The Pull of the River

The Pull of the River

Matt Gaw
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
James Treadaway, a print artist, and friend of Matt Gaw decided to build a sixteen foot (slightly less than 5 metres) Canadian canoe in his back garden. A Canadian, or open, canoe has an open top as compared to a kayak. It has the advantages of being able to store a considerable amount of kit and may be found in various sizes. In this case, James had built the size of canoe which is usually termed a tandem for use by two rather than one and having a seat at either end.

Matt Gaw is a journalist and naturist and the prologue to this book describes the first run in the canoe when he and James launch it at Sudbury Water Meadows. Even though the two know this stretch of river, learning to handle the new canoe and experiencing the sounds and feel of the water while improving their paddling skills becomes a totally different way of life. From this beginning, Matt starts planning all the possible rivers to be explored.

From this the next chapter is one which describes a journey on the Waveney and the references to Roger Deakin, an early conservationist, who made similar trips. In fact, the canoe is named Pipe bearing some resemblance to Deakin’s canoe which was known as Cigarette. Initially, the author is brought almost to a halt when they realise it is too difficult to launch because the river flow is too low. However, a campsite owner allows them to launch from his bank and there follows a description of their travels through the different countryside bordering the Waveney.

On the next trip autumn seems to be coming to an end with the advent of cold weather but the two explorers follow the Stour yet again, intending to travel as far as the sea where they can experience paddling the canoe in tidal waters. This time their journey raises the interesting question of who has the right to access on non-tidal rivers . However, the following chapter travelling the Lark in midwinter sees the problems caused by too much abstraction and the effect of various types of litter, something which has affected many waterways. A weekend on the Thames provides another relatively short, sharp shock with the realisation that it is too easy to find one’s self in danger where water is concerned. As a pair in a canoe, Matt and James travel many rivers throughout the country, including the Alde/Ore, the Great Ouse, the Cam, the Granta, as well as a trip to Scotland, and one trip on the Colne which brought back childhood memories for Matt. Matt also describes trips on his own on both the Otter (where he finds a lot about the beaver project) and the Severn.

The book is interesting, with many insights into the different types of countryside, rivers, and those who frequent them. The descriptions of different birds and animals are well written to my mind and there are also passages which give pause for thought where Matt explains how he feels regarding the situations as they occur. Initially, I felt the whole thing was written as a series of separate notes and would still have preferred some idea of when these things happened and the duration of the trips, together with sketches, photographs, or maps thus helping to identify the various incidents and trips. These, sadly, are missing.

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