Day 44, Worcester to Tewkesbury, 20 miles. 'The Wrong Side of the River.'
Aside from a few minor issues, such as the prevalence of static caravan sites and the occasional aggressive nettle patch, the Severn Way had been an absolute pleasure thus far - and so my spirits were extremely high as I departed Worcester in the watery, early morning sunshine. My Airbnb hosts had been as charming as their breakfast offering was scrumptious and plentiful, and so I slowly warmed up by strolling the 2 or so miles back into the centre Worcester, crossing over the Sabrina Bridge on my way through. For some brief and interesting etymology - 'Sabrinna' was the Celtic name for the river (although the initial meaning of this is unfortunately lost), the Romans adopted this to 'Sabrina', which meant 'from the boundary', as their excursions west into Wales were somewhat limited. Eventually the Anglo-Saxons (that's mostly us) turned Sabrina into Severn (I'm not sure why or how exactly), and that's where the name comes from. A myth was later developed around a Celtic nymph, Sabrina, who was drowned in the river, though given that nymphs and goddesses aren't real, this is likely a fabrication.
Anyway. The first 4 or 5 miles were actually fairly dull. Worcester is a reasonably sized place, and as a result the walking to the immediate south of the city was all tarmac and metal with plenty of evidence of former industry dotted around. It wasn't exactly unpleasant, but after the previous days' walking along shady wooded banks the return to a more urban scene stood in stark contrast. Eventually the concrete and wire fences gave way to nature and the distinct charm of the Severn Way resounded in full force. As for points of interest, the below picture captures the spot where Cromwell crossed the Severn using a series of temporary bridges made from lashing boats together to get around the city's defences and storm the Royalist centre of Worcester in 1651, finally ending the English Civil War. Now I don't like Cromwell and regrettably I've mostly avoided using profanity in this blog so I can't unleash the full weight of my disdain for the man, but whatever one might say about him (for instance you might call him a silver-spooned, puritanical god-bothering, genocidal racist who cancelled Christmas), he was a superb military leader.
After this it was back to the bread and butter of the Severn Way - watching the water flow by whilst following the easy-to-navigate paths in the warm sunshine. The path occasionally ducked away from the river to briefly climb through wooded areas teeming with butterflies and squirrels and, as ever, the walk was punctuated every 2 or 3 miles by the inexplicable static caravan parks, but nonetheless it was a very enjoyable morning's walking. I made a brief detour to the small village of Severn Stoke where I enjoyed a couple of pints and snacks in the excellent Rose and Crown - looking back on things, perhaps those 2 pints weren't the best idea...
After my brief stop in Severn Stoke, things began to go downhill, and I don't mean literally downhill, that would have been fine - I mean it all went horribly wrong. I knew from a previous end-to-end blogger that there was an excellent shortcut that would take me through an active quarry, thus avoiding a long and pointless cut-back on the trail. Walking 20 miles is a long enough day and having been on the trail since April 2nd the allure of shortcuts was becoming more and more attractive. Upon leaving the pub the Severn Way wiggles around in a rather upsetting manner, and I soon found myself at the end of a residential cul-de-sac with locked gates and signs everywhere loudly exclaiming that my presence here as a walker was quite unwanted - it seems I had found exactly why the trail cuts back on itself and had not only walked nearly a mile down to a dead-end, but would also have to walk all the way back to the cut-back that I had intended to avoid. Mildly groggy from my pair of pints, and with the morning sunshine slowly but surely degrading into grey smudges of cloud, I traipsed back the way I had just came.
The path was fairly simple from here, albeit with plenty of stiles and gates that slowly hindered my forward progress. I soon found myself in the surprisingly ugly town of Upton-on-Severn where, dismayed by both the town's utter lack of charm and my slow progress since lunch, I boldly strode onward - ignoring the smattering of dull pubs and the ugly grey-green bridge that cut through the centre of the town. At the time I was simply pleased to be making good time again, but little did I know I had just made a terrible and irreversible mistake. I had briefly checked my maps and saw there was a quarry on my side of the river - surely the same quarry mentioned by my blogging guide? As it turns out, there was a second quarry I had missed during the cut-back debacle, and that I absolutely should have crossed the river at Upton because I was now off the Severn Way, heading towards a random quarry on the wrong side of the river - with no further bridges until Tewkesbury. At the time I was blissfully unaware of this, and made my way happily towards the quarry.
As it turns out, the path around the quarry was no play area either, the paths would sometimes stop, revert back on themselves, run into fences abruptly and so on - although the number of electric-blue damselflies that took to the air with every step I made was genuinely impressive. I finally found my way into a farmer's yard, saw a rustle of movement in the nearby barn (which was full to the brim of sharp and sinister looking machinery), and swiftly moved on. But again I took the wrong route as nothing was signposted and walked a full half mile down a broccoli field before reaching the end and seeing absolutely no way though. It was around this time I realised my mistake - a cursory check of my maps revealed that there was a path on this side of the river, but it was definitely not the Severn Way. As soon as I forced my way through a hedge and onto the 'path' I became concerned. Grass, nettles and wildflowers grew to at least waist height, and going fully over head height at the field boundaries. There was a vague suggestion of a path through the vegetation, but it was as if one small person had been here three long days ago. Still, this was my route to Tewkesbury and so I soldiered on, now exerting more than twice the effort to make less than half the mileage.
In all honesty these 7 or 8 miles were genuinely unpleasant - and worst of all it was my fault. Every field was the same, a ton of nettles at the stile, then endless yellow wildflowers or tall grass with uneven ground beneath, all with no discernible route through. On the plus side you could always spot the stile at the other end of the field due to the tall crowd of nettles gathered around it - the smallest mercy possible. My route would sometimes wind back to the river where I would glance over and see the real Severn Way, looking smug and well-trimmed just across the water which only served to add to my growing sense of despair. All in all it was an incredibly frustrating and tiring second half to a day that should have been lovely, I found respite under the M62 bridge where I sat for a full 20 minutes and nearly cried. Fortunately I could cut out the river and just walk along the road to Tewkesbury nearby - something I would never have considered doing had I been on the right side of the Severn, but I had been ground down since Upton and jumped onto the road without even a trace of guilt.
Tewkesbury was nice, I suppose, but I couldn't be bothered to take a look around after the day I had just endured, plus rain had begun to fall for the first time in several days. I ate an average meal at my bizarrely medieval-themed lodgings, and fell into a deep and untroubled sleep.