The Usk River in South Wales runs through the heart of the city of Newport. The city has been a port since medieval times, and as an important trade route, the river has played a significant role in the history of South Wales. The river also features in local legends, including that of King Arthur being pushed into its waters.
Today, despite the demise of the coal mining industry that once had its waters bustling with ships hauling minerals of fossilised carbon up and down stream, it is still a source of pride. The Usk is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, featuring a diverse range of fauna, flora, bird- and water-life, as well as an array of natural habitat, ranging from mudflats to woodland. The river also boasts the second highest tidal rise and fall of any river in the world, a fact that becomes obvious by simply passing by its muddy shores.
Down by the River is a weeklong study of the River Usk, documented twice daily, at 10am and 4pm. It acts as a visual diary that highlights the difference in tidal levels, but also gives an interesting account on the weather, which in these parts of the globe are mostly grey and misty – an aspect that very much affects the mood of the person exploring its banks.
The grey mood of the river reminds of a poem by the same name, written by TS Eliot:
Do not suddenly break the branch, or
Hope to find
The white hart over the white well.
Glance aside, not for lance, do not spell
Old enchantments. Let them sleep.
‘Gently dip, but not too deep’,
Lift your eyes
Where the roads dip and where the roads rise
Seek only there
Where the grey light meets the green air
The Hermit’s chapel, the pilgrim’s prayer.