Three days by train: Gloucester and Hereford

Well the forecast for our April short break was for rain, but in the event it turned out sunny with blue skies much of the time, albeit with a chill north breeze and very low temperatures overnight. We headed west this time, taking in Gloucester and Hereford, one night in each, and rail journeys throughout.

Parts of Gloucester felt very familiar: some of our favourite places are regenerated, rejuvenated docks and waterfronts (Glasgow, East London and Salford spring to mind, along of course with Wivenhoe).

To corrupt the album title of folk-rock grandee Ashley Hutchings – by Gloucester Dock we sat down and the sky wept: as we sat and watched, a rain cloud blew up out of a blue sky and started to deposit wintery, sleety rain on us, and providing ample photo opportunities, all droplets and ripples ….

Among the repurposed dock buildings one survivor from several centuries earlier is the 12th century Augustinian priory of Llanthony Secunda.

Around the docks themselves, wildlife (indeed, any greenery) is generally hard to come by, apart from the roof-nesting Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls coming down to feed and bathe.

Some of the old warehouses that have not (yet) been renovated  have a few plants, such as Oxford Ragwort, ornamenting the heights; patches of Ivy-leaved Toadflax and Hemlock Water-dropwort were clinging to the harbour walls; and where the the docksides and wall-tops are covered in moss, Rue-leaved Saxifrage was in full flower, the red-tinged stems and lower leaves spangled with white stars….

But only a short stroll away, it was out to and along the River Severn, still tidal this high up-stream,  with silt deposits on the riverbank nettlebeds indicating recent flooding, or perhaps a large Severn Bore.

Here we were able to immerse ourselves in nature for a few precious moments in the sun.


Away from the water, and always on view from anywhere in the city, at its heart is of course the magnificent cathedral, its stone really coming to life as the sun came out…

Inside the nave, monstrous columns support Romanesque arches while the more recent quire is highly ornamented, especially the ceiling with coloured, interlinked bosses:

One of our favourite things in cathedrals is stained glass – the more modern the better!

But pride of place must go the the cloister, and its remarkable fan-vaulting: a magnificent photographic paradise…

So engrossed were we with the Cathedral and Docks, we rather overlooked the rest of the city.  Suffice to say, the priories and churches, historic streets and pubs were a tempting prospect, one that will probably see us return in the not-too-distant future, perhaps as a stopover on our way to Wales.


After two half-days it was back onto the train for the trip to Hereford, a straight line distance of some 50km, but two hours by train. And what a journey! Right down the western shore of the Severn Estuary, the Forest of Dean off to our right. At Chepstow, across the Wye, and soon we were at Newport, to change onto the line up the Usk valley to Abergavenny, past the Skirrid mountain and ultimately to Hereford.

Another day, another city, another monumental cathedral…

Yes, Hereford Cathedral had some very good points, the Mappa Mundi and chained library (which we found more exciting than we expected), together with some wonderful modern stained glass especially in the Lady Chapel, and John Piper tapestries. But in some undefinable way it all felt a little less friendly than Gloucester Cathedral.

And while the city certainly has historic interest, some of it felt to be only skin-deep, exemplified by the ‘iconic’ Black & White House on which some of the ‘half- timbering’ was actually white paper with black painted lines, stapled on. No doubt there was a good reason but we did feel a little short-changed!

Otherwise, it was a jumble of the delightful and grotty, with sometimes jarring juxtapositions between old and new.

But the pubs were good, especially the amazing pies and mash at the Queens Arms (best meal of our trip!) and of course, as always, a river. The River Wye, with lovely views of the cathedral,  bridges ancient and modern, and river-bank vegetation including dock leaves being demolished by and hosting bejewelled orgies of Dock Leaf-beetles.

Old walls , especially around the cathedral, had flowers such as Aubrieta and Yellow Corydalis …

… and we had Mistletoe just outside our hotel window (as indeed it seems to be everywhere in this part of the country): some trees are very heavily infested and appear to be suffering as a result:

And as at Gloucester, the city was dominated by Lesser Black-backed Gulls, standing sentinel on rooftops and washing in the river.

So another city well worth a visit, even if somewhat different to what we had expected. And then it was back on the train home, for much of the way through previously uncharted waters for our personal Mappa Mundi, through Great Malvern and Worcester (more ideas for another short break?), Pershore, Evesham and Oxford.

Three days, nine trains, two cathedrals and lots of fun: remarkably every single train was within two minutes of its timetabled time. All that, and with advance booking and railcard a total travel cost for the two of us £78, what’s not to love about that?