Caught by the River

Five Rivers

Malcolm Anderson | 10th July 2015


Words and pictures: Malcolm Anderson

My bloody waders are leaking again. A trickle of cool water is beading down my leg as I stand waist deep in the middle of the river Avon, the shadow of the tallest cathedral spire in England rippling on its flowing stained glass surface. Ostensibly I’m fly-fishing but the line is trailing out behind me, a long meandering mess, much like my thoughts.

I’ll admit to having been a little lost for the last ten months or so here surrounded by the never-quiet ring road, charity shops and co-op stores of Salisbury. I’ve sat here, my frayed edged notebook collecting dust in the corner. Plugging on with life, not standing still by any means, enjoying myself thoroughly but strangely mute. The urge to write silenced.

Without knowing it I’ve been looking for something I just didn’t know what.

Un-self-consciously however, without artifice or agenda, I’ve realised that what I have been doing is reacquainting myself with the river channels that I knew so well in my old life before Drove Cottage. I’ve been poking around nooks and crannies, looking for hidden shady corners. Swimming, canoeing, fishing and dangling legs over the edge of bridges.

A river does not so much run through Salisbury you see, it’s more that the city itself is defined by water and the five rivers that run into, under and around it; Nadder, Wylye, Bourne, Ebble and Avon, the blue veins of a quintessentially English pastoral landscape, permeating the human heart of the city. Most residents of the city-that-is-a-village don’t really notice the rivers and their importance to the city, or their place in the wider landscape but I can’t help myself. I’m drawn to them. I need to sit by them, swim in them, fish on them, to understand their ecology and history.


These clear flowing arteries are England’s rainforests, so important are they nationally and internationally that inwardly I despair at the lack of interest and understanding of them, even in the population that live on their banks. I feel a deep-seated rage against the greed that steals their gin clear life-blood from the aquifers under Salisbury Plain in the name of profit and at the ineffectual regulatory regime that is supposed to be protecting them.


So here I stand, developing a cold squelchy right foot, in the middle of the river on a perfect June day. The river current pushes and pulls at my failed waders and I feel time and space folding subtly along with the fabric. Here and now, this very place, this very second is the centre of it all. I exist for a split second in the maelstrom at the centre of the hydrological cycle, food cycle and their blurring borders with the past and present of the human world. Upstream is the past, downstream the future and vice-versa.

With every step in either direction, the relative centre shifts and my universe adapts accordingly, expanding with new sights, sounds; collecting stories.

My wandering attention is snapped back into focus by the cry of a peregrine cutting through the noise of the city, drowning out the drone of distant traffic. A boomerang shaped shadow follows the sound and arcs across the watermeadow, hunting supper for the chicks in the nest on the ancient tower in the cathedral close.

Just like that I know that I’m writing again; that I want to write again. It’s time to record my random hopping journey around these five rivers and their valleys with no itinerary, just a curious mind and a photographer’s eye.

Malcolm Anderson on Caught by the River