As surfers delight in the Severn bore - here's everything you need to know

22nd Mar 19 | Lifestyle

It's a watery wonder.

Spring weather Apr 10th 2016

A so-called ‘super bore’ has ripped through the Severn Estuary, to the joy of surfers and spectators alike.

A puzzling natural phenomenon, a bore is an upriver surge of tidal water, forming a fast-moving wave that can travel for several miles. Since the Severn Estuary has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world – about 13 metres – its bores are massive to match.

Here are all the facts about the Severn bore, one of the UK’s weirdest natural curiosities – and how you can get involved yourself.

But first a word of caution: There are flood warnings in place across Gloucestershire. Officials are advising not to take part in Bore-surfing unless you have prior surfing experience.

Severn Bore
Surfers ride the first five-star Severn bore of 2019 (Ben Birchall/PA)

What is the Severn bore?

We hope you remember your O-Level geography, because waves travelling upriver is just as confusing as it sounds.

Confusion amid the Severn bore
(Ben Birchall/PA)

When waves enter the Bristol Channel, and subsequently the River Severn, they bottleneck, slowing and narrowing substantially to fit the decreasing space. The funnelled water begins to build in height, exacerbated by the increasingly shallow floor of the estuary. Above a sandbar the channel narrows sharply again, concentrating the bore, creating the iconic roaring sound that accompanies the surge upstream.

For the Too Long Didn’t Reads among you: It’s a large upriver wave.

A Severn sensation

In the pre-surf era the bore’s main job was to be a nuisance to ships sailing up the channel to Gloucester Docks. Canny captains could make it upriver without getting gored, but downstream journeys in bore season usually required at least one layover.

The first man known to have surfed the bore was Jack Churchill – a World War II veteran famous for carrying a Scottish broadsword into battle, and being the only allied soldier to kill a man with a longbow. An extraordinarily eccentric man, he surfed a mile and a half upriver in 1955.

Bore splash in 1952
Bore watchers get a little too close to comfort in 1952 (PA)

A group of Cornish lifeguards followed his feat in 1962, and the longest successful surf now yields a spot in the Guinness Book of Records. The top spot has changed hands many times over the years, but the current holder is Steve King, a Gloucestershire rail engineer, who surfed the Severn for 7.6 miles in 2006.

1966 saw the highest ever recorded bore – a whopping 2.8 metres.

How can I take part?

Technically, the Severn is overflowing with bores – they occur roughly twice a day 130 days a year – but bores of significant size are rather less common. Today’s effort marks the first ‘five star’ bore of 2019, with two more scheduled for late September.

Severn Bore
Surfers prepare to do battle with the bore (Ben Birchall/PA)

There is a full timetable at the Severn Bore website, which predicts bore time and quality a year in advance, and observers often line the banks hours in advance to watch the bore unfold. Participants should enter the water at least 20 minutes before the bore’s ETA, as the surges do not always keep to schedule.

The villages of Epney, Arlingham and Newnham on Severn are prime bore-watching spots, and each offer a pleasing array of riverside pubs. Spectators should either stand well away from the water, or wear waterproof clothing and be ready for some serious spray.

© Press Association 2019