The Waterfront Weekender: The River Severn

Let the slow, meandering turns of the River Severn guide you past lush flood meadows and through towns and villages steeped in history

Illustration: Louise Weir

 

The slow-moving waters of the Severn pass through constantly shifting scenery on the river’s lengthy journey from source to sea. With the illustrious title of the longest river in the UK, the Severn begins its journey in the towering Welsh mountains, before winding through historic cities, ambling alongside lush farmland before spilling out into its estuary. A long-distance footpath, the Severn Way, runs the entire length of the river’s 220 miles and is the ideal way to explore this waterway on foot.

Now famed for its curious tidal bore – where an unfathomable combination of tides and geography cause a series of waves to pass upriver as far as Tewkesbury – the Severn was once renowned for being a major transportation route. Traffic was at its peak in the mid-18th century, when boats laden with coal, pig iron, salt and timber would journey downstream with their precious cargo. The journey upstream took supplies for the thriving riverside towns and cities along its banks. Up until Gloucester, the boats could ride the tide; above this, the towpath was, at times, unsuitable for horses and teams of up to 20 men would tow the boats along.

The grassy stretch between the architecturally-rich town of Tewkesbury and the historic city of Worcester is 20 miles, so it’s an achievable walk over a weekend or a small enough area to explore slowly by car. Along this stretch, the river meanders through quaint villages and wide riverside hams (flood meadows), passing alongside farmland and woods, with the ridge of the stunning Malvern Hills never far from sight.

Arriving in Tewkesbury
Tewkesbury is perched at the meeting point of the rivers Severn and Avon. The town has mismatch of architecture: medieval half-timbered buildings sit alongside Tudor and Georgian structures, all crisscrossed by a network of alleyways that invite exploration.

Alongside the Abbey, famed for its imposing Norman tower, there’s a wealth of tempting coffee shops and charity shops. Once you’ve stuffed your pockets with sausage rolls and cakes, head down to the river at Quay Street and cross the Avon, taking a right in front of the towering derelict Borough Flour Mill (or Healings Mill as it was known), which was thought of as the largest and most modern mill in the world when it was built in 1865.

Follow the towpath to the bridge ahead, turn left onto the road and keep your eyes peeled for the waymarker. The walk then skirts the edge of a wide grassy meadow, which marks the confluence of the Severn and Avon.

Walking into Worcestershire

The river here is broad and leisurely; leisure boats pootle up or down its slow-moving waters. As you approach and pass under the thundering M50 bridge, the path continues to follow the gentle curves of the river, switching between lush meadows replete with butterflies and shady tree-lined sections bustling with bird song.

Just before Upton upon Severn, you’ll reach the vast expanse of Upton Ham, nestled in a grand sweeping curve in the river. Across the meadow, you’ll get your first full view of the Malvern Hills, emerging dramatically out of the surrounding flat terrain. Follow the edge of the meadow to reach a weeping willow-lined path, which guides you into the town.

Exploring Upton upon Severn
One of the first things you’ll notice about Upton upon Severn is its enticing row of riverside pubs, each boasting an enviable view of the water and the perfect place to stop for a pint of real ale. It also pays to venture further into town to check out the beautiful timber-framed Ye Olde Anchor Inn and the White Lion. The latter dates back to 1510 and features in the book Tom Jones.

Thirst sated, take a wander around this small town that holds an important past. Upton upon Severn was once a port and the river would once bustled with traffic. It was made even more important by being the only river crossing in the area – it was even used by Cromwell’s men in the Battle of Worcester. Your walk will undoubtedly take you past the Pepperpot: a distinctive tower that is the sole remnant of a 14th-century church, which once stood at the heart of the town.

Three times a year the town comes to life with music; these folk, jazz and blues festivals are nationally renowned and see everyone from Morris dancers to swing musicians taking to the streets to celebrate.

