Rivers Run: An Angler’s Journey from Source to Sea by Kevin Parr
(Rider Books, 224 pages, hardback. Out now and available here in the Caught by the River shop.)
Review by Danny Adcock
As I cycled Norfolk’s quiet lanes earlier today I noticed the first major outbreak of hawthorn flies. A warmish Spring day in late April or early May encourages these black, lanky-legged flies to hatch, when they can be seen above the hawthorn hedges after which they are named. Even a light breeze can knock them out of the air, and onto a nearby river, stream or lake in numbers that make the local trout giddy and careless in pursuit of them. I don’t start trout fishing in anger until the first hawthorns appear: it is one of those cues upon arrival of which I absolutely have to go fishing. Unfortunately, today I have to write this review of Kevin Parr’s book Rivers Run. Doubly frustrating is the fact that another thing guaranteed to make me want to go fishing is a good book about other people going fishing, and I fear just stating this is a good book (and then going fishing) will not suffice.
Rivers Run speaks of more than just anglers and angling; of more than a man’s narrative through life spiralling in strands round childhood, adolescence and adulthood to where the author is now: ‘aged, greyed and expanded,’ – his words, I hasten to add. Memory and reminiscence soar on eagles’ wings throughout these pages, but not with sombre melancholy. Parr leads us up and over the struggles of a life – depression, illness, and financial troubles – with a sure-footed and steady prose to a place where if you ‘live simply and keep hoping – then somewhere a door always seems to open.’
Stripped back to bleached bones, this book follows the author to the rivers that have been a constant throughout his life; to a bridge over the Avon; a side stream of the Itchen; a tumbling burn on Mull. But it is the Kennet that draws him most greedily to its weirs and riffles, taking as it does three whole chapters for itself. Each river, each bridge, and each fish even, have imprinted themselves on Parr’s psyche in the way they do many anglers. Gradually he adds flesh to the bare bones of the rivers themselves as he revisits the places he fished both as a child, and later in life. But as well as adding flesh he adds the lifeblood of the landscape itself: its nuanced hills and valleys, its soaring kites, its burrowing moles, its swaying ranunculus. To the author each river is more than the sum of its parts, more than a trophy fish or a favourite pool. He seems to me the type of angler who slots into the landscape rather than becoming a blot upon it. Whether roach from the Itchen or barbel from the Kennet, the affection of the angler for his quarry is as palpable as his love of the landscape and its rivers. Each fish is a gift from the wild, whether a remote Scottish island, or the centre of Winchester.
As well as a gentle lament for his past, Rivers Run is a quiet celebration of one of our most under-valued natural resources. Too many take for granted our water courses, particularly our chalk streams which Parr describes as ‘gasping.’ It is not a staid lament though, more an ode to those times and places in his life when a river ran true as a friend. Loss is a theme which Parr returns to again and again throughout the book, but his losses are not necessarily regretful ones, just things that have happened in the course of a life. He and his wife are in a different place than they were ten years before, but though it may not be a place quite as financially secure, it is a place where the simple things in life – watching a colony of ants, or wondering about the late appearance of his local adders – are as fulfilling as any financial rewards.
Though the sun shone all day today, and I know that on the little chalk river a couple of miles away, and the lake that lies beside it, the trout will have been slashing at the hawthorns as they flopped onto the water, I’m glad I didn’t go fishing today. It won’t be a regret that I lost a few hours fishing, because there’s always tomorrow. And that is the definitive message of Kevin Parr’s book for me: don’t look back with regret, and appreciate every wonder, however small, of our beautiful countryside, because, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the day after, but at some point soon the sun will be shining again, the hawthorns will be hatching, and the trout will be rising.