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The River Severn (Welsh: Afon Hafren, Latin: Sabrina) is the longest river in Great Britainmarker, at . It rises at an altitude of on Plynlimonmarker near Llanidloesmarker, Powysmarker, in the Cambrian Mountainsmarker of mid Walesmarker. It then flows through Shropshiremarker, Worcestershire and Gloucestershiremarker, with the county towns of Shrewsburymarker, Worcestermarker, and Gloucestermarker on its banks. With an average discharge of 107 m³/s at Apperleymarker, Gloucestershire, the Severn is England's greatest river in terms of water flow.

The river is usually considered to become the Severn Estuary after the Second Severn Crossingmarker between Severn Beachmarker, South Gloucestershire and Sudbrookmarker, Monmouthshire. The river then discharges into the Bristol Channelmarker which in turn discharges into the Celtic Seamarker and the wider Atlantic Oceanmarker. The Severn's drainage basin area is , excluding the River Wye and Bristol Avon which flow into the Bristol Channel. The major tributaries to the Severn are the Vyrnwymarker, Teme, Warwickshire Avon and Stourmarker.


According to some sources, the name "Severn" is derived from the name Sabrina (or Hafren), based on the mythical story of a nymph who drowned in the river. Sabrina is also the goddess of the River Severn in Brythonic mythology. The story of Sabrina is featured in Milton's Comus. There is a statue of 'Sabrina' in the Dingle Gardens at the Quarrymarker, Shrewsburymarker.

As the Severn becomes tidal the associated deity changes to Noadu (Romanized as Nodens), who is represented mounted on a seahorse, riding on the crest of the Severn bore.

Tributary rivers

The River Stourmarker rises in the north of Worcestershire in the Clent Hillsmarker, near St Kenelm's Church at Romsley. It flows north into the adjacent West Midlands at Halesowenmarker. It then flows westwards through Cradley Heathmarker and Stourbridgemarker where it leaves the Black Countrymarker. It is joined by the Smestow Brook at Prestwood before it winds around southwards to Kinvermarker, and then flows back into Worcestershire. It then passes through Wolverleymarker, Kidderminstermarker and Wildenmarker to its confluence with the Severn at Stourport-on-Severnmarker.

The River Vyrnwymarker, which begins at Lake Vyrnwymarker, flows eastwards through Powysmarker before forming the border between England and Wales, joining the Severn near Melverleymarker, Shropshiremarker. The Rea Brook flows north from its source in the Shropshire Hillsmarker and joins the Severn at Shrewsburymarker. The River Ternmarker, after flowing south from Market Draytonmarker and being joined by the River Rodenmarker, meets the Severn at Attingham Parkmarker.

The River Worfe joins the Severn, just above Bridgnorthmarker. The River Stourmarker rising on the Clent Hillsmarker and flowing through Halesowenmarker, Stourbridgemarker, and Kidderminstermarker, joins the Severn at Stourportmarker. On the opposite bank, the tributaries are only brooks, Borle Brook, Dowles Brook draining the Wyre Forestmarker and Dick Brook.
The source of the River Severn in the Winter of 2006.
The River Teme flows eastwards from its source in Mid Walesmarker, straddling the border between Shropshiremarker and Herefordshiremarker, it is joined by the River Onnymarker, River Corve and River Reamarker before it finally joins the Severn slightly downstream of Worcestermarker.

One of the several rivers named Avon, in this case the Warwickshire Avon, flows west through Rugbymarker, Warwickmarker and Stratford-upon-Avonmarker. It is then joined by its tributary the River Arrowmarker, before finally joining the Severn at Tewkesburymarker, Gloucestershiremarker.

The port of Bristolmarker is located on the Severn Estuary, where another River Avon flows into it through the Avon Gorgemarker.

The River Wye, from its source in Plynlimonmarker, Walesmarker, flows generally south east through the Welsh towns of Rhayadermarker and Builth Wellsmarker. It enters Herefordshiremarker, flows through Herefordmarker, and is shortly afterwards joined by the River Lugg, before flowing through Ross-on-Wyemarker and Monmouthmarker, and then southwards where it forms the boundary between England (Forest of Deanmarker) and Walesmarker. It flows into the Severn near the town of Chepstowmarker, slightly upstream of the Bristol Avon on the opposite bank.

The River Uskmarker flows into the Severn Estuary just south of Newportmarker.

Major settlements

Below is a list of major towns and cities that the Severn flows through (in order running downstream):Through Powysmarker: Through Shropshiremarker: Through Worcestershire: Through Gloucestershiremarker:



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 Ironbridgemarker, which was the world's first iron arch bridge.

The two bridges of the Severn crossing carrying roads link Wales with the southern counties of England and are among the most important in Britain.

Previous to the construction of the first bridge in 1966, the channel was crossed by the Aust Ferry.


