Tidal bores are spectacular waves that travel inland in some estuaries on the highest tides. Of the hundred or so worldwide, about twenty occur in England, Scotland and Wales. They are one of the natural wonders of the world and this page provides links to images, videos and articles for some of the best known in the UK.
It has been designed to accompany the ebook Tidal Bores of England, Scotland and Wales. This features ten tidal bores around the UK from Somerset to southwest Scotland and in eastern England. It also describes why tidal bores occur along with tips to improve your chances of seeing one and on water safety.
The featured tidal bores include the Severn Bore, Dee Tidal Bore, Arnside Bore, Nith Tidal Bore and Trent Aegir.
Many occur in beautiful estuary locations so, to add interest to a day out, it includes ideas for places to visit nearby, such as tourist attractions, historic ports, museums and nature reserves.
For a quick introduction to tidal bores, this short video about the Mersey Tidal Bore gives some insights into why it occurs and how it changes as it moves upstream. This post also says more about them.
Important If considering trying to spot a tidal bore, be sure to get appropriate safety advice first since they occur on some of the highest and most powerful tides of the year.
How to use this webpage
This webpage shows photographs and interesting links for the ten featured tidal bores, which are grouped into five coastal areas::
- Severn Estuary/Bristol Channel: Severn Bore, Parrett Tidal Bore
- Liverpool Bay: Dee Tidal Bore, Mersey Tidal Bore
- Morecambe Bay: Arnside Bore, Leven Tidal Bore
- Solway Firth: Solway Bore, Nith Tidal Bore
- Humber Estuary/The Wash: Trent Aegir, Wiggenhall Wave
For each tidal bore, there is a gallery showing images of the tidal bore and interesting places to visit nearby; simply click on the name of the tidal bore to see them.
A final gallery shows some more unusual phenomena that can occur such as reflected waves, waves travelling downstream and breaking waves behind the main wave. Sometimes this leads to some great photographic effects.
The following brief glossary of terms may help when looking through this webpage and the various links:
- Breaking wave – a tidal bore with a line of surf on the lead wave
- Spring tides – unusually high tides that occur every 15 days or so
- Tidal range – the difference in water levels between low tide and high tide
- Undular wave – a wave which is rounded at the front rather having a line of surf
- Whelps – a train of smaller waves following the main wave
Throughout, there are links to some particularly good videos and articles by local experts.
Topics in the ebook also include:
- Viewing tips for the featured tidal bores including suggested viewpoints and indicative timings
- Brief descriptions of more than ten other tidal bores around the coast of the UK
- Tips on finding out tide times and how the tides affect tidal bores
- Insights into how historic river engineering works for shipping have affected tidal bores
- Brief description of sights in Gloucester, Cardiff, Chester, Liverpool, Ulverston, Dumfries, and Hull
- Ideas for visits to nearby seaside resorts, nature reserves and tourist attractions
- Visit suggestions for picturesque harbours, Roman ruins and sea cliffs
- Places to see seals and migrating waterbirds such as barnacle geese
Bristol Channel / Severn Estuary
The Severn Bore is the largest and best-known tidal bore in the UK. In the right conditions it attracts large crowds of spectators, plus surfers and kayakers to ride the wave.
It begins in the upper reaches of the Severn Estuary and on some occasions reaches Maisemore near Gloucester, where it ends on hitting a weir.
The Parrett Tidal Bore passes through the town of Bridgwater, having started further down the estuary, toward Burnham-on-Sea, which lies on the shores of the Bristol Channel.
Bridgwater was a busy port until the 19th century and ocean-going ships still travel to a wharf a short way downstream of the town.
The Dee Tidal Bore starts in the Dee Estuary and sometimes travels as far as Chester. Along much of its path it follows a ship canal called New Cut, built in the 18th century to try to improve access to the city.
The tidal bore makes an unusual sight as it travels along this straight, artificial channel
Local resident and tidal bore enthusiast Richard Ghorbal has made some superb aerial videos of the Dee Tidal Bore, including this example.
