I live too far from the sea. I yearn for the beach, the salty air, the sound of the waves and the feeling of being by the water. I go when I can but it’s not as often as I’d like. Thankfully, though, I’m not all that far from some big expanses of water. In half an hour I can be at Sharpness on the River Severn – Britain’s longest river –where it widens dramatically just before the official start of its estuary. A few days ago I’d have loved to have gone to the beach, but with errands to run and friends over in the evening that’s where I headed instead.
The small car park – almost empty on a day of heavy showers – is right by where the meeting point of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and the Severn, with its working docks and large tidal basin locked shut by a pair of truly enormous gates. I didn’t linger here, though, I just headed off towards the footpath by the river.
The Severn is over half a mile wide at Sharpness. On the opposite bank is Lydney harbour, another small port joining a canal to the river, and a reminder of the close relationship between the river and the small communities along its banks. The railway from Gloucester towards Wales runs along there too, and I watched several rumble by, the track hugging the bank. It’s a journey I take occasionally, my face always pressed up to the window looking over the view of the river. Just to the south the river widens further, huge sandbanks running along one side at low tide. From Sharpness there’s unobstructed views all the way to two motorway crossings about 10 miles downstream.
The tide was on its way out when I arrived, the water, opaque and muddy, rushing south towards the Bristol Channel and the sea. I followed a short track through coarse grass from the footpath towards the river, detritus spread around revealing the extent of the river levels over the winter, the strength of the water evident in the tree trunks and branches littering the grass.
Down here nearer the water, in the estuarine air and on soft mudbank underfoot, I was drawn totally towards this riverine landscape. I ducked down on my haunches, watched the water flowing by and the black-headed gulls come and go, their calls drifting on the breeze. The mudbanks below me, open to the air as the tide receded, were etched with untidy curving ripples dissolving down into the water, perpendicular to the flow of the river.
The sun was directly above the river to the south, the glare coming off the water too bright to look at. I shielded my eyes to see the broad estuary ahead, this muddy riverine bay curving away into the distance culminating in the span of the bridges. I stayed there, hunkered down, low and quiet, for a few minutes like I was a natural part of this landscape too before heading back up to the path. I walked a few minutes further but with every step I knew I had to head back, not wanting to take my eyes off the view. But I’d got my fix and there was dinner to make, friends to see and good times to be had.