In earlier years, a group of members has made a biennial study visit to a place of interest – somewhere that provided both a common focus of study but also options appealing to a range of individual interests. This trip to Gloucester in May 2023 was planned long before, but then had to be postponed twice due to the covid pestilence, so it was quite a wait between planning and the visit. We were lucky that, due to Hanneke Dye’s negotiating skills, the accommodation kept to the pre-arranged deal.

Hatton Court Hotel - old building by Ann Shaw

Hatton Court Hotel – old building by Ann Shaw

We stayed at the Hatton Court Hotel, just outside Gloucester and high on the west facing Cotswold scarp with a broad view of the alluvial flatlands of the Severn Vale. The core of the building was a 17th century house built in characteristic Cotswold Jurassic limestone. It provided a very convenient and comfortable base as well as being somewhere from which the local geology could be appreciated. That geology providing a link back to Yorkshire, as the Jurassic rocks of the area stretch across England from Dorset via the Cotswolds to the Yorkshire coast.

The first morning of our visit was occupied by a guided tour around Gloucester Cathedral. Scheduled to last an hour, our very practised guide generously gave us a fascinating two hours. It could easily have extended to two days given the amount of historical and architectural interest to be found. The intended aim of the tour was to show the cathedral’s highlights and their connections to more than a thousand years of activity.

It is not possible to cover much detail in this short report, but impressions can be given. The first and most striking of which was for me entering the nave and being struck by the imposing scale of the massive Norman pillars. Due to a historical quirk of royal nepotism, the Cathedral escaped the dissolution of the monasteries brought about by Henry VIII and so a complete set of monastic buildings remains, together with all the accretions that such a long period of occupation brings with it. I was struck by the imagination and self-confidence of the builders who conceived of and created this worship in stone. I have little idea of the building techniques employed which gave rise to such an imposing and long-lasting building, and can only marvel at the detail in the huge range of carvings such as shown, e.g., by vaulting in the cloisters and the external statuary.

Gloucester Cathedral - cloister by Chris Alder

Gloucester Cathedral – cloister by Chris Alder

Gloucester Cathedral – lavatorium by Chris Alder

Gloucester Cathedral - East Window 1350 by Marg Smith

Gloucester Cathedral – East Window 1350 by Marg Smith

In the afternoon, members remained in the Cathedral or dispersed to follow their own interests about the city. Gloucester was not, in my opinion, well-served by the architectural practices of the 1960s and 70s. My opinion must have been shared with some in in the city as quite a bit of work from that time has already been demolished. As is typical of many English cities, there is an ancient core, much knocked about, and a declining high street with its vigour sucked out by large out-of-town shopping centres. However, there remain interesting old buildings that tell the story of Gloucester, if only intermittently, such as St Mary de Crypt Church, dating from 1140, and half-timbered houses.

St Mary de Crypt Church churchyard by Chris Alder

St Mary de Crypt Church churchyard by Chris Alder

Gloucester is also an inland port with an interesting docks area showing that the Severn still plays a significant part in the life of the city, with an active boat repair yard. As in Liverpool, old warehouses have been converted to new uses, principally flats.

Glimpse of a Gloucester 'nugget' - by Chris Alder

Glimpse of a Gloucester ‘nugget’ – by Chris Alder

Gloucester Dry Dock - by Chris Alder

Gloucester Dry Dock – by Chris Alder

Gloucester Docks - by Chris Alder

Gloucester Docks – by Chris Alder


The following day members again went their own ways to follow varied interests. Some returned to Gloucester in search of further architectural and historical ‘nuggets’, others, further afield.

A variety of interests could be satisfied in a relatively small compass. Some visited the Rococo gardens and others, what is now the home of the King and Queen, Highgrove.

Peter Scott's plaque - by Ann Shaw

Peter Scott’s plaque – by Ann Shaw

Peter Scott's Cottage Slimbridge - by Marg Smith

Peter Scott’s Cottage Slimbridge – by Marg Smith

Almost half of us visited the Slimbridge Wetlands Centre, the initial site for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust established by Peter Scott in 1946. Slimbridge was uncommonly quiet due to the presence of a serious bout of Avian Influenza (colloquially known as bird ‘flu, more accurately; (HPAI) H5N1). Many birds from the exotic collections had been moved inside and were not publicly accessible. The need for this was depressingly illustrated by the number of dead Black-headed Gulls to be seen in one of the pools. Nevertheless, there were still many attractive birds from the collections to be seen together with the visiting wild birds. Some of the latter taking rather more searching out. Personally special birds were the Crane nesting on a small island and the good views, for the first time ever, of a. Cetti’s Warbler. Cetti’s Warbler is, to the non-birder, just another small brown job, but it has the most amazingly loud song for such a small bird. It is one of the birds that has been able to gradually move its breeding range north as climate warms, first becoming a British bird in the 1970s. Almost as exotic these days, two of us had very good and close views of a Cuckoo.

Drake Smew by Ann Shaw

Drake Smew by Ann Shaw

Drake Eider by Marg Smith

Drake Eider by Marg Smith

Drake Goldeneye by Marg Smith

Drake Goldeneye by Marg Smith

Crane by Ann Shaw

Crane by Ann Shaw

After our two days in Gloucester, members scattered apart even further, taking what advantage they could of having travelled so far to visit elsewhere, or returned home. We were unanimous in thanking Hanneke, the Society Secretary at the time, for arranging such a rewarding trip in a comfortable base.


Chris Alder

Images from Chris Alder, Ann Shaw and Marg Smith

Websites accessed November 2023.