River Usk

"Wysg" redirects here. For the radio station, see LifeTalk Radio.
River Usk (Afon Wysg)
Looking north across the river towards Caerleon, near Newport
Country Wales
County Powys, Carmarthenshire, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Newport
 - left Afon Cilieni, Nant Brân, Afon Ysgir, Afon Honddu (Powys), Grwyne Fawr, Afon Gafenni
 - right Afon Hydfer, Afon Crai, Afon Senni, Afon Tarell, Afon Cynrig, Afon Menasgin, Caerfanell, Afon Crawnon, Afon Llwyd, Ebbw River
 - location Fan Brycheiniog, Powys, Wales
 - elevation 502 m (1,647 ft)
 - coordinates 51°54′3″N 3°43′19″W / 51.90083°N 3.72194°W / 51.90083; -3.72194
Mouth Bristol Channel
 - location Uskmouth, Newport, Wales
 - elevation 0 m (0 ft)
 - coordinates 51°32′31″N 2°59′6″W / 51.54194°N 2.98500°W / 51.54194; -2.98500Coordinates: 51°32′31″N 2°59′6″W / 51.54194°N 2.98500°W / 51.54194; -2.98500
Length 102.0 km (63 mi)
Discharge for Chain Bridge (Usk)[1]
 - average 27.919 m3/s (986 cu ft/s) for 1957-2012
 - max 585.4 m3/s (20,673 cu ft/s) on 27 Dec 1979
 - min 1.58 m3/s (56 cu ft/s) on 27 Aug 2003
The River Usk near Abergavenny with the Blorenge in the background

The River Usk (Welsh: Afon Wysg) rises on the northern slopes of the Black Mountain (y Mynydd Du), Wales, in the westernmost part of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Initially forming the boundary between Carmarthenshire and Powys, it flows north into Usk Reservoir, then east by Sennybridge to Brecon before turning southeast to flow by Talybont-on-Usk, Crickhowell and Abergavenny after which it takes a more southerly course.

Beyond the eponymous town of Usk it passes the Roman legionary fortress of Caerleon to flow through the heart of the city of Newport and into the Severn estuary at Uskmouth beyond Newport at Newport Wetlands.

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal follows the Usk for most of the length of the canal.


The name of the river derives from a Common Brittonic word meaning "abounding in fish" (or possibly "water"), this root also appears in other British river names such as Exe, Axe, Esk and other variants. The name is cognate with pysg (plural of pysgod), the Welsh word for fish.[2]

The name of the river appears as "Wÿsk" on the Cambriae Typus map of 1573.[3]

Environmental significance

The whole river has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It contains estuary with mudflats and salt marsh, lagoons, bog and marsh, varied grassland and woodland habitats along its course. Its flora and fauna are diverse and includes Atlantic salmon, otters, twait shad, shad, lamprey, European perch, brown trout, chub, common dace and common roach as well as kingfishers, herons and other wildfowl and bird life. Dippers can be seen upriver along with red kites.

The Usk has long been a noted salmon and trout fishing river. Salmon of over 30 pounds (14 kg) can still be caught. The river has the highest estimated salmon egg deposition of any river south of Cumbria and the Scottish rivers, and exceeded its spawning target. The river has recently been rated as the best fly fishing water in Wales for salmon and inside the UK Top Ten.

The normal tidal limit of the river is just below the bridge at Newbridge-on-Usk, some five miles north of Newport.[4]

In history and legend

The River Usk has played an important role in the history of Wales and features in some local folk-tales.

Historically, the tidal reaches of the Usk have been used as a major shipping port for much of the last millennium, mostly because of its wide and deep mouth, and good navigable access from the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel and thence access to home waters and further overseas.

Evidence of the Usk's long-standing use in transport and trade came in the form of the remains of the Newport Ship that were discovered in 2002. This ship, dated to around 1465, was most likely a trading vessel and may have sailed around Europe or even beyond in its lifetime. Its presence in the Usk has confirmed what an important trading route the Usk must have been to the many towns and villages along its course.

The Usk has also played a role in many local legends. The Medieval Latin text De Ortu Waluuanii recounts a humorous tale in which an incognito Gawain pushes his uncle King Arthur into the Usk, and is then forced to explain to his wife Gwendoloena (Guinevere) why he is so wet.[5]

Geoffrey of Monmouth writes of Caerleon in the mid 12th century:

For it was located in a delightful spot in Glamorgan, on the River Usk, not far from the Severn Sea. Abounding in wealth more than other cities, it was suited for such a ceremony. For the noble river I have named flows along it on one side, upon which the kings and princes who would be coming from overseas could be carried by ship.

It is not until the 13th century French prose romances that Camelot began to supersede Caerleon, and even then, many descriptive details applied to Camelot derive from Geoffrey's earlier grand depiction of the Welsh town."[6]

The Usk valley contains many sites of prehistorical archaeological significance and the valley has long been a trade route, settlement area and an avenue into Wales for successive invaders such as the Romans and Normans.

The Newport Transporter Bridge, the lowest crossing point on the river, has the greatest length of any surviving transporter bridge in the world.

See also


  1. "Usk at Chain Bridge". Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
  2. Owen, Hywel Wyn; Morgan, Richard (2007). Dictionary of the Place-names of Wales. Gomer Press. ISBN 978-1-84323-901-7., page 484.
  3. A reproduction of the map is at File:Atlas_Ortelius_KB_PPN369376781-011av-011br.jpg
  4. Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Explorer map sheet 152 Newport & Pontypool
  5. Day, Mildred Leake (1994), "The Rise of Gawain, Nephew of Arthur", in Wilhelm, James J., The Romance of Arthur, New York: Garland, p. 366
  6. Camelot in Norris J. Lacy, Editor, The Arthurian Encyclopedia (1986 Peter Bedrick Books, New York) 75-6.

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