My developing interest in the waterways of Great Britain are taking me further into the heartland of Middle England in search of inspiration, and perhaps, eventually, a boat of my own to live on. I carry the name “Severn” – my cousin in British Columbia and I are the last of our line of the Family; all the descendants in this part of the clan are female – so the river also bearing our name, and flowing through my destination today, Worcester, is always of special interest.
The Severn rises in the Cambrian Mountains of mid-Wales, thence flowing southwards through Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, to the sea in the Bristol Channel. The Severn Estuary has the second highest tidal range (if I am not mistaken) in the world after the Bay of Fundi in Canada, and as the water rushes in to the funnel-shaped estuary, it creates the phenomenon of the Severn Boar, a tidal wave spectacle which draws onlookers from far and wide – and many thrill-seekers who love to ride it on their surf boards and small boats.
Today, in summer, the Severn through Worcester is peaceful and picturesque, though England is famous for its rainfall, and the now placid river is very prone to flood in this area. Worcester Cathedral commands the view over the river in the city; English composer Sir Edward Elgar was born not far outside Worcester. Worcester is a place steeped in history and culture, notable not only for Elgar’s music, but as the location of some of the most significant battles in the English Civil War of the 17th century. Worcester was originally sympathetic to the Parliamentary cause, but spent most of the war under Royalist occupation, and the astute politicians of the day seemed to want favour from the new king, Charles II, after the war, in the hope of securing compensation. It lead to the invention of the epithet Fidelis Civitas, or “faithful city”, and this motto still forms part of the city’s coat of arms today, Civitas in Bello et Pace Fidelis (City, faithful in war and peace).
For me, though, on this summer’s day early in the 21st century, I was looking for the colour of the riverbank and the cathedral, and also of the canal which begins its link from the Severn to the city of Birmingham not much more than a quarter of a mile downstream from the church’s dominant position. The Worcester and Birmingham Canal is some 29 miles long with 58 locks, which begins its course at Diglis Basin, then wending its way north-eastwards towards Birmingham at Gas Street Basin. Construction started in 1792, with the route fully open and complete by 1815. Of course, this waterway no longer carries commercial freight, but it is still a delight for narrowboaters with more leisurely pursuits in mind.
I strolled pleasantly along the towpath back towards the city, before leaving the canal near to Shrub Hill Station, ready to join the eventual scourge of the canals – the railway – for my onward journey that afternoon. Shrub Hill station remains a riot of colour, and in many ways untouched since the Victorians built the line, still employing a wonderful array of Great Western Railway mechanical signalling to control the traffic. This sort of technology is dying off fast as electronic and digital methods in railway technology sweep this venerable old equipment away – so it was well worth pausing here awhile to photograph it. My onward journey took me down past Gloucester onto the welsh side of the Severn Estuary via Lydney, one of the best stretches of coastal railway in England, but that, methinks, is a subject for another day.