We can hear it coming from some distance off. The roar of water is at distinct odds to the calm surface of the river gently flowing before us. It looks like any other river, albeit a bit muddy. A few kayakers paddle lazily in the early morning mist. But it is the presence of the surfers and paddle boarders that alerts us to the fact that something extraordinary is about to happen.
We were camped in the carpark of the White Hart public house at Broadoak on the banks of the River Severn, along with a large number of other members of the Wild Camping forum. It was good to be back camping in the van again, the winter had been exceptionally wet and windy and much to long. Far from being a subtle wild camp though, we arrived to find a scene more reminiscent of a continental aire with vans lined up neatly against the protective flood wall. We’d all come to watch one of the largest Severn Bores of the year.
A tidal bore is a wave that forms as the leading edge of an incoming tide that travels up a river against the natural direction of the river’s current. There are around sixty rivers around the world where a bore occurs. The Severn Bore, one of eight in the UK, is one of the largest. It only occurs on certain spring tides and because we can accurately predict the flow of water around the UK we knew that we’d get bores graded from three stars on Saturday morning, increasing in intensity to four stars through Sunday. Monday morning would see the largest bore, complete with warnings from the environment agency about flooding…
We had arrived on Friday evening and made our way to the pub to meet the others. We didn’t know anyone but they were easy enough to find and a friendly bunch. The alarm clock woke us from our dreams far too early on Saturday morning and somehow we summoned the will power to leave the warm comfort of our ice covered van. Bleary eyed, wrapped in our warmest clothes and clasping cups of hot tea we made our way to the pub’s veranda to witness the bore.
The river looks benign, like a large muddy puddle, but you can hear the rush of water and hoots and hollers of the wave riders. As we watch downstream we start to see the wall of water, maybe a metre or so high, hurtling towards us, dotted with with a few surfers, paddle boarders and kayakers, their enthusiastic shouts adding to the noise. Not everyone manages to stay on the wave, there are a few more being carried along with the current behind them. There’s even a man running down the opposite bank with his board, desperate to get back ahead of the wave.
As the wave passes our group of early morning risers and uninterested dogs the river is already noticeably higher and turbulent water follows in it’s wake. The surfers and stragglers have now been replaced with all sorts of debris. Branches, barrels and even mostly complete trees race up the river at speed and all the time the river is rising. It’s not for nearly two hours that the river will stop rising and when it does finally start to flow back towards the sea it’s worryingly close to the top of the flood defences.
As the river has been rising so has the sun and it’s slowly becoming a beautiful, if chilly, day. Nearby is the the Forest of Dean, which is crisscrossed with walking and cycling trails. Our plan to ride some of the mountain bike trails had been scuppered by a broken wheel so we’d packed our walking boots instead and headed for Beechenhurst Lodge where a number of walking trails started.
We followed the sculpture trail first, which is a nice walk but proved beyond all doubt that neither of us understands art at all. After a brief stop back at the van for sandwiches and a nice cup of tea we hit another trail for a couple of hours before returning to the pub’s makeshift campsite.
Another evening in the pub with a quick break to nip outside to listen to the evening’s bore rush past in the dark. We were entertained by a couple of members of the group who were pretty handy on the guitar. The bar was busy so I think the pub did well out of the meeting. The food was good too, nice big chunky chips!
Sunday’s bore was a little later in the morning, the sun was actually over the horizon, but the alarm clock still felt far too early. This was the biggest bore we’d see as we had to be back at work on Monday morning. A lot more surfers today, one waving as he went past and then promptly falling off. The weather was not so nice though, misty, a cold wind was blowing and then the rain came. The forecast said worse to come so we discussed what to do as the river rose quickly behind us, peaking just below the top of the wall.
One of the people we’d been chatting to in the pub had recommended a local mine works, so we headed there. It’s part cave, part mine, so lots of interesting rock formations both natural and man made, plus all the industry left behind when the mine shut.
As we sat in the tea shop afterwards the weather started to improve a little, inviting us back into the forest for one last muddy wander amongst the trees before heading home.