The river Severn is tidal, and when the moon causes a particularly big tide, the river experiences a bore – a large amount of water moving up it at speed. They come in the spring and autumn for the greater part and are dramatic. Elvers (young eels) come up on the spring bores, and were important food for people round here.
Last night I had my first bore encounter. We walked down to the river bank at twilight and waited, not being sure when it would come. I like walking in to any kind of spiritual event, it’s more grounded than driving, and I like having time to be in a place, rather than turning up purely as a spectator for an event. As we waited, the sun went down and the owls came out – at least 2 tawnies and a barn owl. We were also treated to the efforts of the least able group of bellringers I’ve ever had the misfortune to hear, but by the time the sun set, they gave up and went home.
There wasn’t a great deal of light – some reflections from lights on nearby hills, some ‘ambient’ light reflected off clouds, thanks to Gloucester. Had there not been clouds, we would have seen the moon.
The bore began for us as a distant noise. At first I mistook it for traffic, but it was too even. My guess is that the bends in the river and the shape of the hills combine to make the sound of advancing water carry for miles ahead of the wave. Gradually, the pitch and volume increased, until we knew it had to be the bore. We could see a dark wave spanning the river and heading towards us at a pace. The roar as it swept the banks on both sides was dramatic and the energy in it tremendous. In the poor light, it felt like a huge and wild creature was racing up the river. After the main wave came several smaller ones, a sow and pigglets, I like to think. With the creature impression in mind I had images in my head of a river boar. The water level remained high, and the current loud. We could hear the boar himself roaring his way towards Gloucester for some time after he had passed us.
There have been humans in this part of the world for a long time. I don’t know what my Neolithic ancestors got up to round here, but they were certainly living near the river and burying their dead up on the hills. I feel that the bores would have been a significant part of any spiritual calendar – impossible to experience that and not feel a sense of wonder. And for anyone frequenting the waters in a boat, the bore represents a big change in the life and temperament of the river. Knowing when to expect them would be vital. As they vary in timings and heights, I can imagine that divination based on the behaviour of the bore would also be a possibility.
But for me, the image of a river boar is going to stay, and that sense of something alive and full of its own intent. I know there are entirely reasonable scientific explanations, but with all uie reference to the recent blog about belief, I can also hold, for myself, the sense that something passed this way last night, bringing its magic up the river.