The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw: a trip down rivers & waterways of GB

‘A Journey into the wild and watery heart of Britain’

Matt Gaw is a writer, journalist and naturalist who lives in Bury St. Edmunds. His work has been published in the Guardian, The Telegraph and The Times. He works with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and currently writes a monthly diary for The Suffolk Magazine and is Director of The Suffolk Festival of Ideas. This book, The Pull of the River, is his first.

I was delighted to be asked to review this book, The Pull of the River, as my husband and I have the privilege of living in a boathouse on the river Thames. Living on a river is a unique experience. Every day is different, the colours, the sounds both natural and human. It is an ever changing scene.

Matt has a friend called James who decided to build a canoe. As a result of this they plan a year long trip down the rivers and waterways of Britain. Starting with the calm waters of the River Waveney and ending with the stormy waters of Loch Ness. This would be a new experience for them both. The canoe is called ‘Pipe’, a nod to Roger Deakin and his recording ‘Cigarette on the Waveney, a journey by canoe.’

After their first trip, both men are surprised by the impact being back on land makes on them. The ‘noise and rush of people and cars.’ “It feels like it is not just land we have been outside of, but time too.”

Each chapter is a journey rich in historical references and present day observations. Gaw manages to conjure up beautiful scenes containing sounds and physical beauty. “The sound of the river is truly beautiful, a sleepless lullaby of knocking stones and shushing water.” The journeys were not always easy. Matt and James had to endure freezing temperatures and sleep in hammocks in really quite testing conditions.

The pull of the river book cover
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They were confronted by some difficult decisions and choices. On the River Stour they get stranded on the saltmarsh and they must decide whether to cross the mudflats or return to the rough waters of the estuary. They decide on the rough waters and are surprised that they actually enjoyed the challenge.

Some of the journeys Matt does on his own. One chapter contains a contemplative trip down the River Colne. This was the river connected to his childhood and is especially well known to his Father.

This book is a delightful meander through many of the rivers of Britain. Matt Gaw has opened my eyes to the impact the waterways have made both historically and now present day on our lives. Matt demonstrates the emotional pull it has made on him and others. Travelling on water is a wonderful time for reflection but can never be taken for granted.

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