Edging The Estuary


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Where is it set?

From the English border at Chepstow all the way to Worm's Head at the end of Gower. Across the waters tracking the line of the Barrage. Upstream to where the tides run out at Gloucester. The Islands. The ships. The boats. The Lave fishermen at the Severn Bridge. The tunnels. The outfalls. The bays and beaches. The power stations and cities. The ports. The harbours. The mud. The wrecks and the caves. The English coast all the way to Lynmouth. The railways and the piers and the hotels and the funfairs. The drinkers, the drunks, the sandwich eaters, the ice cream consumers, the dog walkers, the hunters, the bike riders, the nature lovers, those who wreck, those with time on their hands. The past and the present. How this place was once water, then all green valley and how, down the line, it will all be water again. The walls and salt marshes. Where Wales becomes England. The Severn Estuary. The edge that runs for miles and miles.

What's it like?

For the moment it's largely flat, as coasts often are. This one in its eastern reaches is especially so. It is flat because the waters have made it thus. It heads west in front of me in a green self-indulgence of farm with horses, caravan park, wrecking yard, container terminal, turf field, mud beach, yacht mooring, sewage outfall, sprawl of hardcore, smashed car, overgrowth, undergrowth, top growth, bottom growth, followed by centuries lost fish henge, putcher rack, warning light, ditch, drain, reen, and edge path pulped by cattle, stamped by men with rifles and rods, walkers with dogs, in trainers, in boots, in country clothes where, like the landscape, the green and the mud brown merge. This coast that ebbs and flows as the tides do. Seawalls hold them back.

This is how the estuary begins.



Big Cardiff?

This is the Tudor city region of Cardiff. The one I've walked in my search for knowledge of that city. The place I was born. Cardiff. Haven from the estuary's sea tigers. Port. A place where the Tudor kings stationed their customs men. Everything that landed between Chepstow and Worm's Head was under their control. They sat in their stone house in the Porte of Kerdiv. The port of Cairdiff. The town at the mouth of the Tav. The place where the rivers of Roth and Rymni and Eilly all joined in a mud-filled delta rush. Cardiff with its tiny population, less than two thousand in 1559 when the place was designated a head port, commanding the whole of south east Wales.

How did Finch explore it?

In 2011 I set out to walk it. The whole 138 mile route from the Bridge over the Wye into England at Chepstow to the America-facing sea cave at the far tip of the Worm's Head peninsula in Gower. It took a while. I had companions. Fellow writers, fellow walkers. I discovered a city region I never knew. One full of rain and light, alienated from itself, crashed about with industry and the remains of the same, scattered with farm and fence, overbuilt, underbuilt, used for things you couldn't site where people lived. And at the same time a place so dazzlingly beautiful you wondered why the world didn't come here to see it. With its sunrises and sunsets and its layered cliffs falling slowly into the western sea.

This was a Cardiff big enough for its real purpose. Capital. Metropolitan centre of a largely resentful and ever-rural Wales.

Who did Finch talk to?

To put this place I'd now discovered into context I went east as far as the tidal Severn travelled. Crossed the waters to the English coast and travelled that just to see how Wales might look through other's eyes. I talked to industrialists, power generators, barrage builders, environmentalists, authors, dog walkers, port operators, lighthouse keepers, holiday makers, train enthusiasts, fishermen, ship owners, administrators, travellers, drinkers, and people who lived in sight of the waters because that's what they did.

Cardiff East Dock David Davies at Barry

What happened next?

In 2012 I finished. I reached my destination. In the process I'd acquired an understanding about just what this border region was. About this place where one thing finished and another began. I'd learned how Wales ended in water, how England in its riches watched, how the tides kept on and how this great sea-filled valley rolled on out into the wider world.

If I had a purpose it was to walk the coast and then somehow cement what I'd covered into one great conurbation, a super city. A city edging the sea, filled with fields as much as metropolitan overbuild, an economic and cultural powerhouse ready for the recovery that might come, if we play our cards right, in our part of the post-crash capitalist twenty-first century world.

And as soon as I'd done it two things happened. First in May 2012 the Wales Foot Path opened. This is a great trail that runs 870 miles from the southern border at Chepstow to the Wirral in the north. My 138 miles over similar (but rarely the same) territory gets lost inside it. Then, in July, the Welsh Assembly-commission and pedantically named City Regions Task and Finish Group recommended the creation of that which the Tudor Kings has long made their own - a 1.4 million population Cardiff City Region taking in Cardiff, Newport, Vale and Valleys - melding all into an economic and administrative whole. Carport. Newdiff. Edging The Estuary was suddenly a prescient text.

Back on the Estuary I walk, take photographs, get rain in my face, listen again to the sea. This river is as much sea ocean as it is landlocked waterway. By turns it is grey, brown, blue and glinting white. Ships are lost on it. It's empty. But for those who live near it, then it's blood.

The Photographs and the film

There are dozens of these. As a writer I use the camera as a notebook recording what I see as much as I use it for creating new stand alone pieces of visual art. Several selections from the yearlong walk can be viewed by clicking the links below.
Part of the walk was also undertaken in the company of the author Des Barry who has realised it as a short film. The link to City Littoral is below.

The Book

Finch - Edging the Estuary

Edging The Estuary is published by Seren Books
isbn 9781781720844
300 pages. Paperback £9.99

2022 reprint available from Seren Books
all good bookshops & from Amazon

It tells the whole story. Is it a real book? It's real enough.

Caswell Bay Welcome to Portishead

City Littoral - The film



Edging The Estuary - Peter Finch
now available from Seren Books


see more with PedrFinch's Flickr photosets

The Estuary -The East: Chepstow to Redwick
The Estuary - Wales Again
The Estuary - The Tidal Limits - Gloucester
The Estuary - Out In The Waters
The Estuary - England: The Border to Lynmouth
The Estuary - Gower: Oyster to Worm's Head
Estuary -The West: Kenfig to Swansea
Estuary - The Heritage Coast: Aberthaw to Porthcawl
Estuary - The Beaches Everyone Visits
Estuary - Cardiff
Estuary - Newport
Estuary - The Port of Cardiff
The Estuary - Sailing on the Waters
Estuary - The Land is Sinking


Cardiff steel

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