The River

On the Wivenhoe Trail, Barbara Claridge watches the tide at the place where “sea and land meet.” Photo © Barbara Claridge.


Location: Latitude 51.8686; Longitude 0.9442

Date: 12th October 2016; Time 16:08; Temperature: 14° C

The tide low and the shadows long: I have never lived so close to a tidal river.

Today low tide was 15:35 at nearby Brightlingsea and the coefficient was 72 (high).  To explain, the tidal coefficient is the difference between the consecutive high and low tides in any given area and they vary in amplitude following, amongst other factors, the phases of the moon[i].   I have been consulting a tide timetable for a while, drawn by the continuous and predictable rhythm of tidal change.  On Sunday 16th October full moon is 05:23, and as a consequence, there is to be an exceptionally high coefficient of 114 (120 is the highest coefficient possible).

So now the mud banks are exposed.  I sit down to write facing south west and the sun is closing onto the horizon: for October, it is warm with no wind.  The river water still drains away although the tide has turned, the outflow being stronger yet, than any incoming tide.  Soon the balance will shift.  The slippery slopes of soft river deposit gleam in that dipping sun.  The particles, so fine and worn, make a surface that would be treacherous for me to walk on but a rich larder for so many birds.  Sea and land meet here.

The gulls, plentiful and raucous dominate; I recognise the curlew call.  Other waders are new to my species knowledge as yet.  I observe they move confidently across the silt, jabbing long beaks deep into softness.  Small ducks with pretty heads explore the exposed edge, the margin between wet and dry.  That curlew call is clear, shill, repetitive.  An egret takes to wing.

Rivers usually erode the landscape, carving V-shaped tracts in valleys and cutting back the banks.  You wouldn’t think of this as a valley as the landscape is flat and wide, but it is.  And just here the river channel is deep and different between high and low water: the standing water brackish.  I wonder if the twice daily, perpetual effect of the tidal ebb and flow causes the river to release its fine deposits, carried from the soils inland, to build the silty muddy banks.  You might think a high-tide, full-river is more attractive than the brown, slushy rib-exposed margins but these muds have their own attractiveness in contours, ridges, pools and tiny tributaries.  And all the time the water flows.

The look of the landscape changes dramatically when a layer of cloud closes in on the sunlight.  Suddenly the foreground emerges and the many stems of the faded yellow sow-thistle clearly become red-tinged where the strong light before disguised their colour.

A rare silence.

The seed heads of the plants are a fluffy, bursting froth of grey down; will be the food-taking for goldfinch as the winter advances.

The beginning of Wild Writing could not have been better placed than by the Wivenhoe Trail, nor better weathered in these first few October days.

I feel uplifted and swept in and out with the tide.  It all changes, the water dances and I have so much to learn.


[i] Data from

Barbara Claridge has just begun the Wild Writing MA at the University of Essex. Following a long career as a primary school Headteacher, where outdoor learning was a passion, she moved to Brittany with her husband and began a five year renovation/construction project of a longère and garden.  She has completed short-term voluntary work as a Primary Education Adviser in Ghana and Namibia and with the British Council in Beijing and Pittsburg on the International Headteacher Programme. She tweets @56190bjc. 

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