We spent Easter weekend in a National Trust holiday cottage on the Cliveden Estate beside the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. It was lovely having the freedom of the estate and gardens to walk and explore – especially when the day trippers faded away – and the pleasure gardens of Cliveden, with their parterres and formal gardens were interesting. The house was warm, comfortable and attractively furnished and the company of Elisabeth and Robert was enjoyable. But the most delightful aspect of the whole weekend was our proximity to the river.
When I say we were beside the river, I mean we could have flung a stone from our bed through the window and into it. It flowed, swift, dark and deep, ranging in colour from dark green to black, right beside us. Ducks came knocking at our door each morning. Giant swans glided like white sailed boats along the blackness of the water, and if they slackened their pedalling at all, they were carried backwards on the current. We saw a pair of long tailed tits, all tail and diminutive. I saw a brief blue flash that I thought might be a kingfisher. There were a variety of ducks and geese, honking and squabbling. We saw a heron make a laconic elegant flight up river.

Every so often a motor boat would chug past. Rob, out for an early morning run, spotted three swimmers in wet suits. On the day of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race, a whole armada of rowers slipped down stream past us, singly or doubly rowed, in their ones, twos or threes at a time, for several hours.

Our pleasure in the great river reminded me of my enjoyment of another very different river of my childhood, the beautiful River Deveron in Banffshire in Scotland. The River Deveron (Black water in the gaelic) is a famous fishing river which runs through Banffshire for some 60 miles before emptying into the North Sea at the bay which shelters Banff and Macduff. It is fast flowing and unpredictable, and it made swimming in the bay hazardous because the swift strong current did not pursue the same path through the sea water. I used to love how, when I stepped out of our house on the shore, I never knew whether the beach would be smooth sand, or a mountain of rocks flung up over night. Quite near to the bay is the beautiful 18th century 7 spanned bridge, built by John Smeaton and linking Banff and Macduff. The river ran through the estate, now holding a lovely golf course, where Robert Adam had built an ill-fated but remarkable dwelling, Duff House which in our childhood was a ruin we could wander through. It caught my imagination but at that time of course I did not know that Adam was Scotland’s foremost architect of all time. One could walk by the river through a wild estate covered in snowdrops and spring flowers, to the single spanned Bridge of Alvah which hung high above the gorge, and where the black water formed a dark whirlpool and people would leap to their deaths. Further back yet it flowed more sedately through the fertile fields surrounding Turriff; a town as I recall it utterly devoid of charm. The Deveron bubbled past the small holding in the wilds of Banffshire where my parents later lived, and it also graced the dignified town of Huntly, where John played golf and I saw for the first time a brown dipper with his white bib dancing among the water cascading across the boulders.

I love rivers, and of course the mighty Thames is magnificent, and we have many rivers we can boast of and every one with its own especial charm. Elisabeth had read that China had ‘lost’ over a thousand rivers – swallowed up, disappeared by excessive consumption and industrialisation, and I thought of the proverb, A thousand years hence, the river will run as it did, and reflected that ‘losing’ rivers on this scale did not bode at all well for China.

We, however, in these islands are blessed with many rivers. But for me the dashing Deveron was a fascinating childhood companion and will always remain one of the loveliest rivers of the British Isles.


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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