The River Severn (Welsh: Afon Hafren) is the longest river in Great Britain at a length of 220 miles (354 km), and the second longest in the British Isles after the River Shannon in Ireland. It rises at an altitude of 2,001 feet (610 m) on Plynlimon, close to the Ceredigion/Powys border near Llanidloes, in the Cambrian Mountains of mid Wales. It then flows through Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, with the county towns of Shrewsbury, Worcester and Gloucester on its banks. With an average discharge of 107 m3/s (3,800 cu ft/s) at Apperley, Gloucestershire, the Severn is by far the greatest river in terms of water flow in England and Wales.
The river is usually considered to become the Severn Estuary after the Second Severn Crossing between Severn Beach, South Gloucestershire and Sudbrook, Monmouthshire. The river then discharges into the Bristol Channel which in turn discharges into the Celtic Sea and the wider Atlantic Ocean. The Severn's drainage basin area is 4,409 square miles (11,419 km2), excluding the River Wye and Bristol Avon which flow into the Severn Estuary. The major tributaries to the Severn are the Vyrnwy, Clywedog, Teme, Avon and Stour.
The river seen from Shrewsbury Castle
Tributaries (light blue) and major settlements on and near the Severn (bold blue)
|Country||England and Wales|
|Region||Mid Wales, West Midlands, South West|
|Counties||Powys, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire|
|Cities||Shrewsbury, Worcester, Gloucester, Bristol|
|⁃ location||Plynlimon, Powys, Wales|
|⁃ elevation||610 m (2,000 ft)|
|Bristol Channel, United Kingdom|
|0 m (0 ft)|
|Length||354 km (220 mi)|
|Basin size||11,420 km2 (4,410 sq mi)|
|⁃ location||Bewdley, Worcs. |
|⁃ average||61.17 m3/s (2,160 cu ft/s)|
|⁃ maximum||533.48 m3/s (18,840 cu ft/s)max recorded on 1947-03-21|
|⁃ location||Apperley, Glos.|
|⁃ average||107 m3/s (3,800 cu ft/s)|
|⁃ location||Montford, Shrops.|
|⁃ average||43.46 m3/s (1,535 cu ft/s)|
|⁃ left||Vyrnwy, Tern, Stour, Warwickshire Avon, Bristol Avon|
|⁃ right||Teme, Leadon, Wye|
The name Severn is thought to derive from a Celtic original name *sabrinnā, of uncertain meaning. That name then developed in different languages to become Sabrina to the Romans, Hafren in Welsh, and Severn in English. A folk etymology later developed, deriving the name from a mythical story of a nymph, Sabrina, who drowned in the river. Sabrina is also the goddess of the River Severn in Celtic mythology. The story of Sabrina is featured in Milton's 1634 masque Comus. There is a statue of Sabrina in the Dingle Gardens at the Quarry, Shrewsbury, as well as a metal sculpture erected in 2013 also in the town. As the Severn becomes tidal the associated deity changed to Nodens, who was represented mounted on a seahorse, riding on the crest of the Severn bore.
The River Stour rises in the north of Worcestershire in the Clent Hills, near St Kenelm's Church at Romsley. It flows north into the adjacent West Midlands at Halesowen. It then flows westwards through Cradley Heath and Stourbridge where it leaves the Black Country. It is joined by the Smestow Brook at Prestwood before it winds around southwards to Kinver, and then flows back into Worcestershire. It then passes through Wolverley, Kidderminster and Wilden to its confluence with the Severn at Stourport-on-Severn.
The River Vyrnwy, which begins at Lake Vyrnwy, flows eastwards through Powys before forming part of the border between England and Wales, joining the Severn near Melverley, Shropshire. The Rea Brook flows north from its source in the Stiperstones and joins the Severn at Shrewsbury. The River Tern, after flowing south from Market Drayton and being joined by the River Meese and the River Roden, meets the Severn at Attingham Park.
The River Worfe joins the Severn, just above Bridgnorth. The River Stour rising on the Clent Hills and flowing through Halesowen, Stourbridge, and Kidderminster, joins the Severn at Stourport. On the opposite bank, the tributaries are only brooks, Borle Brook, Dowles Brook draining the Wyre Forest, Dick Brook and Shrawley Brook.
