Reading Rivers

Mar 19 2024

front covers of books about rivers

Hampshire’s chalk streams are some of its most precious wild places. These globally rare habitats are home to otters, water voles, brown trout, and kingfishers. With their serene beauty and vibrant wildlife, it’s no surprise that chalk streams have inspired so many authors.

This summer we are working with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to celebrate our chalk streams through a book collection, poetry competition and literary festival. Find out more about Tales from the Riverbank events.

You can find all of the books in the Tales from the Riverbank book collection at Andover, Overton, Whitchurch or Alresford libraries or online.

Waterlog by Roger Deakin

Front cover of book with the title WaterlogFirst published in 1999, Waterlog is Deakin’s account of an epic year spent swimming in Britain’s wild water. Starting in his own ‘moat’ in Suffolk, the book follows his rambles through stream, sea, loch, and fen and he devotes an entire chapter to Hampshire and visit to Stockbridge for a dip in the river Test.

Waterlog is full of wildlife sightings and the author is thrilled to encounter water voles, brown trout, and kingfishers. Smaller species, like damselflies, are equally cherished. We see scenes through the eyes of a buzzard wheeling overhead, or an otter slinking through the undergrowth.

For Deakin wild swimming is a subversive activity, attracting those seeking to escape confinement. Swimming lengths is compared to a tiger pacing in a cage; even gravity imposes a kind of “tyranny”. When he evades a group of birdwatchers, or argues about trespassing with a river keeper, his rebellious joy bursts from the page. In some of the book’s more sombre passages the author confronts issues like abstraction, invasive species, and pollution, but seeing part of the river Lark encased in concrete - “impossibly remote and fenced” – bring him to tears.

The Pull of the River: A Journey into the Wild and Watery Heart of Britain by Matt Gaw

Front cover of book with the title WaterlogThis book follows author Matt Gaw and his friend James Treadaway as they devote a year to exploring the rivers of Scotland, East Anglia, the Midlands, the West Country, and London by canoe.

Opening with their first ‘test paddle’ on the river Stour, the pair are driven by a compulsion to leave the land behind as they careen between the riverbanks and plough into the undergrowth. Inspired by this first journey together they set out to explore a watery network of rivers and streams that wind across the British landscape.

Their close proximity to nature is both thrilling and disappointing as they navigate rivers poisoned by pollution and urban waterways cluttered with litter and shopping trolleys.

Their trip is dogged with mundane struggles, but the endless mud, biting insects and soggy camping spots actually serve, for Gaw, to narrow the gap between humans and nature and demonstrate how rivers have over time changed people as much the as they have carved and moulded the physical landscape.