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Terminalia 2021 - on the brink

Terminalia at Hock Cliff, Gloucestershire. 23 February 2021.

I’m almost out of bounds. I’m standing on the edge. I’m at the lowest point. But I’m feeling good.

It’s 23 February, the last day of the Roman Year, so it’s time to celebrate Terminalia. The Festival in honour of the Roman God ‘Terminus’, that celebrates boundaries and their markers.

And here I am, at the western edge of Stroud District, standing on a stone ledge of the Hock Cliff foreshore, and I’m literally at sea level. It’s right there, me standing on solid ground and the seawater splashing my walking boots.

Though it’s still winter and I’m being blasted by a strong wind off the sea, it’s not cold. It’s a southerly wind, bringing warm air from distant clime. A world-wide weather website shows me that the wind today originates from west Africa. The sea surface is very choppy, though there are no waves this far up the Severn Estuary at this moment. I’ve arrived on this stone paved level foreshore at the perfect time. The cliffs and dry shore are a hundred feet away, and I feel like I’m walking on water, with the briny lapping up and over the stone edge, right next to me.

It’s the boundary between the past and the now. The passivity of the exposed Jurassic limestone, the solidity of the rock of ages, compared with the effervescent and attention seeking water, agitated and alive in the present moment. Constant movement juxtaposed with millions of years of inertia.

It’s medium tide and I have never been to this spot before. The water is muddy brown, the estuary looking like a huge cauldron of boiling strong tea, with zero visibility through the surface. I’m at the outer side of a ninety degree bend in the river, at a place where the Severn’s notoriously huge tidal range is immediately apparent. The deep water channel is right in front of me, starting one foot beyond the edge of the stones I’m standing on. (High school level students will remember that rivers scour their main channels on the outside of bends, and this is indeed a mighty and powerful river.) I speculate upon how deep this water-filled chasm might be, and step back a couple of feet, just in case the rocks decide that this is the instant, after thousands of years of exposure, that they are going to crumble from the incessant niggling erosion from the water.

The Stroud District Boundary is a few indeterminate feet further south west, nominally along the bottom of the river’s deep channel, at a spot never trodden by any man, let alone by a local government boundaries inspector, professional or enthusiast. I’m at the only spot in Stroud District where a person can walk dry-footed to the river’s edge and stand at sea level on a wide paved area. The Stroud ‘coastline’ is about 27 miles long, the vast majority being treacherous muddy riverflats, sometimes spreading out over a mile, beyond the steep reinforced faces of earth bank flood defences. The crisp-edge boundary, such as below Hock Cliff, is rare.

I’m on my own today. It’s the pandemic, and I’m only allowed to walk with someone if it’s ‘exercise’. At this waterside I’m nearly half way round a five mile loop that I’d planned, and I’m fighting a blasting from the wind. It’s definitely exercise and not just a leisurely stroll. Today, I’m in a solitary mood, feeling that I need to be alone. I’m reflecting on life at present and wondering when we might get back to ‘normal’, when a group of friends can walk out together, and not have to worry about keeping our distance from each other. A time we can beat the bounds, collectively. Sounds like Terminalia 2022 will be a bigger celebration. But today, I’ve enjoyed the loneliness of the ‘enthusiast’ in a remote spot, in nature, in pursuit of his romantic ideas about history and geography, and his insignificance in the big scheme of everything else.

I have no garland or wine to offer to the God Terminus at this outpost boundary. But I thank him for keeping watch over me, on the brink.

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