Some things in life continue to stimulate child-like instincts in me. Rivers are a prime example.
I’m drawn to rivers. Given me a bridge over a small, clean, clear river, and I’m a youngster again. I peer into the depths, partly due to the angler in me (another child-like instinct) partly due to my fascination in all that exists below the surface film.
Rivers feed my senses…
They are nature’s television: I can stare for hours tracing the patterns in current, wondering what is causing the creases of water on the surface. Most of the time, I want the ‘full HD’ experience and push a pair of polarising spectacles on my nose. Now I can see a sub-surface jungle of weed dancing in the current over beds of boulders, trout and chub eying the surface and waiting for the river to deliver lunch, pike skulking in weed beds watching the trout and chub.
They make music: The thunderous tumult of a lowland weir pool or the gentle trickle of an upland river.
They are olfactory delight: Rivers have a characteristic smell, from the ionised aroma of a mountain stream, fresh as salad, to the heady, heavy perfume of a sluggish river on a long summer evening.
As a hillwalker, they can be a frustration (particularly in spate) but more often they are saviour. They can help you navigate, refill your bottles and provide a very agreeable focal point for a wild camp (after the necessary risk assessment of flood, of course).
However, despite their tremendous power and landscape forging abilities, they can be all-too fragile. In upland environments, drought can rob them of life, albeit temporarily. Nevertheless, a dry riverbed is a sad sight.
In the lowlands, the demands of agriculture can poison waters and choke them with weed. Abstraction can kill flow, which, in turn, kills habitat. Realignment removes pools and back eddies and beds of clean gravel. Silt sours the riverbed.
I’ve always thought rivers are about connection. They link the mountains and the sea and are a focus for people and wildlife. They are the best expression of that most valuable resource, water, and are the best barometer of our interaction with it and the land.