Fascinating facts about Britain: the River Severn

July 5, 2011 at 10:50 pm (Anglophilia, To Britain and back 2011)

What’s the difference between the River Severn and the Severn River? The first, also known as “the King’s highway,”  is in Britain. The second is Right Here in Maryland! One county over, to be precise. The American Severn is fourteen miles in length, with headwaters in western Anne Arundel County.  Ultimately it empties into the Chesapeake Bay at Annapolis, capital of the Free State and home to the United States Naval Academy.

[Click to enlarge]


With a length of  220 miles, the River Severn is the longest river in Great Britain.  Originating in Wales, it meanders through the Cambrian Mountains of that country and then goes on to Shropshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire, finally emptying its waters into the Bristol Channel.

The River Severn is the dark blue line

As the bus bore us away from the Wye Valley and towards Bristol, our guide Pam informed us that we were following the course of the Severn. This river carries with it a rich store of myth. The best known story is probably  that of the nymph Sabrina, who drowned in the waters of the Severn, to be subsequently reborn and incarnated as “the tutelary goddess of the river.” (Click here for more on the mythology of the Severn.)

The Severn in Shrewsbury, taken from Shrewsbury Castle (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Finally Pam told us about the Severn Bore. This is not, she assured us, a person! As defined by Wikipedia, a tidal  bore is a “…tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) of water that travel up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay’s current.” The result of this collision of contrary forces is a rolling wave that advances along the river. It is similar to a tsunami but on a smaller scale and in a more confined area, specifically on a river as opposed to an ocean.

Surfing the bore is a popular activity. Here’s an excellent video of the bore as it advanced along the Severn in March of last year. The music – The Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner – is exactly apt! And you’ll see that there are modes other than surfing that allow one to take part in this exhilarating experience:


  1. Laurel L. Anderson said,

    This was incredible and absolutely fascinating. I like the way your mind works. Thanks for for enlightening me. I look forward to going back along the river with this knowledge.

  2. Beth Schmelzer said,

    I look forward to visiting the other Severn since I live in Annapolis too and often guide students in 4th or 8th grade with the Annapolis Maritime Museum field trips. Kathy Ackley, related to my stepmother, introduced me to your blog and I am hooked. Isn’t that a great pun for a writer and a librarian? I am a retired school library media specialist who would love to meet you, Roberta! Your writing inspires me to read and write and travel.

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