The River Teme flows eastwards from its source in Mid Wales, straddling the border between Shropshire and Herefordshire, it is joined by the River Onny, River Corve and River Rea before it finally joins the Severn slightly downstream of Worcester. Shit Brook near Much Wenlock was culverted to flow into the Severn.
One of the several rivers named Avon, in this case the Warwickshire Avon, flows west through Rugby, Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon. It is then joined by its tributary the River Arrow, before finally joining the Severn at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.
The River Wye, from its source in Plynlimon in Wales (2 miles (3 km) from the source of the Severn), flows generally south east through the Welsh towns of Rhayader and Builth Wells. It enters Herefordshire, flows through Hereford, and is shortly afterwards joined by the River Lugg, before flowing through Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth, and then southwards where it forms part of the boundary between England (Forest of Dean) and Wales. It flows into the Severn near the town of Chepstow, slightly upstream of the Bristol Avon on the opposite bank.
Below is a list of major towns and cities that the Severn flows through (in order running downstream):
The Severn is bridged at many places, and many of these bridges are notable in their own right, with several designed and built by the engineer Thomas Telford. There also is the famous Iron Bridge at Ironbridge, which was the world's first iron arch bridge.
The two major road bridges of the Severn crossing link south eastern Wales with the southern counties of England.
Prior to the construction of the first bridge in 1966, the channel was crossed by the Aust Ferry.
Other notable bridges include:
The Severn Tunnel, completed in 1886 by John Hawkshaw on behalf of the Great Western Railway, lies near the Second Severn Crossing road bridge, and carries the South Wales Main Line section of the Great Western Main Line under the channel. The original line built before the Severn Tunnel was the South Wales Railway from Gloucester, that followed the estuary alongside present day stations of Lydney, Chepstow, Caldicot and Severn Tunnel Junction to Newport.
Cars could also be transported through the Severn Tunnel. In the 1950s three trains a day made round trips between Severn Tunnel Junction and Pilning. The vehicles were loaded onto open flat bed carriages and pulled by a small pannier tank locomotive, although sometimes they were joined to a scheduled passenger train. The prudent owner paid to cover the vehicle with a sheet, as sparks often flew when the steam locomotive tackled the slope leading to the tunnel exit. A railway coach was provided for passengers and drivers. Reservations could be made and the fee for the car was about thirty shillings (£1.50) in the early 1950s.
There have been many disasters on the Severn and it has claimed many lives (figures vary depending on how it is recorded, circa 300 people), especially during the 20th century. The Severn Railway Bridge was badly damaged by the collision of two river barges in 1960, which led to its demolition in 1970. Five crew members of both the Arkendale H and Wastdale H died in the accident. More recently the river flooded during the 2007 United Kingdom floods.
There is a public right of navigation between Pool Quay, near Welshpool, and Stourport. However this stretch of the river has little traffic, other than small boats, canoes and some tour boats in Shrewsbury. Below Stourport, where the river is more navigable for larger craft, users must obtain permits from the Canal & River Trust, who are the navigation authority. During spring freshet the river can be closed to navigation.
At Upper Parting above Gloucester, the river divides into two, and flows either side of Alney Island to Lower Parting. The West Channel is no longer navigable. The East Channel is navigable as far as Gloucester Docks, from where the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal provides a navigable channel south. Between the docks and Lower Parting Llanthony Weir marks the Normal Tidal Limit (NTL) of the East Channel of the river.
In the tidal section of the river below Gloucester, the Gloucester Harbour Trustees are the competent harbour authority. The Trustees maintain navigation lights at various points along the river (including on Chapel Rock and Lyde Rock, and leading lights at Slime Road, Sheperdine and Berkeley Pill).
There are locks on the lower Severn to enable seagoing boats to reach as far as Stourport. The most northerly lock is at Lincombe, about 1 mile (1.6 km) downstream from Stourport.
