So, on the last day of winter, I decided to take a trip to Severn Beach. Wikipedia describes it as
‘a village in South Gloucestershire’ which was merely a farm until the railway arrived in 1900 whereafter it was turned into a seaside resort. It adds that there was ‘a swimming pool called the “Blue Lagoon”, a boating lake and the Beach Comber Strip Club’. It’s changed a bit now.
I parked my car near a decaying and very small fun fair, next to which stands ‘Tubbies Burger Bar’, which was all shuttered up. It reminds me of a mini version of the fun fair at Pripyat, the town next to Chernobyl which was permanently evacuated after the nuclear accident of 1985. I don’t think there is too much plutonium in Severn Beach but you can’t be too careful.
The sea front is accessed by a number of paths and as soon as you reach it, regardless of the time of year, the temperature drops a few degrees. With the River Severn to my left (it is hard to know where the river ends and the Bristol Channel ends: it’s the same water, isn’t it?), I walked on the footpath that runs parallel with the beach. Actually, it isn’t a beach as we know it, more a combination of mud and black rock. Even on the sunniest of summer’s days, you would not think about lugging your deck chairs to the waterfront. Soon, you are under the Second Severn Crossing and the constant low pitched swishing noise temporarily disappears. To the right is a large and, to be fair, quite attractive Park Home estate. Across the river is Chepstow.
I was not alone during my walk, but there were only two other types of visitors: dog walkers and joggers. They all looked as miserable as each other. The attractions of owning a dog are evident to me. The creatures are loyal, obedient and good company, from all accounts. But they seem to spend their entire lives defecating and urinating. The good owners were retrieving the deposited dog mess (that’s dog shit to you and I) in small black bags, although the very thought of picking up a lump of steaming dog turd even wearing boxing gloves was too repulsive for me to consider for very long. Knowing my luck, I’d probably sneeze and wipe my nose. Some of the other owners were plainly not quite so considerate because there was a fair bit of dog mess on the path too. I assume these owners leave it for someone else to deal with?
The joggers looked like all joggers seem to look which is like they are not enjoying themselves. There is far too much lycra on display, particularly with the men, and far too much bare skin for that matter. You do not get so much as a cheery wave as they wheeze their way past. It can’t be good for you, can it? And if it’s so much fun, how come most of them are plugged into iPods, like those poor sods who go to gyms and run on running machines, gazing at MTV and wishing they were doing something else? I often think about them when I am in the pub.
I walked as far as I could and promptly turned round, as did one fifty something jogger who reached the end of the path and, somewhat comically, I have to say, proceeded to run on the spot for half a minute or so before carrying out a three point turn and running back again. Of course I didn’t hope he’d squelch through a lump of dog turd on the return journey. Perish the thought.
I passed where the ‘Blue Lagoon’ used to be, which was just before the remnants of the little funfair still stood. This was an outdoor pool, too. People used to come from as far as Bradford – I kid you not – to stay in Severn Beach and hundreds of them would visit the pool. It was largely a wooden contraption and I remember visiting the place on a summer’s day in the early 1970s, having cycled from Brislington on my three speed bicycle with a bunch of mates with a view to swimming there. We arrived just as the pool was being opened. We were told that we could not swim just yet because according to the attendant: “I have to sweep the dead flies from the surface of the pool first”. How we laughed, until we saw him appearing with a huge net, sweeping the dead flies from the surface of the uninviting outdoor pool. The water, I recall, was a murky brown, not unlike the river itself actually, and you could not see the bottom. We looked at each other, thinking: “We can’t swim in that!” We did, of course, spending the entire morning there. Thinking back, I dread to think what else was in and around the pool. Rats, perhaps? Almost certainly. But we were young and we were stupid. What’s Weil’s disease when you’re only a teenager?
Having passed by the long departed pool, I walked along the main street. To be honest, there is not much on any of the streets of Severn Beach, apart from houses and flats. There was a public lavatory and a very clean one at that and then two shops. A small supermarket of the McColls variety and Downs, the bakery, which had a grand total of two chairs inside for people to eat their food, which looked terrific by the way. There were plenty of seats outside, but the fact that it was around 4c with a wind chill factor of goodness knows what, they were not being utilised by the locals.
There used to be a post office in Severn Beach, but that’s long gone now. People don’t use stamps anymore, unless they are posting products to be sold on the internet or sending presents to people who live abroad. Further along there were a couple of estate agents, one open and one closed although from the lack of lighting it was hard to tell which was which, a hairdressers (closed, of course) and round the corner, Shirley’s Cafe, which has been there for ever.
I walked towards the railway station which was to my right. I suggest it is probably not the best maintained station in the land, with thick weeds and grass growing on each side of the tracks as well as between it. Severn Beach is at the end of the line, whichever way you look at it.
Across from the station used to be the village’s only pub, the Salmon. It was unusual for having a full sized snooker table in the main bar. In fact, the table took up almost the entire bar room. Many years ago, a friend of mine and I arrived at 11.00 am and decided to have a livener. As there was no one else in the pub, we decided also to have a quick game, too. But it turned out to be anything but a quick game. I am not noted for my great potting ability and my friend had no potting ability at all. After half an hour, we had potted a few reds and a few colours, although the latter were potted accidentally and counted as foul shots. Because of the number of foul shots, it was a high scoring game, but the balls remained stubbornly on the table. As midday grew near,groups of middle aged men started to arrive, putting their 10p pieces on the table. After something like an hour and a half, we gave up, there being something like £1 worth of coins lining the side of the table. It had become so embarrassing constantly missing shots and then having to squeeze past the impatient looking men, we cut our losses and decided to drink up and go to another pub. But there wasn’t another pub. That was it. We had heard of the ‘Beach Comber Strip Club’ but that, even back then, had long gone. We had only really wanted a pint of beer and a cheese and onion toastie but wouldn’t have complained too much had the snack been accompanied by bare-breasted women, but it was not to be.
And that really was my tour of Severn Beach. I walked past the Rustic Caravan Park, which had little by way of rustic activity to suggest the name was in any way accurate, and returned to my car.
Severn Beach was certainly somewhere to live, provided that you were content with virtually no public services (apart from the very nice man fixing the toilet as I went by), no shops, no pubs and – well, virtually nothing else. It seems to have returned to what it was before the railway arrived, except that houses are now built on the farmland and the only animals are the ones being walked by human beings.
For all my joshing, the walk along the front is actually a very enjoyable one and on a clear day you can see forever, or at least as far as Wales.