A FLEET of ships set sail from Saul Heritage Centre on to commemorate 100 years since the last vessel travelled the entire length of the Thames and Severn Canal.

High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, Mark Heywood, gave a speech to commemorate the landmark event.

The last boat to carry a cargo over the Cotswolds from Saul to Lechlade on the Thames was called the GEM.

Using the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames and Severn Canal, now known jointly as the Cotswold Canals, the distance was 36 miles.

There are now two routes. The southern one, which is 201 miles long, is via Bristol, which means taking a pilot on board and braving the Severn Estuary then heading along the Kennet and Avon Canal via Bath, Newbury and Reading and up the Thames via Oxford.

Alternatively there is the northern route which is 174 miles long and involves travelling up the Severn to Tewkesbury then via Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Leamington Spa, Banbury, and Oxford.

The Cotswold Canals were built to provide a shorter route from the Severn to London which had the added advantage of providing a safe alternative to avoid the dangers coastal shipping faced in rounding Land's End plus the risk of capture by the French during the Napoleonic Wars Boats which left on Friday were split into two groups, some took the northern route while others took the southern one.

A civic reception is planned when they arrive at Lechlade on Sunday, September 4 where there will be a family fun day from 11am, admission free