This essay first appeared in the programme book for the sixty-ninth Aldeburgh Festival, published by Aldeburgh Music, Suffolk, 2016.
All words and pictures © Justin Partyka
I never met Roger Deakin. At one time it seemed our paths would cross, but they never did. He was the author of three celebrated books — Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain (1999), Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees (2007), and Notes from Walnut Tree Farm (2008). He was a contributor to the “new nature writing” which emerged in the early 2000s.
In 1969 Deakin bought the 16th century Walnut Tree Farm and its twelve acres of meadows from a local farmer who had been using the derelict house to keep pigs in. Deakin got to work restoring his new home. He stripped the house down to its original skeleton of oak, ash and chestnut timbers. Gradually he rebuilt the house around him, sleeping in a bivouac with his cats inside the huge central fireplace until he had created himself a bedroom. And there he became a writer. (more…)
Worth reposting this link from last year. Nature Disco 3 (mixed by the mighty Dubwood Allstars) features music from several Rivertones releases (Thankful Villages, Be:One and At Hawthorn Time) alongside favourite tracks of ours by Bill-Ryder Jones and Edwyn Collins, Carwyn Ellis & Sebastian Lewsley. The voice you hear throughout the mix is Roger Deakin recorded by Chris Watson for the BBC. Turn the phone off and drift away to this, it’s beautiful and truly psychedelic audio.
It’s hard to imagine Caught by the River existing without Roger Deakin.
Although the name of the site was borrowed from the Doves song, it could very well have been a subtitle for Deakin’s peerless 1999 aqua-memoir Waterlog. Deakin was caught by the river. And by the canal, the lake, the moat. Any body of water large enough to consume the human form was his to be conquered.
Back when Jeff, Andrew and myself sat in the pub talking about what the site might one day become, a dog eared paperback of Waterlog was usually sat on the table between amassing empties. Trying to place a finger on the pulse of the book, Jeff declared it to be a work of ‘pastoral anarchy’. Respect nature – stand in awe of it even – but flick a very British V sign to man’s enforced boundaries and regulations.
After nearly a decade online, that pastoral anarchy is still absolutely central to what we do. It’s there in the Letters from Arcadia, in Luke Turner’s journeys into Epping Forest and it’s there in the Be:One record. It’s a spirit that says, “This spot looks nice, I’m diving in.” It’s Roger’s DNA weaved through right through the site.
Hope you’ll join us today raising a glass to Roger on the tenth anniversary
First published in The Guardian on Saturday 16th September, 2006.
Words: Robert Macfarlane
In 1968, Roger Deakin bought the ruined remains of an Elizabethan house, and 12 acres of surrounding meadow, on the edge of Mellis Common in Suffolk. Little survived of the original 16th-century dwelling except its spring-fed moat, overhung by hazels, and its vast inglenook fireplace. So Roger put a sleeping-bag down in the fireplace, and lived there while he rebuilt the house around himself.
Walnut Tree Farm, the house he eventually completed, and in which he died a month ago, is made largely of wood. It is as close to a living thing as a building can be. When big easterlies blow, its timbers creak and groan “like a ship in a storm”, as Roger put it, “or a whale on the move”. He kept the doors and the windows open, in order to let air and animals circulate. Leaves gusted in through one door and out of another. Swallows flew to and from their nest in the main chimney. It was a house which breathed. Spiders slung swags and trusses of silk in every corner. As I sat with Roger, 10 days before his death, a brown cricket with long spindly antennae clicked along the edge of an old biscuit tin. (more…)
Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of Roger Deakin’s death. Accordingly, we’re dedicating the weekend to the memory of this extraordinary man.
The work of Deakin has been a big inspiration since the inception Caught by the River. If you too have been moved, galvanised or otherwise affected by Roger, we’d love you to write to us and tell us about it.
Submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Thursday 25 August, after which time they will be collated into a post. We look forward to hearing from you.
Words and pictures: Melissa Harrison
August, and I am once more in Dorset, luxuriating in a world that isn’t mine. Always the lush garden with its eight potted agapanthus and riotous vegetables; and around the old stone house the late summer fields. Always the chickens to manage, and the resident dog far bigger than my own – two dogs, in fact, this time. Always the vivid dreams of childhood, and the Perseids to look out for at night. And always, through these visits, through the years now, the river.
This year the water level is low. On my first day I sit on the little jetty at the end of the garden, shaded by trees, and dangle my feet; they only just skim the surface. It runs cold and clear and is full of tiny fish; but the riotous vegetation on the banks has its roots in dense alluvium over rich Kimmeridge clay. While the upper water may seem clear, the riverbed is veiled in fine, dark sediment, its depths lost almost entirely to view. (more…)