Purton Hulks – Gloucestershire, England - Atlas Obscura
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Gloucestershire, England

Purton Hulks

Abandoned boats decaying in the largest ship graveyard in mainland Britain. 

Poking out of the banks of the River Severn are the remains of a number of decaying wooden and concrete barges. The abandoned vessels form the largest ship graveyard in mainland Britain.

The ships didn’t end up buried along the riverbank by accident. Starting in 1909, the historic barges were forced into the ground to protect the riverbanks from eroding, which keeps the adjacent canal from flooding.

The vessels were first towed from the nearby dock at high tide then let loose so the current would carry them up the riverbank. Once run aground along the water’s edge, holes were drilled into them so they became filled with water and silt. This caused them to stay put and become a barrier against tidal erosion.

The last ship met its end in the graveyard in 1965. Newer ships wound up stacked atop the broken-down barges, creating layers of rotting wood and scraps. Bits of old schooners and concrete barges built for World War II litter the mile-and-a-half stretch of shore. Some still look like fragmented ships, while others are no more than slivers of wood buried beneath the grass. 

There are 81 known vessels in total, and each one is marked with a small plaque indicating its name, build date, and the date it was abandoned. 

Know Before You Go

There is parking opposite the church in Purton, from which it's a short walk across the canal to the site. Best to take rain boots if it's been raining as it can get very muddy.