Photograph by Paul Taylor

 As a child my imagination was the place I went to when I was alone, often making the countries depicted in my stamp collection the inspiration for imaginary journeys. Later many became real.

Rivers have formed an important backdrop to my life. I was brought up not very far away from the banks of the River Mersey.

In summer it was the reverse, we holidayed in bucolic otherness in a rural cottage aside a Surrey village green close by the River Wey.

I was drawn to work in Tyneside with the promise of the opportunities created by T Dan Smith’s Utopian image of Newcastle as the emerging ‘Brasilia of the North’. The River Tyne and the cityscape mirrors much that is familiar to someone brought up near the banks of the Mersey and it became my home.

Thinking about rivers as a starting point for virtual travel I allow my imagination to wander beyond the Mersey, Wey and the Tyne, but they remain as good a stepping off point than any for a journey in prose and poetry.

The Mersey for me is now about the flow of culture and art. Early on this was embraced by the poets Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten who emerged in ‘The Mersey Sound’ and John Lennon in his whimsical verse ‘In his Own Write’. 

The Tyne and the Wear played a formative role in the life of writers and in ‘Hame’ Michael Chaplin celebrates the life of his father Sid Chaplin, a miner who became a literary influence on John Braine, Melvyn Bragg and Alan Plater through his short stories, poems and novels. A personal Tyne favourite is Ted Lewis’ ‘Jack’s Return Home’ (adapted into the cult film ‘Get Carter’) and David Almond’s ‘Skellig’.

More rural environments like the River Wey feature in Roger Deakin’s book ‘Waterlog – A swimmer’s journey through Britain’ providing his ‘frog’s eye view’ of Britain’s waterways. In Katherine Norbury’s book, ’The Fish Ladder’ she too travels extensively from the Crosby side of the River Mersey, where Anthony Gormley’s statues stand, through the distant and lonely enclaves in Scotland and Wales exploring and exorcising her own grief by discovering the solitude of rivers.

A joyous view of rivers can be found in ‘Wind in the Willows’ set on the Thames, as is Jerome K. Jerome’s laughter inducing ‘Three Men in a Boat’, balanced by the more prosaic Dickens’ novels ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and ‘Great Expectations’. Moving north, Gainsborough, on the River Trent, is the setting for George Eliot’s ‘Mill on the Floss’ and to the east the vastness of the Norfolk Broads is the background for Graham Swift’s mysterious ‘Waterland’.

There are too many rivers internationally to identify as the backdrop to novels, but I will name a few novels that I have enjoyed. Marquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ is set in an unnamed Colombian port city on the Magdalena River, ‘Down the Yangtze’ finds Paul Theroux travelling through Wuhan on his way to Shanghai accompanying American millionaires on their boat trip. Companion to my own journey in India was Eric Newby’s ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’ where the River Indus features, and while floating along the Canal du Midi of France I delved into ‘Narrow Dog to Carcassonne’ by Terry Darlington.

The world is an interesting place and, as Norman McClean comments, inevitably ‘A River runs Through It’. Let us use this time to explore our world and give ourselves the space to reflect on what might be after this period of ‘self isolation’.

Again email, Facebook ,Tweet your own selections so we can enjoy your journeys.

Paul Taylor-The Random Blogger