Friday, 5 December 2014

See a quirk of nature: Go and watch The Bore

by Dana&Ron/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
My teenage son rolled his eyes at the idea of a Family Day Out. "What even is The Bore?" he asked. So, for any of you who also don’t know or understand what it is (I wasn’t sure), let's start with The Sciency Bit. Listen up! 

The Severn Bore is one of Britain’s natural wonders: a large surge wave that travels up the river against the current.
This happens because: 1) The difference between the high tide and the low tide in the Severn Estuary is 15.4m – the third biggest in the world. 2) The shape of the estuary is like a funnel, getting narrower and narrower. As a result, during the highest tides, the incoming water is forced up the river, creating the bore.

It happens twice a day on about 130 days of the year and it's one of the biggest, bestest bores in the world. The wave can be over two metres high and cascades through the countryside at speeds of up to 13 miles an hour. Big and fast enough to attract surfers.
by PapaPiper/CC BY-ND 2.0
In fact, in 2006, a local called Steve King set the world bore-surfing record here when he rode up the river for 7.6 miles! “Unlike surfing in the sea,” he says, “You can ride along looking at the cows in the fields. There’s nothing better!”
by Anguskirk/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (adapted)
Most of the time, the bores are unspectacular, but there's a timetable online which gives them stars according to their power: The big ones are often at unearthly times of the night or during the school day, but we were in luck: There was a 5* star one due at the weekend at a very civilized time of the morning. 
Apparently, The Severn Bore Inn at Minsterworth is a great viewpoint. And they serve hot drinks and food during a bore and floodlight the river for night-time ones. But Overbridge, in Gloucester, was only about an hour's drive away for us, and the one place you can get a direct “over the river” view.

As we gobbled down breakfast and set off on a cold, damp, November Sunday morning, I wondered if our expectations were too high. I'd had the theme tune and images of the opening credits from Hawaii Five O rolling through my head for days.

But when we got close and spotted hundreds of people lining the bridge, and TV camera crews setting up, the excitement kicked in again. It was cold enough to see your breath crystallize in the air, but the atmosphere was warm and buzzy. People shuffled along happily to let us squeeze in for a good view.  
by Diamond Geezer/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
There was a sense of communal anticipation, as if someone or something really special was about to turn up. Like a celebrity on a speedboat. Or the Loch Ness Monster. We checked the time: 9.47 am. 23 minutes to go.

We watched a few individuals with big fancy cameras scrabbling down from the bridge onto the river bank for a better shot. It made me nervous. Wouldn't they be swept away and drowned? Then the surfers appeared, ten or more, lying in wait, ready to pounce. That made it feel even more exciting.
“What’s the time now?” asked my son. 9.59. Only 11 minutes to go.The adrenaline levels of the crowd got tangibly higher as the countdown in our heads got louder. “When’s it coming?” asked my daughter, teeth chattering. “Only three minutes now," I told her. We peered and peered and peered down the river, our eyes alert to every tiny stirring of the water, until we were almost hallucinating The Bore.

10.10 came. Nothing. 10.12. Nothing. 10.16. Still nothing. “It’s okay,” said a man close to us. “It can be up to 10 minutes late.” The whole crowd was willing it to come now, with the might of people round a ouija board. Perhaps we could make it come with the collective power of our minds.

10.20 passed. People were starting to drift away now. Even the surfers were giving up, clambering out of the river like deflated seals. But I was still clinging to hope. I mean, could it really just not come? Did tides just sometimes change their minds? Perhaps the whole thing was an urban myth.

Then someone who really seemed to know what they were talking about informed us: “It’s been and gone.” WHAT? I DIDN'T SEE IT! “Look at the land at the side of the river,” he said. “It’s completely covered in water. It wasn’t before. The Bore did that. It's just that we’ve had so much rain lately and the river level is so high that you couldn't tell it was there.”
by Dana&Ron/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Oh. Our adrenaline trickled down into our muddy shoes and we too slumped back to the car.

We did manage to salvage the day with a visit to The Gloucester Waterways Museum which has a great ‘hands-on’ system of canals and locks for kids to maneouvre boats through (kept my daughter happy).
And a warming lunch in an Indian restaurant (always the way to my son’s heart).

“Well, that was BORE-ing!!!” said my son, with a mouthful of poppadom. But as soon as he got home, he googled when the next 5* star one was.

2015, they’re saying, is going to be a cracking year.

If you like this, you might like Visit a crop circle.


  1. I was really excited too, for a minute. Oh well thankfully your day ended well. We are also big fans of a family meal at our favourite Indian restaurant.

    Thanks for sharing on #WASO

  2. I got all excited reading that then!! :)

  3. Yes, sorry to disappoint! That Nature Thing - has a mind of its flippin' own.

  4. Hiya, I'm a Severn Bore Surfer, when river levels are high (pretty much all winter!) your best bet is to view the bore further downstream at Newnham. You won't be disappointed down there on a big tide. There's some gooduns weekend after next and five star bores with all the associated crowds in February half-term week. Cheers, Dave.

  5. Great to hear from you, Dave - thanks for the tip! We will get ourselves down there! Happy surfing!