The Severn Bore
In the First Branch of Y Mabinogi it is said that Teyrnon Twrf Liant is Lord over Gwent Is-goed (Gwent Below the Forest). This forest stretched across the south-eastern corner of Wales to the River Severn. The remaining woodlands of Wentwood above the town of Newport and near to the remains of the Roman fortress of Caerleon – or the Arthurian court of Caer Llion – are a remnant of this forest. There are also large tracts of forested land along the valley of the River Wye either side of the present border between England and Wales. On the eastern side of the Wye the Forest of Dean stretches across to the River Severn. Most of this latter forest is now in the English county of Gloucestershire, though it has always seemed to me to be an extended border enclave between the two lands, such is its liminal quality. Certainly it would have been part of the territory of Teyrnon whose name ‘Twrf Liant'(Roar of the Flood Tide?) has been linked to the phenomenon of the Severn Bore.
I have witnessed the Bore a number of times. It is caused because of the huge width of the extensive estuary of the river. At particular high tides this causes a sudden rush of water into the tidal stretch where the river narrows nearly as far up as the city of Gloucester (Glevum or Caer Loyw in the ancient tales). Standing expectantly watching the waters flow steadily towards the sea, watchers are suddenly confronted by a huge wave rushing up-river. As it rushes upwards the downward flow of the current is reversed and the river continues to rise for some time until it eventually subsides and begins to sink down again as its usual direction of flow is restored.
‘Teyrnon’ is a modernised form of ‘Tigernonos’ (Great Lord). In the medieval tale he is the foster father of Pryderi, son of Rhiannon or Rigantona (Great Queen). Pryderi was snatched from his mother soon after birth. So too was Mabon son of Modron, or Maponos son of Matrona who was imprisoned in the dungeon at Caer Loyw. It is often the case that typological motifs are paired or doubled, indicating mythological origins. These characters continue their psychic presence in stories making their own ways through the world. So here, in these woods, I can imagine the boyhood of the Divine Son whose father resides by the roaring waters of the River Goddess Habren, or Sabrina.
Once, following links between the names Nudd and Lludd as reflexes of Nodens I wondered about the river after which Lydney – the site of an ancient temple of Nodens -is named. Is this Nudd’s or Lludd’s river? I followed the course of the Lyd, the small river that runs down through Lydney to the Severn, as part of an exploration of the Forest of Dean. It is called ‘Lyd’, only from the point where it emerges from the forest and runs down through Lydney itself. Several streams run together at this point but the main one is called ‘Cannop Brook’ and runs in a deep valley right across the forest for about ten miles or so from a source area where several springs are marked on the detailed map above the village of Lydbrook on the banks of the River Wye. So there is another ‘Lyd’ place name on the other side of the forest but no obvious association, as far as I know, with Nodens here, though the site was inhabited in Roman times. A stream also runs from this area of springs towards Lydbrook itself but in spite of the name of the village the brook running through it is not ‘Lydbrook’ but ‘Greathough Brook’. At least it is now, but apparently it was known in medieval times as ‘Lyd Brook’ or ‘Lud Brook’, explained in local records as ‘Loud Brook’ (Old English ‘hlud’) because of its rushing down the steep slope to the river, though this may be a later explanation. The stream can be followed back to two sources in the forest. One is a spring and the other a well. These two sources (‘Little Hough Brook’ and ‘Great Hough Brook’) run together under a bridge, which carries a forest road over the stream. “Hough’ (‘hock’) is puzzling. But it might have been ‘how’ (‘hill’) or ‘howe’ (‘hollow’).
The track back to the spring from this bridge is about a mile along the road running by the side of the stream, but the place from which it emerges is inaccessible and is part of the grounds of a large house. Back at the confluence, the other stream flows down through the forest and can be followed along a delightful winding path. Here is pure enchantment. For much of its course the stream is hidden in a narrow channel. But to wander along the steep-sided valley with its wooded slopes listening to the waters rushing through the green valley floor is to enter an enchanted place. The valley sings its numen song in its tinkling waters. Even when a brief shower fell I felt blessed by the drops of rain falling on my face. I slowed my pace. At one point the stream was easily reached from the path and I knelt and touched some of the water to my forehead and spoke a blessing
I was beginning to feel this walk should last forever. But the path did have an end and I emerged from the trees onto a lane turning away from the stream now rushing swiftly down the slope from a point above where the well is marked on the map. I found it, sadly neglected, with a padlocked gate across it. It was a wonderful day. It had been a search for Lludd between two rivers and the streams of Lyd sang to me and still flow within me. The well was in some ways a sad conclusion to the trek through the forest but as I turned back from the sinuous Wye to the wider waters of the Severn across the domain of Teyrnon Twrf Liant and towards the temple of Nudd I knew that I had touched a deep spring that continues to rise in the well of the imagination. From such deep waters do the gods make themselves known to us.
The padlocked well