It's a wet holiday morning and so I've been browsing the bookshelves of our little narrowboat. The boat is named after a library and so we're not short of books on board and mostly tomes chosen to be exactly the sort of thing one might pick up on a rainy day. Indeed, we appear to be well endowed with Reader's Digest almanacs, courtesy of my late grandma, who loved reading and buying other people books in equal measure. The first one I picked up, 'Heritage of Britain', is shakily inscribed "To Ruth and Rob from Mum, 18.12.86" (was that the day she wrapped the Xmas presents, or is it the date of my parent's wedding anniversary?!). But there were too many kings and queens in that volume and so I have settled instead on 'Exploring Britain: Rivers, Lakes and Canals'. More specifically, today's story is of the Trent, the river upon which I grew up and along whose adjacent canal markontour now floats.
The Trent is the effective dividing line between northern and southern England. Starting in the hills above Stoke at just a trickle, multiple tributaries amplify the flow as the river begins the downward slant of its U-shape, making the Trent Britain's largest river system*, despite never being more than 10 metres across at its widest point. In 1984, when my book was written, industry still flourished along the Trent from the potteries of Stoke through to the breweries of Burton upon Trent, where markontour grew up breathing the hop-scented air. Add in tributaries like the Tame, bringing contaminated water from the Black Country, and the first half of the river was ninety miles of "lifeless pollution" thirty years ago.
That is not the whole story, however, because just past my home town the pure waters of the Dove and Derwent roll down from the Peak District, adding 40% volume to the Trent and making it "among the best coarse fishing rivers in Britain". Fittingly, this is where the father of angling, Izaak Walton, learned his trade and numerous Trent-side pubs and hotels are named after him to this day.
Upstream, the Trent is (and was) only passable by canoe and thus the potters and brewers of yore saw fit to invest in what became the Trent and Mersey canal, upon which markontour's floating home currently resides. The last town on the Trent, Gainsborough, appears in George Eliot's timeless novel ' The Mill on the Floss' under the pseudonym of St Oggs. I've never been there, but I doubt "the port is still busy with ships transporting products of the town's mills and engineering factories" as they were in 1984.
And so the chapter ends, unlike the rain and still no sign of the mechanic returning with a new gearbox cable. What's next on the bookshelf?
* Good for Top Trumps, although admittedly the Trent is only Britain's third longest river, after the Thames and the Severn.
** Image: Ossie by the Ferry Bridge, courtesy of Jason Gallier, WildLightPhotography. Used without permission in all honesty, but I'm sure he won't mind..