The Severn Tunnel, completed in 1886 by John Hawkshaw on behalf of the Great Western Railway, lies near the Second Severn Crossingmarker road bridge, and carries the Great Western Main Line under the channel.

Cars could also be transported through the Severn Tunnel. In the 1950s three trains a day made round trips between Severn Tunnel Junctionmarker and Pilningmarker. 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 grade leading to the tunnel exit. A rail coach was provided for passengers and drivers. Reservations could be made and the fee for the car was about thirty shillings in the early 1950s.


There have been many disasters on the Severn, making it Britain's most dangerous river. It has claimed many lives (figures vary depending on how it is recorded, circa 300 people), especially during the 20th century.


There is a public right of navigation between Pool Quay, near Welshpoolmarker, and Stourportmarker. However this stretch of the river has little traffic, other than small pleasure boats, canoes and some tour boats in Shrewsbury. Below Stourport, where the river is more navigable for larger craft, users must obtain permits from British Waterways, who are the navigation authority.

At Upper Parting above Gloucester, the river divides into two, and flows either side of Alney Islandmarker 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 Canalmarker 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.


There are locks on the lower Severn to enable sea going boats to reach as far as Stourportmarker. The most northerly lock is at Lincombe, about a mile downstream from Stourport.

Associated canals

The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalmarker, the Worcester and Birmingham Canalmarker, and the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canalmarker all join the Severn at Stourportmarker, Worcestermarker and Gloucestermarker respectively. The Droitwich Barge Canalmarker used to join the Severn at Hawfordmarker, near to the River Salwarpemarker.

The Gloucester and Sharpness Canalmarker connects the Severn at Gloucester to the Severn at Sharpnessmarker, avoiding a stretch of the tidal river which is dangerous to navigate. The Stroudwater Navigation used to join the tidal Severn at Framilodemarker, but since the 1920s has connected to the Severn only via the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.

The Lydney Canalmarker is a short canal which connects Lydneymarker to the river.

Passenger transport

The tidal river

Paddle steamers were operated in the Severn Estuary from the mid 19th century to the late 1970s by P and A Campbell of Bristolmarker. 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 Passagemarker, Purtonmarker and Arlinghammarker. The last ferry was the Aust Ferry, which closed in 1966 when the Severn Bridge opened. The Aust Ferry was operated by three ferries, the Severn King, Severn Queen and Severn Princess. The Severn Princess was restored at Chepstowmarker after being found in Ireland full of fertiliser, and is to form part of a maritime exhibition. The Severn King and Severn Queen were scrapped not long after their decommission.

The upper river

In Worcester, the Worcester River Cruises have boat trips up and down the river between Tewkesburymarker and Stourportmarker, operating the boats The Pride of the Midlands and The Earl Grosvenor.

In Shropshire the Hampton Loade Ferrymarker operates across the river.

In Shrewsbury, boat trips around the loop of the town centre are at present provided by the Sabrina and depart from Victoria Quay near the Welsh Bridgemarker during the summer.

Severn Estuary

The river becomes tidal at Maisemoremarker, 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 Crossingmarker near Severn Beachmarker, South Gloucestershire (the point to which the jurisdiction of the Gloucester Harbour Trustees extends), or at Austmarker, the site of the Severn Bridgemarker.

The Severn Estuary extends to a line from Lavernock Pointmarker (south of Cardiffmarker) to Sand Pointmarker near Weston-super-Maremarker. West of this line is the Bristol Channelmarker. In the Severn Estuary (or the Bristol Channelmarker in the last two cases, depending where the boundary is drawn) are the rocky islands called Denny Islandmarker, Steep Holmmarker and Flat Holmmarker.

The estuary is about wide at Aust, and about wide between Cardiff and Weston-super-Mare.

Severn bore

Bore hitting the riverbank in 1994
A curious phenomenon associated with the lower reaches of the Severn is the tidal bore, which forms somewhat upstream of the port of Sharpnessmarker.

The river's estuary, which empties into the Bristol Channelmarker, has the second largest tidal range in the world — about ,exceeded only by the Bay of Fundymarker ; and during the highest tides, the rising water is funnelled up the 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 6 mile (10 km) stretch in Shropshiremarker, known as Ironbridge Gorgemarker, was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCOmarker 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. Ironbridge gets its name from the bridge across the Severn, built in 1779, which was the first cast-iron arch bridge ever constructed.


The sides of the estuary are also important feeding grounds for waders, notably at the Bridgwater Baymarker National Nature Reserve and the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trustmarker.

Literary allusions

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…”).

See also


  1. Clucas, P. (1985) Britain - The Landscape Below. Guildford: Colour Library Books. ISBN 0-86283-174-1
  2. Ordnance Survey
  3. Waverley Excursions website
  4. This is Gloucestershire 13 August 2009
  5. Worcester River Cruises website
  6. Shrewsbury Boat website

External links

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