Britain at Low Tide: S2 E4 Severn Estuary

I love the River Severn, but I tend to stay way upstream, as it wends its way through Shropshire. Canoeing down under Ironbridge and over the Jackfield Rapids has to be one of my favourite things.

The Severn as we see it in this episode of Britain at Low Tide is a different beast altogether. Treacherous, changeable, fast and swirling. Hard to navigate, and hard to cross. But intriguingly, the challenge of crossing this natural barrier appears to have brought communities on each bank of the river closer together, rather than driving them apart. Even today, you can hear people on the Wye side of the river talk about ‘Forest Folk’ and ‘River Folk’; kinship with the water runs deep.

I cannot overstate how dangerous this stretch of the Severn is. The tides rush in. People can, and do, get caught out and die. To get permission to film, we had to have a hovercraft on standby to rescue us, just in case.

We also had to fortune to be guided by Frank Larkham, local skipper (and one of the few remaining people with the knowledge to pilot up river beyond Aust) and owner of the Wastdale and Arkendale wrecks. His knowledge of the tides kept us safe getting to and from these boats. Even so, it was tense. Please, please don’t be foolhardy and venture out into the mud yourself unless you know what you are doing, and take all the necessary precautions (if you don’t know what these are: DON’T GO). AND CHECK THE TIDES.

You can, however, continue to explore the stories in this episode from the safety of your armchair by following the links below

If you want to get involved with local archaeology safely, get in touch with the CITiZAN team, and find out what opportunities and events there are in your area:

If you want to know more about the archaeology of the tidal Severn, the Severn Estuary and Levels Research Committee is the place to visit — as ever, we could only scrape the surface of the fascinating history and prehistory of this region:

This episode is really all about crossing the River Severn, and this blogpost by CITiZAN’s Alex Bellisario covers much of the history of the ingenious ways people have done — or attempted to do — just that:

And Chris Witts, who shared his memories of the Severn Bridge Disaster with us (see WASTDALE AND ARKENDALE/SEVERN BRIDGE DISASTER below) wrote a whole book called The Severn Estuary Crossings


This video has fabulous vintage footage from the Huntely Film Archive of the Aust-Beachly Ferry in the 1930s:



I love tunnels, especially lost or abandoned ones, so I was gutted I didn’t get to do this story. Lucky Oliver!



Chris Witts has his own blog, and he tells the story of the Severn Bridge Disaster there in much greater detail than we could possibly do in the programme. I recommend reading it:

Chris has also written a book all about Severn crossings, called


St Twrogs really is a bit of a mystery, and I have struggled to find anything accessible to link to for further reading. But:


*With apologies for pronunciation. I think I should have been pronounced more like ‘Tur-rogs’, but consistency (and a lack of confidence in my own opinion at the time…) required me to fall in with Trogs…  


Britain at Low Tide: S2, E3 Clyde

“Glasgow made the Clyde, and the Clyde made Glasgow”

For the first time, we head north of the border to Scotland! And whilst Gus, Oliver, and Charlotte come along for the ride, our expert guides are Tom, Jo, Ellie and Tanya from SCAPE, whose Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk Project (SCHARP) was the inspiration for CITiZAN.

This week it all gets a bit muddy, as we explore the banks of the tidal River Clyde. This episode blew my mind, as it seems totally ridiculous that a river that built and launched some of the world’s largest ships could be WADED ACROSS just a couple of hundred years ago.

As ever, there was so much we couldn’t fit in to a Channel 4 hour. So here are some links to help you delve a little deeper into the fascinating archaeology and history of the Clyde.

After a weekend of for Crufts, Britain at Low Tide is back **17TH MARCH, 8PM, CHANNEL 4** where we will be investigating the Severn, and those who have braved its tricksy, dangerous crossings, from medieval hermits to Bob Dylan…



The mud isn’t the only obstacle to observing intertidal archaeology…

This is the home of the MUD PUNTS (impossible to say this without a twinkle, for some reason…), the SCHOONERS, and THE DIVING BELL BARGE. A veritable treasure trove, capturing the history of the deepening of the Clyde, and the growth of Glasgow as a city.



Oh, how I love this Crannog. And we didn’t even get to go into the fascinating, tragi-comical history of the site, full of fakes and ‘queer objects’. Trust me, it’s worth looking into:

  • Start by reading this illustrated, accessible, and un-put-downable introdcution to the site by Alex Hale (who we met in the programme) and Rob Sands: Controversy on the Clyde, Archaeologists, Fakes and Forgers (out of print, but you can still find copies for sale online)
  • or take a look at the site summary, complete with fabulous images:
  • And here is a nice paper on dating the Clyde Crannogs (there are at least FOUR!), by Alex and colleagues, with some context and background info: [pdf]




BALT crew filming at the Timber Ponds. This was before the tide started to come in, and I had to do my ‘pensive wading’ shots.

The Timber Lords were the money and power behind the early growth of Glasgow. The sheer extent of the timber ponds,even just the stumps in the mud that remain, are testament to this wealth. What we didn’t touch on, and what I wish we had, was the dark side to this trade wealth: slavery.



The Lang Dyke was the 18th Century engineering solution to the Timber Lords’ problem of not being able to get their ships close to the city.


Thanks to Tanya T-dog Venture for this fine Lang Dyke meme.

Britain at Low Tide: S2, E2 Dorset

A bit of extra info, with links, in case you want to delve a bit deeper into the stories featured in Episode Two of Britain at Low Tide, Series Two.

This particular episode was fun, but also very moving to film. It’s a funny feeling, because from the safe distance of 2018, it is all to easy to get caught up in the excitiment of a Girls Own adventure — I got to ride in a tank! And go out on a boat! And explore beneath the waves with a remotely operated submersible!

And then it hits you: the reality of war. People died. And their loved ones didn’t know why, or when, or where. FOR OVER FIFTY YEARS.

Thankfully, people like John Pearson exist. He’s not just a tank enthusiast, though I am glad he is that too (thanks for the tank ride, John!): he was he was responsible for placing the plaque at Fort Henry commemorating the six men who died in Exercise Smash. For the first time, family members like Joan Brunt, the widow of Arthur Parks, had a memorial for their loved ones where they could mourn their passing.

So lets just take a moment to remember those who died on the 4th April 1944:

  • Sergeant V. Hartley
  • Corporal Arthur J. Park
  • Corporal V. N. Townson
  • Trooper A. Kirkby
  • Trooper E. G. Petty
  • Lieutenant C. R. Gould

Just six names amongst the tens of millions of people who died worldwide in the second world war. But worth remembering nonetheless.


Next week we are across the border on the River Clyde, where we lark around in the mud investigating how a river as ridiculously shallow as the Clyde ended up becoming the shipyard for some of the world’s largest ships… and get scorched uncovering the secrets of a mysterious crannog — 8pm, 3rd March, Channel 4.

And don’t forget, if you want to get involved in coastal archaeology CITiZAN have loads of opportunities:


Valentine Duplex Drive tanks weren’t actually used in D-Day. Instead, by the time the 6th June 1944 came around, enough of the bigger and better (it didn’t have to have it’s gun turret spun around in the wrong direction while afloat..) Sherman Tanks had been modified to duplex drive, with the characteristic canvas skirts. Valentines continued to be used for training, and also saw active service in Italy 1945.




CITiZAN volunteers at work recording the Sea Plane Lighter in the mud of Poole Harbour