The Pull of the River: Tales of Escape and Adventure on Britain’s Waterways by Matt Gaw

Review published on May 8, 2018.

People have their lives filled with constant interruptions and phones demanding attention constantly, tearing from one place to another, we rarely take the time we need for ourselves. Matt Gaw decides that is time to discover another speed to his life and with his friend, James, seek the tranquillity of his local river in their homemade nautical red canoe, Pipe, the colour of Mae West’s lips supposedly…

People have been drawn to rivers for millennia, not only do they hold an essential element to life, they have always had a spiritual dimension too and often now are used for all sorts of leisure activities. Travelling in a canoe on a river or canal is a silent way of moving through the town and countryside and offers a startling new perspective of the places that they thought they knew well. From their local rivers, they head to Britain’s longest and best-known ones, the Thames and the Severn, further afield to the south-west on the River Otter and across Scotland’s great glen.

They get wet as you’d expect after falling in several times, get stuck in the mud, beached, bitten alive by midges, failing to see Nessie, brushing through the branches of willows, racing the rapids and have a couple of very scary moments. Sometimes they make time to talk when paddling, at other times the only sound they make is the gentle splash of the paddles as they sit in silence discovering just how much wildlife is there when you sit quietly and wait for it.

It was a really enjoyable book, written with humour, a wry wit and a keen eye as he describes the land and waterscapes that they pass. The context of the book is wider than that though, his research of the rivers uncovers those nuggets of information of the historical and cultural terrain that overlays the rivers and that makes this a much richer read as they paddle along. I also found it refreshing as Gaw brings no personal baggage to his watery voyages; it is just him and his friend taking the time to immerse themselves in the natural world, sleeping out under the stars and rediscovering a place where time moves at a very different rate to modern life; a world that few people see now days.

Paul Cheney 4.5

The Pull of the River: Tales of Escape and Adventure on Britain’s Waterways by Matt Gaw
Elliot & Thompson 9781783963348 hbk Apr 2018

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