Tag Archives: Severn


Content Warning.

Sabrina offers me the comfort of her arms. She promises to hold me like a mother holds a small child. She will comfort me, and take away the pain. There will be peace in her embrace, and relief, and release and none of this will matter anymore. Sabrina invites me to sleep in her arms.

She offers this invitation widely, gathering to her the lost and distressed, the hopeless and despairing. She will hold anyone who can no longer bear to breathe. She will take anyone into her keeping who has nothing left to live for and no faith in the future.

Once she had a reputation as a river that kills. The Severn always gets her man, they used to say. With her tides and mud and unpredictability, she was never kind to the careless. These days they come willingly, when they can take it no more. She does not need to lure the fisherman or tantalise the careless child.

She calls to me. I hear her promises, her reassurance. It is a brutal mercy that she offers, a killing kindness for those who can take no more. She is always there, always offering to be the end of the journey, the place of rest. ‘Sleep in my arms,’ she says ‘and forget.’

Down to the river

The Severn River was a part of my landscape growing up. As I became conscious of my own Paganism, the role of the landscape, and especially the river in my sense of sacredness became ever more visible to me. It wasn’t until I left Gloucestershire and spent time living in the Midlands that I came to appreciate how important this landscape is to my sense of self. It is part of me, and to be too far away from the river is not to be properly myself.

When I’m struggling, going places I can see the Severn helps me. Yesterday I went to the river herself, and spent some time walking with my son and husband. It was a good day. I saw a heron, a kingfisher, a mouse and many tiny frogs. There were a lot of butterflies, dragonflies and other insects. I got scratched and stung, and sunburned and that kind of realness of physical pain is oddly comforting.

As is usually the way of it for me, there were no moments of divine intervention. There is a Goddess associated with the Severn – Sabrina – and she has never spoken to me. I have no sense of her, only the river itself. I don’t spend enough time in that particular landscape to have built a sense of relationship. I experienced no omens or messages from the natural world to help me with the things that are troubling me. But it was good seeing the frogs and the butterflies, and the tiny scuttling mouse along the edge of a road bridge, and the heron doing heron things, and the kingfisher in just the place a kingfisher might reasonably be expected to be.

There were no massive, life changing revelations. However, the walking was so demanding that most of the time I had no headspace to consciously think about any of the things troubling me. This helped. And some hours in, I started making headway. I became able to see what my own priorities are, what matters and what perhaps does not. What I can let go of, and what I feel moved to fight for. I got a sense of perspective that helps me move forward. This often happens to me on long walks and spending time on hilltops. For me, it’s about making the space for the unconscious processing. Other people might read it in terms of messages from the land, the spirits, the Gods… but it never feels that way to me. It just feels like my own head sorting things through.

Love songs for a landscape

It was only after I moved away from the land I grew up in, that I started to realise how much a part of my soul it had been. It would have only taken an hour or so to get back by car, but I didn’t have a car, and there were other complications. For years, I lived as an exile from the landscape of my heart, and it hurt. There were times aplenty when I cried for the grief of not being in my landscape and cursed myself for being too stupid to realise how much it mattered, until after I had left. It was during this period, that I wrote Hunting the Egret.

I’ve described the book as a love story, but it is also a love letter, from me to the places my heart yearned for; forest, vale and high blue hill, winding River Severn, Cotswold edge, mysterious Forest of Dean. While I lived in Gloucestershire, I’d hardly written about it at all. After leaving, my stories, poems and songs were full of the place I came from. I learned other people’s songs about the area, too, drawing especially on Johnny Copin’s settings of various local poets. I read Laurie Lee’s work for the first time, and Winifred Foleys A Child in the Forest.

During that period of absence, Gloucestershire took on almost mythic proportions in my mind. I shared images of favourite places with Tom, and the influence crept into Hopeless Maine. This is why one of the ruins in the first book looks a good deal like Tintern Abbey. I knew it wasn’t wholly original. Local musician and poet, Ivor Gurney, was sent off to foreign fields for the First World War and spent his time writing about Gloucestershire. That makes perfect sense to me.

The Welsh have a word for the anguish a Welsh person feels when away from their native landscape: Hiraeth. The Welsh diaspora is nothing like as large as Scottish and Irish communities around the world. The Welsh as a people experienced a lot of similar economic pressures, but, I have been told, Wales is much harder to leave, and much more likely to draw you back. Of course the location of the Welsh border has varied a good deal through history, and my Forest of Dean ancestry was probably Welsh ancestry a bit further back in time. That’s my excuse. The idea of hiraeth makes a lot of sense to me.

I had to go somewhere else before I learned how to be a Druid and came to understand how sacred this landscape is to me. Coming back, I feel more inspired than ever to write about this place, these hills, and to sing the songs of the land that was always my home. With shades of Dorothy, I had to go away in order to appreciate what I had left behind, not to a mystical land, but to the Midlands, where the witches were charming but there was a notable absence of glorious Technicolor.

I’ll sneak an excerpt…

“Resting her arms on her knees, and her chin upon the backs of her arms, Verity considered the view. The tide was in on the river, and the Severn filled her banks with silvery water. From here, she looked beautiful. Closer too, she was all mud and treachery, but Verity had been used to this for as long as she could remember. Down and slightly to her left nestled the greater part of Arlode – the eighteenth century church with its neat graveyard, the main street with its handful of shops, the cottages and more recent developments. It hadn’t changed much in a century, aside from the cars and their ever-present hum. The little school was just how it had been when she spent her days there. Her own small cottage, a little outside the village, was a crouching shambles that looked as though it had grown out of the land itself.”

Hunting the Egret now on kindle… http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EKJCPY6

River stories

I’ve spent the last few days on rivers – The Severn and The Avon. I grew up near the Severn, longing to get into the water by any means, but unable to do so. She’s a magical river, home to the goddess Sabrina. There was a Roman temple to Nodens on her banks, no doubt other temples too and she has seen human activity since there were humans around. She’s also a fickle, moody, changeable river, which makes her dangerous, and every so often she takes a blood sacrifice. The Severn kills.

Simply being afloat and on the river was an intensely emotional and spiritual experience for me. You see the world differently at water level, familiar cities and landscapes came at me very differently. Travelling at the slow speed of a narrowboat, I also saw a lot of wildlife – kingfishers, egrets, herons, cormorants, an abundance of ducks and swans as well and lots of trees. It’s been a beautiful few days.

So, what have I learned? That I want longer ropes on the boat, for one. But on a spiritual level, it’s harder to pin down. I saw mist on the flood meadows where sheep and cattle have been grazed for thousands of years. I saw ducks sleeping afloat, ours the first boat in the early morning, catching the river as it is before the people come. People, boats, and noise change everything. Most of the time we don’t even get a glimpse of what life is like without us. But I had a little of that – a sense of the lives lived beyond human awareness, the secret lives of creatures and plants. I want to be a smaller, quieter presence, better able to blend in, to move amongst other living things without frightening them off. What I really want is to be on the river at dawn, in a canoe or coracle, paddling quietly, making few ripples, not breaking the air with sound. That would be true magic.

The more I think about this as an ideal, the more I feel it’s how I want to move through the world all of the time – as unobtrusively as I can, catching glimpses of those other worlds and existences. Going slowly enough to be able to see them, quietly enough to hear them, taking the time to look, and the care to notice. I think there is always more to see, deeper to go, and I wonder how much further I can take my own understandings in my day to day living.