MYSTERY still surrounds the death of a former Towy Valley boatman and his friend who both drowned in a canal after an all-day drinking session at a nearby pub, a coroner has said.

Although conclusions of accidental death were recorded at Gloucestershire Coroner's Court on 53-year-old Nicholas Barry from Cynghordy, Llandovery, and his 69-year-old pal Terry Humphries, from Pembrokeshire, there was no explanation as to how they both men entered the icy waters of the Gloucester-Sharpness canal on the night of January 12.

Nor was there any explanation as to how Barry's body came to be on the towpath, near to the Tudor Arms pub, at Slimbridge near Gloucester.

Giving evidence to the court, Detective Sergeant Alistair Hammett described the two men's deaths as "a tragic accident", adding there was no suspicious circumstances.

The bodies were found in the early hours of the morning.

Barry, the court heard, lived on his canal barge Four Seasons with his dog. His body was discovered on the towpath about 15 minutes walk from that of Humphreys, of Narberth, who was still in the water.

The Coroner said that it was assumed the two men had gone into the water at about the same location but while Barry appeared to have scrambled out of the canal, his friend was carried downstream by the current.

Both men drowned. Their pet dogs were recovered by a local dog warden.

"A member of the public rang 999 after finding the dead man and three dogs on the towpath," said DS Hammett.

"Another member of the public reported seeing a second male in the water."

Humphreys' body was recovered by a lifeguard before the paramedics arrived on the scene.

"The walking distance between the two men was about 15 minutes," said DS Hammett.

In a written statement, the manager of the Tudor Arms, Ben Kingscote said, "Terry and Nick had been drinking all day and they left at around 11.30pm to walk back to their barges.

"They were merry and in good spirits."

A fellow boatman, Tim Aldridge, said, also in written evidence: "Terry was drinking ale and Black Rat strong cider and they were both quite merry but they appeared to be in good spirits."

Senior Coroner for Gloucestershire Katy Skerrett said: "The medical cause of death in both cases is drowning and clearly alcohol was involved.

"Whether one or both slipped and fell into the canal or one fell in and the other tried to help or whether they went into the water to get their dogs, who might have gone in, we shall never know.

"I agree with the officer, that this was a tragic accident.

"The dogs remained close and although it appears that Barry managed to get out of the water - there were scratches on his hand - he was unable to recover."