northgate Street, passing the New Inn, with a galleried yard of around 1450, and turning right along St Aldate Street to return to the station.
Distance: 3 miles
Time: Although the walk could be completed in less than two hours, there is more than enough to occupy a whole day
Pit stop: There are several great pubs along the route, for details of these and other attractions visit: www.thecityofgloucester.co.uk