Caught by the River

Five Rivers – January

Malcolm Anderson | 24th February 2016


Words and pictures: Malcolm Anderson

Out of my window the early January rain is sheeting horizontally across the landscape, obscuring the gentle sweep of the downs to the North. Somewhere beyond the shifting blanket of grey that blurs sky into land to my left, the ancient earthworks of Figsbury Ring sit silent and deserted. No one but sheep will be up there in this weather; even the crows sit sullen huddled tight in their yew and ash bowers.

Looking south through the house, a dark smudge of thorn woodland running along the chalk ridge cuts through the gloom, its spiny fingers festooned in cottony old man’s beard. Hidden beyond that inky dark horizon I know that the flinty angular bones of Clarendon Palace jut from the chalky soil and can picture its multi-faceted sides glinting blue, black and green with all the silent darkness of the open ocean.


Inside Savages Cottage however I’m snug at my desk. The log burner crackles behind me as I daydream looking out of the window, my mind wandering along paths and lanes that my feet ache to tread. Mungo is asleep on my feet and the room smells strongly of pine, a sensory recollection of the sparklingly festive tree that until yesterday stood declaring the festive season in the corner of the room.

The cottage sits nestled in this ancient landscape, not in the tumble down ramshackle way that Drove Cottage did, but as a functional form; an agricultural tool. No more out of place than a barn or a rusting plough in this landscape shaped by thousands of years of human endeavor and here, nestling between Beechy Down Copse and Cockey Down, it simply belongs.


Sitting just downhill of the cottage is an ancient circular dew-pond fringed with age old coppiced willow. Until now, but for some browning nettles and a few scraggly fallen willow branches, the pond has been empty but under this seemingly never ending deluge it has filled up alarmingly quickly. The water has run off the freshly ploughed fields and poured down the track, picked up the cloying agricultural smelling debris from the livestock yard and then, ignoring the blocked silt trap and field drain, has surged along the road and into the dew-pond. The water has come up so quickly that I’ll be honest; it has been giving me the willies. Having lived through flooding once I have been getting twitchy about the potential for it to happen again.

It’s not just the idea of flooding again though; I think this anxiety runs deeper. Having lived through so much in the last seven years or so I feel like I’ve been looking for a home and for love forever. It’s like the mercurial nature of the last years, the search for something to share and someone to share it with, has become a part of me; like a scab that you know you need to leave alone to heal but can’t help worrying at.

I’m sitting on the edge of my seat. Anxious. Waiting for the house to flood, to be made redundant, for Roz to decide that actually I’m an idiot. All of this and none of it. I’m caught in life’s headlights.

I’m not a pessimistic person, I try to be positive and forward thinking but experience has me second-guessing myself, making me feel that in some way I don’t deserve all this. I’m not good enough. I shouldn’t be happy.

Worrying too much has set off my Crohn’s disease again and as I sit here my stomach cramps, every muscle in my body tightening painfully. I clench my teeth tightly in pain and frustration as my legs shake under the desk and wait for it to fade. It’s a feeling that over the years I’ve gotten to know well, something that for the most part I self regulate with fresh air, exercise and managing my stress levels. Sometimes though, it bubbles up when I’m not expecting it. And this time, boy was I not expecting it. I mean, seriously, why would finally getting everything I’ve looked for cause this level of anxiety?

Good god, man up Anderson. I will not be a victim, made ill through worrying over nothing. I need to be proactive and stop fretting.

I need to act.


I don my waterproofs and wellies, grab a shovel from the shed and splosh my way down towards the dew-pond. I start digging ditches to carry water away from the house and channel it safely away downhill. Each full shovel load of slopping wet mud is positive action made flesh; mud covers my hands and splashes on my clothes. My muscle cramps ease and are replaced by the warm burn of exercise.

The rain sprays in under my hood and runs down my face and falls from my beard in a steady stream, mingling with the muddy slurry smelling torrent heading off down the hill away from the house, taking my irrational worries with it.

Malcolm Anderson on Caught by the River