The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, (both narrow beam) and the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal join the Severn at Stourport, Worcester and Gloucester respectively. The Droitwich Barge Canal, a broad beam canal, joins the Severn at Hawford, near to the River Salwarpe, and connects to the Droitwich Canal (narrow beam) in the name town, which then forms a link to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. The two Droitwich canals re-opened in 2010 after major restoration.
The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal connects the Severn at Gloucester to the Severn at Sharpness, avoiding a stretch of the tidal river which is dangerous to navigate. The Stroudwater Navigation used to join the tidal Severn at Framilode, but since the 1920s has connected to the Severn only via the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.
The section of the river between Tewkesbury and Worcester forms part of the Avon Ring, a 109-mile (175 km) circular cruising route which includes 129 locks and covers parts of three other waterways.
Paddle steamers were operated in the Severn Estuary from the mid 19th century to the late 1970s by P & A Campbell of Bristol. The vessels, Cardiff Queen, Bristol Queen, Glen Usk, Glen Gower and Britannia all operated on this route in the 1950s and 1960s. Since 1986 Waverley Excursions has operated occasional sailings to Sharpness and Lydney by the MV Balmoral.
A number of ferries were also operated on the tidal river, for example at New Passage, Purton and Arlingham. The last ferry was the Aust Ferry, which closed in 1966 when the Severn Bridge opened. One of the Aust ferries, Severn Princess, is still in Chepstow although largely derelict.
The Cathedral Ferry, a foot passenger ferry, also operates on summer weekends from the steps of Worcester Cathedral.
In Shropshire the Hampton Loade Ferry operated across the river though it has not been run recently (as of 2017) prompting speculation that it is permanently closed. This has not been confirmed by any reliable news sources but according to the nearby Severn Valley Railway it has ceased operation.
The river becomes tidal close to Maisemore, on the West Channel just north of Gloucester, and at Llanthony Weir on the East Channel. The tidal river downstream from Gloucester is sometimes referred to as the Severn Estuary, but the river is usually considered to become the Severn Estuary after the Second Severn Crossing near Severn Beach, South Gloucestershire (the point to which the jurisdiction of the Gloucester Harbour Trustees extends), or at Aust, the site of the Severn Bridge.
The Severn Estuary extends to a line from Lavernock Point (south of Cardiff) to Sand Point near Weston-super-Mare. West of this line is the Bristol Channel. In the Severn Estuary (or the Bristol Channel in the last two cases, depending where the boundary is drawn) are the rocky islands called Denny Island, Steep Holm and Flat Holm.
The estuary is about 2 miles (3 km) wide at Aust, and about 9 miles (14 km) wide between Cardiff and Weston-super-Mare.
It is frequently asserted that the river's estuary, which empties into the Bristol Channel, has the second largest tidal range in the world—48 feet (15 m), exceeded only by the Bay of Fundy. However a tidal range greater than that of the Severn is recorded from the lesser known Ungava Bay in Canada. During the highest tides, the rising water is funnelled up the Severn estuary into a wave that travels rapidly upstream against the river current. The largest bores occur in spring, but smaller ones can be seen throughout the year. The bore is accompanied by a rapid rise in water level which continues for about one and a half hours after the bore has passed.
A 3-mile (4.8 km) stretch of the River Severn in Shropshire, is known as Ironbridge Gorge. It was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. Its historic importance is due to its role as the centre of the iron industry in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. The gorge and the village of Ironbridge get their name from the Iron Bridge across the Severn, built in 1779, which was the first cast-iron arch bridge ever constructed.
Two nuclear power stations are situated on the river, in the area of South Gloucestershire. Oldbury Nuclear Power Station and Berkeley Nuclear Power Station both made use of the River Severn as part of the power generation and nuclear cooling processes. Both are now decommissioned.
The sides of the estuary are also important feeding grounds for waders, notably at the Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve and the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust. River shingle habitat can also be found on the lower estuary, notable for its population of the endangered 5-spot Ladybird.
The River Severn is named several times in A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad (1896): "It dawns in Asia, tombstones show/And Shropshire names are read;/And the Nile spills his overflow/Beside the Severn's dead" (“1887"); "Severn stream" (“The Welsh Marches"); and "Severn shore" (“Westward from the high-hilled plain...”).
