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Taking the Gloucs off
Gloucester in General
Member Name: davidbuttery
Gloucester in General
Date: 13/07/02, updated on 13/07/02 (108 review reads)
Advantages: Good range of shops..., ...like Bookends!, Folk Museum
Disadvantages: Bus station, Bus station (again), Bus station (and again)
A very interesting place is Gloucester: a city steeped in history and tradition, and blessed with some fascinating museums and excellent shops. The problem, though, is that many people are so repelled by their initial contact with the place that they never get that far.
The main culprit for this is the truly, utterly filthy bus station. It's a brutal concrete structure shoehorned in between anodyne 1960s blocks, and even manages to make Digbeth Coach Station seem luxurious, which is really saying something (and Digbeth is being demolished soon, thank God). There are huge piles of pigeon droppings everywhere - and I mean *everywhere* - which appear never to be cleaned up. There's nowhere remotely comfortable to sit. The exciting new bus bays with equally exciting blue railings are terribly confusing as to where to wait. The lighting is poor. In the evenings, some very strange characters inhabit the place. And, most unforgiveable of all, the timetable information is, to put it mildly, abysmal.
At Gloucester Bus Station, the "information" consists of a series of noticeboards, on each of which is posted a great slew of paper timetables. The design improvements which have affected bus information elsewhere seems to have passed Gloucester by: the timetables are in no sensible order, are badly printed, are monochrome, and are in tiny print. There's also no guide notice to tell you which board to look at for the bus you want. (Well, there might be, but if so it's awfully well hidden). Frankly, the facilities would be a disgrace to a small town; for a city they're staggeringly feeble.
Perhaps, hearing all that, you'd prefer to come to Gloucester by train? Well, this isn't so great either. Gloucester station has several disadvantages, the most immediately obvious being the confusing layout of the station. Quite apart from meaning that the service from a place as nearby as Bristol is pathetic (once every two ho
urs if you're lucky), the platform on the far side of the tracks is a normal one, but that on the booking office side is enormously long; long enough in fact to count as three consecutive platforms, which means a very long walk in many cases. This wouldn't be so bad if the station facilities themselves were better - when I was last there a few months ago, the booking office was closed after 5.40pm (5.40, for heaven's sake!) for the entire week due to staff shortages. The cafe looked mediocre at best. The Gents toilets were, to be charitable, filthy (the staff inspection chart appeared not to have been filled in for a fortnight). And there appeared to be no decent shop. All in all, not good enough.
The next problem is finding the city centre. This is not at all easy for the pedestrian - Gloucester doesn't win any awards for signposting, and in fact the main sign for the station was helpfully completely hidden behind a large cypress hedge. On top of this, the city planners clearly had motorists, and only motorists, in mind when they developed the road system - to get from the station to the centre takes absolutely forever because of the number of pelican crossings intervening (there appear to be no subways, which I suppose is something).
Anyhow, a little way past the bus station comes a rather arresting sight - what seems to have been designed as a fairly large pond, such as one might find in a park rather than a city centre. Well, it would be, if it wasn't (usually) completely empty (other than those ever-present pigeon droppings), which makes all the "no swimming or paddling" signs somewhat superfluous. I hope this was just a temporary state of affairs - someone did tell me that it was going to be cleaned up, eventually - as it tends to confirm the visitor's first impression of a dirty, ill cared for city.
Phew! This is all rather gloomy, isn't it? Luckily, if you can escape the "pigeon belt&quo
t;, things improve markedly (not hard, I grant you). After a short walk, you emerge, past a highly odd stone sculpture that resembles a zombie on a skateboard (I have no idea what it actually represents - there appeared to be no explanatory plaque), into a pleasant, spacious pedestrianised shopping area. If only the bus station was like this....
Gloucester has a good range of shops, and so it should being the size it is. From my point of view (and, let's face it, as I'm writing this op it's the one that matters, so stop complaining) the star of the show is Bookends. This is a sprawling bookshop near the central crossroads, which sells both new and second-hand books. Anyone, like me, who still mourns the loss of the sister shop in Worcester a few years ago can find comfort here - especially in the huge £1 room at the very far end of the building, which is crammed with non-fiction books of every description, and is an absolute godsend for last-minute birthday shopping and the like. (Not that I'd know, always doing it in good time and all. Ahem.)
The other shop that stands out is also a bookshop - Ottakar's. This is a smallish national chain, which is well known for its high standards of service. There's less of the cold multinational feel you get in places such as Waterstones these days - it's not quite up to the standard of a real local bookshop, but it's about as close as you'll get in a chain and well worth a nose around.
One other thing that is very obvious in Gloucester, and rather revealing about the wealth (or lack of) of the populace is the extraordinary number of charity shops. They are absolutely everywhere, which is very handy for cheapskates like myself, but is a little worrying in terms of the implied standard of living of Gloucester's citizens.
Away from the shops now. As I live in a town on the Severn myself, the obvious attraction is Gloucester Docks. There has been a port o
f some description at Gloucester since Roman times, and significant commercial trade only ceased relatively recently. It's a very interesting complex to wander around, as there's an attraction in pretty much every building: the National Waterways Museum, the "Glorious Glosters" Regimental Museum, a museum of packaging, the Gloucester City Council offices... well, maybe not. There are also the inevitable "trendy" restaurants and shops - anyone who's been to Liverpool's Albert Dock will get the general idea.
The most interesting museum in the city, though, is in the centre: the Gloucester Folk Museum in Westgate Street. This is housed in a timber-framed building, parts of which date from the 15th century. It's definitely an institution of the "let's shove a huge pile of interesting stuff in here and give the visitors something to look at" tradition, which is as it should be - far better that than acres of reading matter and hardly any exhibits. There are exhibits on cheesemaking, fishing, the Civil War, pin-making, treen (no, nothing to do with Dan Dare - it means small wooden items)... and yes, there's the inevitable Victorian Classroom.
The Folk Musem, and the City Museum and Art Gallery, operate an interesting admissions policy. Each museum costs a couple of pounds to visit (for adults - children get in free), but joint tickets are available at a discount, and you can pick up a season ticket for just four quid. The council did also adopt the policy, common elsewhere in Europe, of allowing free admission for the last hour of opening - but this sensible setup seems to have been dropped now. Gloucester residents get in free all the time, though that information's probably of little value to visitors.
As you'll see, then, a visit to Gloucester does have much to recommend it, and if you can endure the ordeal of slogging through the dreadful public transport interchanges - and
believe me, ordeal and slogging are "les mots justes" (the right words) - then your perseverance will be well rewarded.