Crossing open country
Leaving Upton upon Severn behind and crossing to the opposite bank, you will soon be greeted with expansive views of the surrounding countryside. After a few miles, the path deviates from the river bank a couple of times, but returns in time to pass through Lower Ham and Upper Ham meadows at the edge of the village of Kempsey. As you pass the village, you will see the tower of St Mary’s Church. While the tower was built in the 15th century, parts of the red and grey sandstone building date from late Norman times.

Just before passing under the A4440, take a short diversion up to the Ketch Viewpoint, where you can get a fantastic view over the site of the Battle of Worcester, which took place during the English Civil War. Walking upstream, keep your eye out for the boundary stone that marks the edge of the city, and a mile upstream you’ll reach Cherry Orchard Local Nature Reserve, flower-rich scrubland that’s filled with butterflies, songbirds, grass snakes and kingfishers.

Out of the countryside, into the city
At Diglis, the river divides to form a small island. On one side, water gushes over a wide weir; on the other, a pair of locks operate – representing one of only six locks on the River Severn.

Beyond this, as you amble down tree-lined avenues, the looming shape of Worcester Cathedral draws closer. The city’s hotchpotch of architecture is a delight – look out for everything from Norman to Medieval, Gothic to Victorian. Once you pass the Cathedral, continue up High Street (keeping your eyes peeled for the Edward Elgar statue) all the way to Foregate Station, where your journey ends.

Trip planner
While you’re here

The Malvern Hills will keep you company along this entire route, so why not take the opportunity to summit the hills and take in panoramic views from the Worcestershire Beacon? You can park in Upper Wyche, where a 4.5 mile walk takes you up to the summit (425m) and back.

Rainy day
The John Moore Museum in Tewkesbury will teach you all about local wildlife in the region, with taxidermy specimens, living history days and much more – all nestled in a row of beautiful, timber-framed buildings.

Local food
If you’re lucky enough to be in town on the second Saturday of the month, head straight to the Tewkesbury Farmers & Craft Market, to pick up picnic ingredients. Along the route, Upton upon Severn boasts a strong variety of riverside pubs, where you can seek out everything from tapas to classic pub food. In Kempsey, the Walter de Cantelupe Inn is famed for its traditionally brewed and cellared British beers, so is a must-visit for real ale fans.

Wildlife to spot
There are several ‘hams’ along the Severn – meaning a flood meadow or meadow in the bend of a river – and these are wonderful places to observe wildlife. Severn Ham meadow in Tewkesbury and Upton Ham are great places to spot redshank, curlew and skylarks. In summer, expect to see an abundance of mayflies and damselflies and, if you’re lucky, water voles and otter might even make an appearance.

Did you know…?
During the dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the residents of Tewkesbury bought the Abbey building for the sum of £453 to prevent it being destroyed.

 

Boat trips and hire
ABC Boat Hire
Worcester Marina, Lowesmoor Wharf, Worcester, WR1 2RS
0330 3330 590
www.abcboathire.com
Narrow boat hire for both short breaks and holidays.

Severn Expeditions
Upton Marina, Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire, WR8 0PB
01684 592 654
www.severnexpeditions.co.uk
Self-drive and skippered boats available.

Severn Leisure Cruises
The Boathouse, Riverside, Upton upon Severn, WR8 0HG
01684 593112
severnleisurecruises.co.uk/
A number of river cruises available, including afternoon tea and Sunday lunch trips.

Starline Narrowboats
01531 632003
www.starlinenarrowboats.co.uk
Located in Stourport-on-Severn, Starline hires out narrowboats for longer trips.

Public transport
Between Monday and Saturday, the 363 bus runs from Worcester to Tewkesbury every two hours, so consider parking in Worcester and getting the bus to the start of the walk. On a Sunday, regular trains run approximately every two hours between Worcester Foregate Street and Ashchurch, after which it’s a short ride on the 41 bus from Ashchurch train station to the centre of Tewkesbury. Make sure you check the time of the last train.

More info
Find out more about the Severn Navigation, as well as the Trust’s role in managing the waterway, by visiting our website.