The Mersey Tidal Bore begins in south Liverpool and then passes through the widest part of the estuary before reaching the Runcorn Gap and Fiddler’s Ferry.
It speeds up on the final run into Warrington where it ends on hitting a weir, more than twenty miles from the coast. This post describes the tidal bore in more detail.
Richard Ghorbal has also posted several excellent aerial videos of the Mersey Tidal Bore, such as this example, and more for the Mersey and the Dee are available on his Youtube channel.
The Arnside Bore begins in Morecambe Bay and travels inland for several miles along the Kent Estuary. Small crowds of spectators often gather to see it pass.
Due to the dangers from the tides, during the tourist season the council sounds a siren, which as a side benefit provides a handy warning that the tidal bore is on its way. This post describes the tidal bore in more detail.
This great video describes a search for the end of the Arnside Bore, in which local tidal bore expert Rob Bridges accompanies world-famous tidal bore surfer Antony Colas. Rob has posted many other tidal bore videos on his Youtube channel.
The Leven Tidal Bore forms in the Leven Estuary, which lies between the Cartmel and Furness peninsulas in Cumbria. On the highest tides it passes beyond the viaduct that carries the coastal railway.
The tidal influence continues beyond Greenodd, which surprisingly in the 18th century was one of the busiest ports in the region.
Here, another interesting video by Rob Bridges shows the Leven Tidal Bore making its way up the estuary and into side channels.
The Solway Bore forms in the Solway Firth near Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria and Annan in Dumfries and Galloway. On the highest tides it sometimes reaches the more riverine reaches of the River Eden, ending within a few miles of Carlisle.
On her blog and in her excellent book The Fresh and the Salt, Solway Firth expert Ann Lingard describes watching a tidal bore on the River Wampool, and experiencing the Solway Bore first hand between Bowness-on-Solway and Annan while wading with local fishermen, using a traditional technique called haaf netting.
Several other tidal bores occur around the Solway Firth, which extends west to St Bees Head in west Cumbria and the Mull of Galloway in Scotland. The next largest is the Nith Tidal Bore.
The Nith Tidal Bore begins near the mouth of the Nith Estuary where it meets the Solway Firth and sometimes travels as far inland as Dumfries.
Until the 19th century, Dumfries was a busy port with several deeper water ports further downstream, some of which are still used by leisure and commercial craft.
The Caerlaverock Community Association has an excellent webpage on the Nith Tidal Bore including many videos of its passage.
Humber Estuary / The Wash
The Trent Aegir is generally said to be the second largest tidal bore in the UK and begins near where the River Trent flows into the Humber Estuary. It often reaches the town of Gainsborough, sometimes continuing further upstream.
It typically appears as an undular wave, although sometimes breaking waves appear in the shallower water near the channel banks.
Local enthusiast Angus Townley runs a community website for the town of Crowle (www.crowle.org) near the lower Trent. This includes an interesting webpage on the Trent Aegir with a lively comments section on recent sightings.
The Wiggenhall Wave occurs in the Great Ouse, inland from the port of King’s Lynn. It sometimes travels several miles upstream.
It is another good example of the so-called Aegir or Eagre that occur on the east coast; a name thought to have Norse or Latin origins.
The name Wiggenhall Wave was coined by local resident and enthusiast Kevin Holland who contributed this additional gallery of photographs of the wave, and who’s Youtube channel has many interesting videos of it passing.
The gallery includes a remarkable image of the inside cover of a local Parish Register with perhaps the earliest written record of wave watching. This was recorded in 1558, the year that Elizabeth I came to the throne.
Some interesting tidal bore phenomena
This final gallery of tidal bore phenomena shows some unusual effects that can occur as a tidal bore makes its way inland, such as reflected waves, waves travelling downstream and breaking waves behind the main wave.
Sometimes this leads to some great photographic opportunities.