Enjoy a gentle River Severn walk in the footsteps of a poetic friendship
Picture two young men in a small sailing boat purchased for five pounds from a lock-keeper, idling their days when time stretched luxuriantly as the winding Severn, a feather boa of water cast over the shoulder of Wales. As the fragile craft braved the chancy currents and deceptive sandbanks of Sabrina they shared their hopes and dreams, their passion for music and poetry. Their names were Will and Ivor and they were kings of the water when all things seemed possible in a shining new century not yet tarnished by war.
A chance meeting on a tram in 1908 resulted in this special friendship between Frederick William ‘Will’ Harvey, training to be a solicitor, and Ivor Gurney, a promising young musician mentored by the organist of
Gloucester Cathedral. Both former pupils of King’s School in the city, they quickly discovered their mutual passion for music and nature. There followed golden days of walking, talking, and taking to the water. Gurney loved to visit Harvey’s family home in Minsterworth, where they enjoyed many a pleasant hour amid the books, piano, good food and company, as Harvey reminisced in his poem After-glow, written in a
prisoner of war camp in 1917: “Out of the smoke and dust of the little room/ With tea-talk loud and laughter of
happy boys…” Harvey encouraged Gurney’s poetry, and the two became virtually inseparable, ‘One soul uprapt’, who savoured ‘The joy of firelight and the sunken sun’ (FW Harvey). Gurney’s purchase of the boat provided them with the means to sail the Severn, although Gurney’s reckless nature led to a few close calls. On Dorothy, named after his sister, they frequently sailed upstream from Framilode, as FW Harvey relates in his poem Ballade of River Sailing. Both miraculously survived the war – FW Harvey, decorated for bravery and rising to the rank of officer, went on to become a solicitor; but Gurney, narrowly escaping death by gassing, was scarred by the conflict in ways that affected him the rest of his life. His mental health deteriorated and he was eventually placed in an asylum in Dartford, Kent for the last 15 years of his life, far from his beloved Gloucestershire. Harvey never forgot the friendship he enjoyed with Gurney and he evoked those ‘golden days’ in his poetry, as he became ‘the Laureate of Gloucestershire’ and the ‘Forest
Orchard dwellers alongside the River Severn at Minsterworth