Saturday, 13 July 2013

Marsh samphire on the banks of the Severn.

I've cycled to Portishead a few times recently...

Poor 'The Severn'.
Often stigmatised as brown, featureless and stained with industry...
It's something of a local joke, Severn beach - "Shall we go to Severn beach?" "Ha ha!"; I crack it myself.
Perhaps it's the South-West's equivalent to "Let's go to Wigan Pier."

It's understandable that The Severn might not captivate at first glance but it really is a beautiful place - on the water or from the land it's constantly changing, every half dozen hours transforming from a sea to something almost lunar. The light makes patterns on the water and the mud, the sun cracks the mud into shapes, reed clusters make film scenes with the sunset. The immense power of the tide puts me in my place, the vulnerability of land is humbling and for me, being more of an inland boatman with an ignorance of navigating tides and plotting with charts, there's a small measure of danger innate in every journey on this water - it's a richly affecting place.

Alice Oswald writes at the opening of her poem 'A sleepwalk on the Severn':

Flat stone sometimes lit sometimes not
One among many moodswung creatures
That have settled in this beautiful
Uncountry of an Estuary

Swans pitching your wings
In the reedy layby of a vacancy
Where the house of the sea
Can be set up quickly and taken down in an hour

All you flooded and stranded weeds whose workplace
Is both a barren mudsite and a speeded up garden
Full of lake offerings and slabs of light
Which then unwills itself listen

All you crabs in the dark alleys of the wall
All you mudswarms ranging up and down
I notice you are very alert and worn out
Skulking about and grabbing what you can

Listen this is not the ordinary surface river
This is not river at all this is something
Like a huge repeating mechanism
Banging and banging the jetty...

I've travelled this water in an odd assortment of boats - the dutch barge Tempora, a converted life boat Taurus and the replica of John Cabot's 1497 discovery ship The Matthew - you can expect to see anything from a narrow-boat to paddle-steamers and cargo ships.

It's rich with wildlife - under rocks last week we found small shrimp-like crustaceans, larger primeval looking crustaceans akin to oversized woodlice, small crabs, and I'd never thought of the Severn as a place to forage but George noticed a clump of marsh samphire growing, and then we saw more stretching down through the rocks and the seaweeds...

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