Every spring and autumn, a spectacular natural phenomenon takes place in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean. You may have seen the photos of the surfing Stormtroopers last year, but how much do you know about the Severn Bore?
It’s World Famous
At 13 metres, the Bristol Channel has the third largest tidal range of any river in the whole world beaten only by the Bay of Fundy and Ungava Bay, both in Canada. This makes the Severn Bore one of the few river waves tall and fast enough to surf.
Run Fast, Stand Tall
During the spring tides, the Bore regularly creates waves over two metres tall that travel up the river at up 13 miles per hour.
The Surfing Sixties
The largest wave ever recorded was on the 15th October 1966 when it reached a height of 9.2 feet (2.8 metres).
While the Bore itself may be ancient, it was only last century that people started to surf it. Jack Churchill, a WWII veteran, was the first. A surfing enthusiast in later life, he surfed the Bore on a board he designed himself.
Severn on Screen
Ten years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Jack Churchill’s surf, film-maker Donny Wright presented Longwave. Celebrating the River Severn as the birthplace of bore surfing, the film explored its history and evolution. It’s a must see for anyone interested in the sport: www.thelongwave.com
The current holder of the longest surf on the Bore is Steve King, a railway engineer from Gloucestershire. In 2006 he set a world-record surfing the Bore for a distance of 9.25 miles, 7.6 miles in the standing position, in a time of 1 hour 17 minutes.
By the Light of the Moon
As with the tides of the sea, the secret of the Severn Bore lies in the waning and waxing of the moon. Although waves occur throughout the year, the best can be seen during the Vernal Equinox (spring) and Autumnal Equinox. This makes February, March, April and August, September, October the best times to see and surf the Bore.
The Bore works within a nine-year cycle with the highest tides occurring at different times around the full and new moons.
From Bank to Bank
A key reason for the speed and height of the Bore is how narrow it becomes as it travels up the Severn. Starting at around five miles wide at Avonmouth, it passes Lydney at one mile wide. By Minsterworth, it is less than a hundred yards across, a width it maintains all the way up to Gloucester.
What a View
While the Bore may be a highlight in surfers’ calendar, there’s plenty of chances to enjoy it while staying dry. Make your way to the riverbanks at Minsterworth, Newnham or Broadoak to catch some of the best views along the Severn. While you’re more likely to see people on the river during the day, at night the sight of the white surf moving up the smooth water can be truly spectacular. Head to the Severn Bore pub and make the most of their spotlights which illuminate the Bore as it passes by.
Keep up-to-date with the times of the Severn Bore at here.