Fiona Reynolds: ‘The day wears to a close, satisfied by a long walk and new discoveries close to home’

Fiona Reynolds recounts her daily exercise, and rejoices in a walk along the local riverbanks.

The Severn flows slowly to the sea. Britain’s longest river, it meanders and dallies, finally discharging its voluminous contents into the Bristol Channel 220 miles from its source. Famous for its tidal bore, which surges upriver when the moon is full or new, becoming dramatic and a thrill for surfers as the channel narrows and swings, the Severn shapes some of England’s most beautiful counties, but nowhere is it more mysterious than in its lower reaches.

Here, its most spectacular meander almost encircles the little village of Arlingham in Gloucestershire. Bounded by land only on its eastern side, this captured patch was, for centuries, important as a crossing-point of the Severn, by ferry from Arlingham to Newnham, although it was ‘made unwholesome by the copious humid exhalations from the river’, according to Samuel Rudder’s 1779 New History of Gloucestershire. It was not unproductive, however: fish, especially salmon and eels, commanded a good price and afforded the locals a good living.

I’m getting used to walking locally these days and it’s only a short distance from home to Eastington, where we start our walk. We begin by picking up one of the Severn’s tributaries, the Frome, to walk to the Severn. It’s a bitter-cold January day, but the sun is shining and the water is half-frozen, sparkling on the flooded fields.

Happily, our path, on an elevated levee, is dry. Today, the Frome is a merry, bubbling river passing through quiet fields, but the many old mills on our route (most of them converted into trendy flats) speak of its productive past.

Arlington Row, Gloucestershire.

We pass under an unseasonably quiet M5 and soon reach the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal at Saul Junction. This is usually a humming place, but it’s quiet in the winter chill and the cafe is closed. We pass the shuttered building and turn riverwards: it’s only a short step to Framilode — literally, the place where the Frome meets the Severn.

Here, we join the Severn Way, which tracks the whole length of this lovely river and now follows it right around the meander. A mile or so further on, we take a short diversion to see Wick Court, a beautiful Jacobean moated house with a splendid 17th-century front (it’s thought to have much earlier origins). Wick Court is owned by Michael Morpurgo’s charity Farms for City Children. I visited years ago, so it was heartening to see the farm still flourishing, cattle and sheep grazing, the orchard productive and the chickens (in their own lockdown) squabbling gently in their pens.

Instead of traversing the whole meander, we cut through Arlingham, hoping to see St Mary’s Church, which is renowned for its 14th-century stained glass. Sadly it’s closed, too, but we smile at the famous singlehanded clock, which tells us it’s just past one.

It’s now starting to snow, so we walk on as briskly as we can, sliding in the mud. We pick up the Severn Way, again just south of Arlingham, and follow it around to Frampton-on-Severn, a delightful village adorned with large and beautiful houses with (reputedly) England’s longest village green running right through its middle. This is locally known as Rosamund’s Green after the so-called ‘Fair Rosamund’ Clifford, Henry II’s mistress, who was born at Frampton Court, today a splendid Georgian house set in beautiful grounds.

Leaving the green and passing the village pub (also closed), we enter Frampton Court’s parkland, adorned with ancient trees, and walk back across the fields to Eastington, relishing the brief return of the sun as the day wears to a close, satisfied by a long walk and new discoveries close to home.

Fiona Reynolds is Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and author of ‘The Fight for Beauty’