In William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Henry Hotspur Percy recalls the valor of Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March in a long battle against Welshman Owain Glyndŵr upon the Severn's banks, claiming the flooding Severn "affrighted with (the warriors') bloody looks ran fearfully among the trembling reeds and hid his crisp head in the hollow bank, bloodstained with these valiant combatants."
The Severn was the inspiration for a number of works by Gloucestershire composer Ivor Gurney, including the songs "Western Sailors" (1925) and "Severn Meadows" (1917).
Gloucestershire writer and poet Brian Waters published Severn Tide with J. M. Dent in 1947 and followed it with Severn Stream in 1949. With anecdotal stories about his travels, both books tell of the lives of the people who lived and worked on and along the river, describing the landscape with a poet's eye. Waters links Nodens with the Seven Bore and the association of the Celtic deity with the river is explored at length by Rogers.
Several 20th century English composers wrote works inspired by the river. Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) wrote A Severn Rhapsody, his Opus 3, in 1923; taking the Severn River and its surrounding countryside as his inspiration. Edward Elgar (1857-1934) wrote The Severn Suite, Opus 87, in 1930. Elgar lived much of both his early life and his later life near Worcester, through which the Severn runs. Herbert Howells (1892-1983), born close to the Severn in Lydney, wrote the complex Missa Sabrinensis (Mass of the Severn) in 1954, and an earlier hymn tune simply entitled Severn.
In Julian Barnes' 2011 novel, The Sense of an Ending, Tony, the main character, recalls "a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams," an allusion to a visit to the Severn Bore.
Abermule (Welsh: Aber-miwl) is a village lying on the River Severn 6 km (4 miles) northeast of Newtown in Powys, mid Wales. The A483 Swansea to Chester trunk road, the Cambrian Line railway, connecting Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury, and the Montgomery Canal, close to the river, all pass through Abermule.
The village is part of the Abermule with Llandyssil community.Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal
The Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal (sometimes known as the Hereford and Gloucester Canal) is a canal in the west of England, which ran from Hereford to Gloucester, where it linked to the River Severn. It was opened in two phases in 1798 and 1845, and closed in 1881, when the southern section was used for the course of the Ledbury and Gloucester Railway. It is the subject of an active restoration scheme.Ironbridge
Ironbridge is a town on the River Severn, at the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge, in Shropshire, England. It lies in the civil parish of The Gorge, in the borough of Telford and Wrekin. Ironbridge developed beside, and takes its name from, The Iron Bridge, a 30-metre (100 ft) cast iron bridge that opened in 1781.Little Avon River
The Little Avon River is a small river partly in southern Gloucestershire and partly in South Gloucestershire. For much of its length it forms the boundary between the county of Gloucestershire and the unitary authority of South Gloucestershire. It rises to the east of Wickwar, near Horton, passes near Charfield, Stone and Berkeley, and enters the River Severn via Berkeley Pill. It was formerly navigable up to moorings at Berkeley, but a flood-prevention scheme, built in the 1960s, now prevents navigation more than a few hundred metres upstream.Old River Severn, Upper Lode
Old River Severn, Upper Lode (grid reference SO880331) is a 3.72-hectare (9.2-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Gloucestershire, notified in 1985. It is a cross county border site between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire and Worcestershire.It is on the west side of the Severn to Severn Ham, Tewkesbury SSSI.Rea Brook
The name Rea Brook can refer to either of two brooks (a local term for a small river) in Shropshire, England.
One of the brooks, which eventually becomes the River Rea, is in southern Shropshire. It is to the east of Brown Clee Hill.The other is a minor river that begins at Marton Pool, near the Wales-England border. This runs north-east for 40 kilometres (25 mi) past the villages of Minsterley, Pontesbury, Hanwood and Bayston Hill to Shrewsbury, where it joins the much larger River Severn, after running for approximately 20 miles. It is noted in the county for its wildlife, such as otters and kingfishers. Previously in history, it was known as the "Meole Brook", and gives its name to two villages near Shrewsbury – Meole Brace and Cruckmeole.Rea Brook has changed dramatically since the start of the 21st century with a downturn in the recorded numbers of Coarse fish. The Environment agency put this down to the brook changing from a high capacity watercourse into a fast flowing one. It has been noted that the brook is still plentiful with salmonid type fish.
