Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Aust Goddess and other findings

A mini-theme that seems to be emerging during my early coastal residency explorations is that of boat names. The third vessel to be now added to this roll-call is the Shamal (a wind that blows across Persia, it seems):

"shamal,  hot and dry, dusty wind from the north or northwest in Iraq, Iran, and the Arabian Peninsula. In June and July it blows almost continuously, but usually under 50 km (about 30 miles) per hour. The wind causes great dust storms, especially in July, when Baghdad may experience five or more such storms."...

I encountered her at the historic harbour of Lydney, whilst on a scouting trip. In return for some rudimentary mooring assistance, I was entertained and regaled for a couple of hours by her skipper, Andy. For Sabrina Dreaming, this was my first real excursion 'across the water', to the western shores of the Severn Estuary. Not my first time visiting this area though. As I afterwards journeyed northwards through the small town of Newnham-on-Severn, I was reminded of the time I spent here in the late 1980s, whilst a guest of an anthroposophical eco-design visionary, Uwe Burka. I was attending and eco-design course - the first grass-roots, DIY reed-bed sewage-treatment course in the UK. During this course, the assembled motley crew helped build a pioneering - and very beautiful - treatment system for the local Camphill community. To plant it up, we dug the reed-rhizomes (Phragmites) out of the mud on the nearby banks of the Severn.

Back to skipper Andy, at Lydney, who has now invited me to the local yacht-club's family fun-day in June, where amongst the activities lined up is a cricket match out on the Severn sands, exposed at low-tide. I'm also promised a future outing on the estuary by boat. A chat with the harbourmaster Dave Penfold about the history of trading and shipping along this stretch of coast left me with the strong desire to return to delve deeper into the palimpsest of the place, so I'll be back at Lydney very soon. Dave has also promised to point me to some local experts on eel and salmon fishing, and the contemporary debates about these activities.

A few weeks ago, in South Gloucestershire, I met Miriam Woolnough who has been setting up the project - A Forgotten Landscape – Restoring the Heritage of the Lower Severn Vale Levels. Whilst discussing the history of fishing on this coast, and the fascinating archaeological remains, Miriam pointed me to the Aust Goddess - a small bronze statuette thought by some to represent the Roman goddess Minerva which was found in the cliffs at the edge of the Severn at Aust. Some believe the Aust Goddess to be Roman in date, others that it is an Iberian import from the preceding Iron Age.

Today, to begin my quest for the figurine, I attempted to view a replica of this intriguing piece - supposedly held in the collection of the Museum of Bristol. No luck on this occasion, but now I've arranged to return when Gail, the resident Roman expert is available.

There is widespread evidence of offerings to/at rivers, lakes and wells in the pre-hisory of NW Europe. I am familiar with such situations from Ireland, especially at the sacred centre of Lough Gur, where I've had a creative involvement over many years. Plenty of evidence of such activities in the pre-history of the Somerset Levels too. As part of the Drowned Lands project, I was out in my kayak there last week with intrepid historian, Professor Steve Poole (pictured below). There will be much more on this in future blog-posts.

Up and coming very soon (24th May) is the World Fish Migration Day, aimed at raising"global attention for endangered migratory fish, like salmon, sturgeon, giant catfish, dourado and eel. Migratory fish are particularly threatened by barriers such as weirs, dams and sluices, built for water management, hydropower and land drainage. These fish need free migration routes in order to survive. Water managers, fishery organizations and NGO's are restoring fish migration routes in rivers and between rivers and seas. Dams removed, sluices are managed fish friendly and fishway are built to help fish on their journey. During the World Fish Migration Day the participating organizations will open their doors for the public and will show fish and fishways and host activities for children and parents."

In my early contacts with the CCRI unit at University of Gloucestershire, some expanded exploratory themes have emerged - as suggested by the researchers. As well as the theme of sustainable food/fishing, there is interest in: crossings (former/'ghost', low-tide etc); the impact on the Bore of the sea-defences; coastal erosion; the commons and common-land; new economics; global/local interactions; soil issues and farming on coastal wetlands; mud! ; driftwood and palaeo-ecology; changing biodiversity; the scientific as a kind of "organised and methodical culture"; communities of interest (artists, farmers, hydrologists, engineers, ornithologists); Sabrina Dreaming and the connotations of this reference; trade/shipping and how is it changing; The Upper Severn Estuary as a world heritage site?; A Centre for Tidal Culture?; Coastal/Estuary Twinning? and links to Severn Estuary Partnership (SEP). 

I'm clearly not the only person out exploring the old crossings along this coast. I recently came across a wonderfully detailed blog-post on the topic (7 crossings of the River Severn) via Landscapism. As with my own coastal encounters, the shadow of Bob Dylan looms large - especially at the old Aust Ferry Jetty.

Eels seem to be inescapable in the setting of the Severn, and I have been sent a great image - taken a couple of days ago at Avonmouth - of a heron with an eel for a meal.

photo: Will Jones
with Professor Poole on the River Parrett, Somerset Levels

1 comment:

  1. It is a great eel picture - well maybe not great for the eel itself. I have been told that eels are to be found in our stream in Priston (nr Bath). There are most obvious - and maybe need rescuing - when the stream level drops and leaves them (and trout) stuff in a pool is someone’s garden. I will go and look next time. We are in the same catchment (via the Avon) so i think these are Sabrina eels!!