False truth crossing and other tales

Bend in the Severn 

Richard Lutz looks back at another miasmic week 

Didn’t Dylan write a song called I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine? The old boy wrote so many I’ve lost track. And, anyway, he sings like a drunken bee stuck in an old fruit jar.

There is a legend, a timeless alt-truth, that the first Archbishop of England, St Augustine (one of two St Augustines, mind you) trod his way to Wales sometime in the late sixth century and crossed the mighty River Severn near the Gloucestershire village of Arlingham. No bridge, of course. Maybe, if it happened at all, just a muddy ford in this curvy part of the tidal river twenty miles up from the Severn Bridge.

Today, near this false truth crossing, sandbars emerge from the waters as the current ebbs and flows. This is a huge horseshoe bend. It travels 9 miles to go a single mile south. It’s a big loop. Here’s what it looks like:

Water and sandbars

We are on the Severn Path, which follows all 200-odd miles of the river. The day is really the first day of spring. A shallow warmth touches my faded winter skin. The sky is blue and daffodils are peeking out. Upstairs, so to speak, skylarks zoom up and down and bless the spring with song. It’s down to tee shirts. 

At the Old Passage Inn, with its fish restaurant, we peer over the river (and where the pious Augie may have crossed 1,500 years ago) and see the old flat-bottomed Severn barges in their dry docks. They can roll right down from their perches and out to the sea at Avonmouth. But right now, they are tucked up under the red clay embankments that support the village opposite- Newnham.

We continue the walk on the ramp of the  flood barriers. Pillboxes, crumbling, empty and stolid, guard the riverbank from German armies that never attacked. You can understand why the earthen barriers are needed. Without them, Arlingham’s fertile fields would flood. After all, this remote part of the world is encased by a horseshoe river loop. And this danger would be increased by the roaring Severn Bore, which is not a local telling endless stories in the corner of the village pub but a rumbling wave that roars upriver annually – so strong that surfers enjoy a free ride (as below from my drone-cam…)


The river and footpath curve and then we head into Arlingham proper, guarded on three sides by the looping river and on the fourth by a canal. It is on an island of sorts and it feels cut off, unchanged and quintessentially English. Crowning the village is St Mary the Virgin  with its elegant and resolute 14th #century original glass, the  best, Pevsner asserts, in Gloucestershire. Drowsy lanes disappear around corners, horses browse the fields and everyone’s got their washing out in the afternoon sun.

It is a bit of a drive to get to this part of the county from my home. And it takes a bit of time. I drive slower now than I was earlier this week. And that’s for one reason. I spent a delightful four hours in a speed awareness classroom to avoid three points on my licence (mea culpa).

I learned a lot, mostly about what a bad driver I am and what a passable driver I could possibly become. Suddenly, after the coursework, I actually take in the wealth of warnings and limits on the roadsides. Hey, those numbers on those round signs are speed limits. Ha. Never knew that. Oh, I see, that sign with the word Stop means you have to stop the car. Right…

So, actually, I admit to myself, I really never knew much about the laws of the road. I’d forgotten everything I crammed into my head decades ago when I took my initial test. It just dripped out of my ears – just like the schoolboy French I never really learned. I now stand – or rather drive – corrected.

Maybe I will be a better driver when I upgrade my Passat with the VW cheating device still embedded in its exhaust’s guts. I have had it with cheating, devious, corrupt VW. I am looking at a Honda with a series of letters for a name with lots of acronyms and numbers after it. It looks like code rather than a model of a vehicle. I check its specs. Yes, I will get a headlight auto on/off timer and  sub-boot luggage box and something called Super Locking. Oh yes, it also has max torque (Nm@rpm) of  155Nm/4000rpm and a top speed of 119mph. Good, I feel totally geared up and safer. And ready to brainlessly break the speed limit again.


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