When the brook reaches Shrewsbury it flows through a local a nature reserve designated in 1994 as the Reabrook Valley Country Park. The valley is noted for its wildlife, specifically otters and orchids that are rare in that part of Shropshire. In its final reaches it curves westwards to its mouth into the River Severn just off Coleham Head in the town. The brook was subjected to extensive flooding in 2000, 2007 and 2010. After the flooding in 2000, it was suggested that a tunnel and culvert be created to divert water away from Rea Brook eastwards where it would enter the River Severn a point further downstream and out of the environs of Shrewsbury. As this cost of this work would have exhausted the funds put aside for flood defences in the town, it was discounted. The 2007 flooding destroyed a bridge which was rebuilt in 2008 with additional archaeological excavations on the leat that ran alongside the Rea Brook in the valley at Shrewsbury. The leat (or mill race) had existed since the medieval period and was disused at the time of the flooding and the bridge repairs necessitated diverting the Rea Brook onto the former leat.The pronunciation of "Rea" varies between REE and RAY. The pronunciation most used by locals for the Shrewsbury river is ; the pronunciation may have been introduced by incomers from Birmingham, where a different River Rea is pronounced that way.River Camlad
The River Camlad (or just Camlad) is a minor river in Powys and Shropshire. It forms part of the border between Wales and England in places, before flowing into the River Severn. It is notable for being the only river to cross from England into Wales and does so twice.
The river originates in England, in the area between Snead and Lydham, flows west, forming part of the border between Wales and England, before flowing northwest into Wales. It passes through Church Stoke, where the River Caebitra flows into the Camlad. From Church Stoke it flows north, crossing the border back into England, and flows just east of Chirbury before turning west again, and forms the border (for the second time) between England and Wales. It turns northwest into Wales (for the second time) to join the River Severn to the west of Forden.River Perry, Shropshire
The River Perry is a river in Shropshire, England. It rises near Oswestry and flows south to meet the River Severn above Shrewsbury. Along its 24 miles (39 km) length, its level drops by some 320 feet (95 m). The channel has been heavily engineered, both to enable water mills to be powered by it, and to improve the drainage of the surrounding land. There were at least seven corn mills in the 1880s, and the last one remained operational until 1966. The middle section of the river crosses Baggy Moor, where major improvements were made in 1777 to drain the moor. The scheme was one of the largest to enclose and improve land in North Shropshire, and the quality of the reclaimed land justified the high cost. A section of the river bed was lowered in the 1980s, to continue the process.
The river is crossed by the Llangollen Canal, and by several bridges which are on the Listed Buildings register. It has formerly suffered from pollution, both from the discharge of poorly treated sewage from two treatment works, and from effluent from factories producing dairy products. These are now well-regulated, but the river was the scene of a major pollution incident in 1985, when pig slurry discharged into it, killing around 100,000 fish.River Teme
The River Teme (pronounced ; Welsh: Afon Tefeidiad) rises in Mid Wales, south of Newtown, and flows through Knighton where it crosses the border into England down to Ludlow in Shropshire, then to the north of Tenbury Wells on the Shropshire/Worcestershire border there, on its way to join the River Severn south of Worcester. The whole of the River Teme was designated as an SSSI, by English Nature, in 1996.
The river is crossed by a number of historic bridges including one at Tenbury Wells that was rebuilt by Thomas Telford following flood damage in 1795. It is also crossed, several times, by the Elan aqueduct.River Tern
The River Tern (also historically known as the Tearne) is a river in Shropshire, England. It rises north-east of Market Drayton in the north of the county. The source of the Tern is considered to be the lake in the grounds of Maer Hall, Staffordshire. From here it flows for about 30 miles (48 km), being fed by the River Meese and the River Roden, until it joins the River Severn near Attingham Park, Atcham.
