For me, rivers are among the great sculptors of landscape. In terms of drama, I suppose volcanic action comes first, then glaciation and next rivers. But don’t assume they are any less exciting.
Rivers have given us gurgling streams, dramatic gorges, wide estuaries, falls and lakes. Their effects are everywhere. As boundaries they are both geographic and historic. Many towns and cities were, and still are, defined by the transportation and trade links they provided.
Many of our walking routes follow ancient pack-horse trails that linked with rivers as part of early transport networks – a joined up system.
For a good few years, my walking was dominated by the Severn and its tributaries. Living first in Staffordshire, my walks heading through the Welsh borders into North Wales, to the very source of the river, and also exploring the delightful Tern. Moving to Shropshire, my exploration continued, tramping miles along its banks. From Shrewsbury through the Ironbridge Gorge – Bridgnorth and Bewdley, on through Kidderminster.
Later, living in Worcester, the Severn was never far away, and walking trips progressed further South through Hereford to the Wye. There’s always something companionable about a river close by.
England’s longest river has ample opportunity to display just how varied a waterway can be.
Estuaries and Creeks
Now, living in Essex, river walks have a very different impact for me. The estuaries of the Blackwater, Crouch, and the Thames itself, create an extensive coastline with a network of tributaries and creeks – almost every walk is by water.
While landscapes are slow to change, rivers always differ subtly from day-to-day as weather, sunlight and tides play with them.
The added plus of a river walk is the variety of flora and fauna. Waterfowl are a given – more species of wader than I can ever hope to identify. In Norfolk I had the great fortune to spot a marsh harrier and Chinese water deer.
Waterside plants constantly intrigue. Wild garlic, water-mint and cress, sea-beet and samphire – waterways can be a forager’s delight.
If my first walking choice is hills, I’ve grown to love the pleasure of river walks and the serendipity they provide.