Of course, I knew where the River Brue was, anyone who travelled between Street and Glastonbury would know exactly where the River Brue was. As you cross the river on the A39, a roadside sign announces “Pomparles Bridge.” Apparently, the name derives from French for “perilous bridge.” There never seemed much that was perilous about the Brue, a shallow, gentle, slow flowing river.
Drivers on the M5 motorway between Bristol and Taunton could tell you where the River Brue was. There is a sign that tells the countless drivers that they are crossing the river. It seems no more than a stream when compared with the wide waters of the neighbouring Huntspill.
So having crossed the Brue on innumerable occasions in the past sixty years, it seemed odd that I had never thought about where the Brue flowed. I might have been able to draw a line on a map between Glastonbury and the motorway, but for the few miles between the motorway and the coast, I had no idea. Perhaps it reached the sea by itself, perhaps it flowed into another river. I didn’t know, and don’t know why that I didn’t know. When I knew countless trivial details about numerous distant things, it seemed odd not to know if a local river reached an estuary of its own.
Walking the seafront at Burnham-on-Sea on a winter’s day, it was heartening to see dozens of people wrapped against the chill weather and enjoying the air. A squall brought a shower of rain and the December sun over Exmoor created a rainbow over Berrow. The spectrum of colour rose from the grey murk of the Bristol Channel. The rising tide submerged the beach, the anglers retreated to the steps of the sea wall.
At the south end of the sea wall, the path turned eastward. Was it an inlet? I took my phone from my pocket and opened Google maps. A blue dot showed where I was standing and the map told me that I was standing at the mouth of the River Brue.
There seemed no words to capture the moment. Nor were there words to explain why the moment should be captured. The estuary was no more than a stretch of muddy water. Perhaps in spring or summer, it might muster some picturesque quality, but on a winter day, it had little to commend it. Yet the sight of the tidal water seemed to give the River Brue an indefinable quality, the river crossed so many times flowed to the sea and seemed connected to the whole world.