Extensive peat bog formerly existed, extending from Crudgington on the Tern as far as Newport.
At Longdon-on-Tern, the Tern is spanned by the Longdon-on-Tern Aqueduct, the world's first large-scale cast iron navigable aqueduct, designed by Thomas Telford to carry the Shrewsbury Canal. The 62-yard (57 m) long structure still stands today, but is marooned in the middle of a field.River Vyrnwy
The River Vyrnwy (Welsh: Afon Efyrnwy, pronounced [ɛˈvərnʊɨ]) is a river which flows through northern Powys, Wales, and Shropshire, England. The name derives from Severn, the river of which it is a tributary.The river used to be sourced from the many rivers and streams running off the mountains surrounding the Vyrnwy valley. However, since the Lake Vyrnwy dam was built in the 1880s, the river has flowed directly from the base of the dam. The river runs for 39.7 miles (63.9 km), and the last 8 miles (12.9 km) form part of the Welsh/English border between Powys and Shropshire. It eventually joins the River Severn near the village of Melverley.The river is paddled frequently by kayakers and canoeists, with the upper reaches of the river being predominantly Grade II white water with a few Grade III sections, most notably the Vyrnwy Gorge near the village of Dolanog. The other most prominent feature of the upper river is Dolanog Falls, a 20-foot-high (6 m) man-made weir that requires a portage by both kayaks and canoes.Much of the lower river below Pontrobert is Grade I and a good touring river due to being relatively placid when not in flood.River Worfe
The River Worfe is a river in Shropshire, England. The name Worfe is said to derive from the Old English meaning to wander (or meander) which the river is notable for in its middle section. Mapping indicates that the river begins at Cosford Bridge where the Cosford Brook and Albrighton Brook meet (Cosford Brook, a local name, is itself the confluence of the Ruckley Brook and Neachley Brook).Sabrina Vallis
Sabrina Vallis is a valley in the Lunae Palus quadrangle of Mars, located at 11.0 °North and 49.0 °West. It is 280 km long and was named after the classical name of the River Severn in England and Wales.Severn Bridge railway station
Severn Bridge railway station was a small station on the Severn Bridge Railway located close to the north west bank of the River Severn, 2 miles north east of Lydney.Severn Way
The Severn Way is a waymarked long-distance footpath in the United Kingdom, which follows the course of the River Severn through Mid Wales and western England.Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal
The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal is a navigable narrow canal in Staffordshire and Worcestershire in the English Midlands. It is 46 miles (74 km) long, linking the River Severn at Stourport in Worcestershire with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Haywood Junction by Great Haywood.Stourport-on-Severn
Stourport-on-Severn, often shortened to Stourport, is a town and civil parish in the Wyre Forest District of North Worcestershire, England, a few miles to the south of Kidderminster and down stream on the River Severn from Bewdley. Stourport lies on the River Severn, and at the time of the 2011 census had a population of 20,292.In 2006, Stourport-on-Severn was granted Fairtrade Town status.Upton-upon-Severn
Upton-upon-Severn (or Upton on Severn, etc. and locally simply Upton) is a small town and civil parish in the Malvern Hills District of Worcestershire, England. The 2011 census recorded a population of 2,881 making it the smallest town in the county.
Upton is situated on the west bank of the River Severn and is located 5 miles (8.0 km) southeast of Malvern. The town has a distinctive tower and copper-clad cupola – known locally as the "Pepperpot" – the only surviving remnant of a former church.Worcester and Birmingham Canal
The Worcester and Birmingham Canal is a canal linking Birmingham and Worcester in England. It starts in Worcester, as an 'offshoot' of the River Severn (just after the river lock) and ends in Gas Street Basin in Birmingham. It is 29 miles (47 km) long.
There are 58 locks in total on the canal, including the 30 Tardebigge Locks, one of the largest lock flights in Europe. The canal climbs 428 feet (130 m) from Worcester to Birmingham.
River Severn, Great Britain
Settlements on the River Severn between Gloucester and Bristol (heading downstream)
Transport in Worcestershire
Transport in Gloucestershire
|Airports and Heliports|