Facts About the River Severn ( UK )

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The River Severn is the United Kingdom's longest river at 220 miles long.

The river begins it's life in 2,000 feet high peat bogs situated in the Cambrian Mountains in the Welsh county of Ceredigion at a place called Plynlimon near Llanidloes, before flowing through the four counties of Powys, Shropshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire out to it's estuary on the Bristol Channel and then onto the Celtic Sea and finally into the Atlantic Ocean. 



The river is world famous for it's tidal bore, known as the Severn Bore, which has the highest tidal range of all the U.K's 8 tidal rivers and has the second highest tidal range of all the world's 60 high tidal rivers.

The river's tidal surge can often reach heights of between 40 and 50 feet with record waves of up to 9 feet high.

Because of this the river is a magnet for surfers, canoe - ists and surfboarders all eager to ride the river's monster waves.

The highest recorded River Severn wave was on the 15th of October 1966 at 9.2 feet high and the River Severn's longest surfboard ride was 5.7 miles.

The river has a water depth range of between 6 inches at it's source through to over 50 feet during one of it's tidal surges.

The river's drainage basin on the Bristol Channel covers an area of 346 square miles. 


                        The Severn Bore.

    Image courtesy of Tess, wikimedia commons.

The River is known by two names, the Afon Hefren in Welsh and the River Severn in English, before these names become common place, the Romans had named the river Sabrina after a mythical, water nymph.

No one really knows where either the Welsh or English name for the river comes from, one credible source has suggested that hafren is a corruption of a word made from both the Welsh and Brythonic languages which means border or boundary and that the English word Severn is an anglicised version of this Welsh / Brythonic word. 



The river serves 8 canals including the Hereford and Gloucester Canal and Worcester and Birmingham Canal and has 21 tributaries, including the Rivers Stour, Avon and Wye.

The river has over 100 crossings, including 54 road bridges, 11 railway bridges, 24 footbridges, 7 farm bridges, 3 tollways, 2 aqueducts and one rail tunnel.

The river passes through the 4 English cathedral cities of Bristol, Gloucester, Shrewsbury and Worcester as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, home to the world's first ever cast iron bridge and the River Severn's second oldest surviving bridge.

Other notable areas along the river's course are the 325 hectare Slimbridge Wetland Centre situated on the river's estuary on the Bristol Channel, the 16 mile route of the Severn Valley Railway which runs between the picturesque Shropshire market town of Bridgenorth and the Worcestershire town of Kidderminster, The Bridgewater Bay National Nature Reserve and the 210 mile long River Severn Long Distance Walkway, which follows almost the entire course of the river. 


                The Second Severn Crossing.

For centuries the river was a hive of industrial activity, at one point in it's history it had even been classified as Europe's busiest working river, but in recent years it has become a place of recreation, where it has become reknowned for it's river boat trips, the beautiful Welsh and English towns and countryside that it passes through and for being a haven for Salmon, Trout and Elver ( baby eels ) fishing.

The river is synonomous for bordering the two countries of England and Wales and for being home to many important architectural structures along it's course which have become famous either due to the engineers who built them or for being English / Welsh architectural record breakers.

The most famous River Severn crossing is the Ironbridge at Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, home of the world's first ever cast iron bridge and an engineering feat which changed the world for ever.

The bridge was constructed by ironmaster Abraham Darby III and opened as a toll bridge in 1781.

Another engineering feat of the River Severn is the river's only railway tunnel, built between 1873 and 1886 by engineer Thomas Walker that links the Welsh county of Monmouthshire with the English county of Gloucestershire.

The tunnel is 4.6 miles long and from it's completion in 1886 until the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 2007, it was the United Kingdom's longest underwater tunnel.

The river's most impressive bridge is the Second Severn Crossing, a 3.19 mile long, cable stayed bridge completed in 1996 which carries the 6 laned M4 motorway across the river between Severn Beach in Gloucestershire and Sudbrook in Monmouthshire.

One other interesting feature of the river is the Hampton Loade Passenger Ferry, the most modern of which was built in 2004, and is the U.K's only reaction cable ferry.

The ferry site at Hampton Loade has been in use for over 400 years and is unique for using a reaction cable that is suspended above the ferry and which propells the ferry across the water by way of the river's current and is stabilised by way of a block and pulley line tethered to the ferry's body.

This type of ferry is known to be the safest method of passenger crossing on fast running rivers such as the River Severn.

The river is also home to 8 masonry bridges designed by eminent Victorian architect Thomas Penson, 6 bridges designed by engineer Thomas Telford and 1 railway bridge designed by Robert Stevenson.

The river's oldest surviving brdge is a stone arch bridge situated in the Welsh village of Llandrino, which was completed in 1775.


     Signpost at the source of the River Severn. 

  Image courtesy of GrahamUK, wikimedia commons.







John McLorinan
Posted on Apr 5, 2015
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