Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Matthew Shaw

6th January 2024

Matthew Shaw dreams of the Rivers Penryn, Wheelock, Dane, Weaver, Stour & Avon.

I have walked along the Penryn River into Falmouth at least once a week throughout the course of 2023. On one of these walks it dawned on me that I have walked along stretches of rivers all my life, always lived very close to rivers and yet never really thought about this at all. I am not a river dweller but have always dwelt by the river.
There must be something in the pull and flow of a river that draws me near and a flowing presence that makes wherever I am feel like home.

These walks would have started for me growing up in Sandbach and walking the River Wheelock before it joins with the River Dane at Middlewich and then joins again to flow as the River Weaver on reaching Northwich. Cheshire towns connected by a flow of water that grows as it travels through the county. When I think of it these small, connected, evolving waterways were always there, alongside the canal systems that by the 1980s had become much more about pleasure and leisure but had once been a vital trade route for industries trading in the north west with the rest of the UK.

Like a river I haven’t really stopped in 2023. Nothing much in the way of pauses or breaks from working. I love to be busy. There is a magic when things in life combine and reveal you’re in the right place with the right person and people, and doing the right things. 2023 feels like that. For years I walked along the Rivers Stour and Avon in different sections. Home was once Blandford Forum and the Stour, as it flows through the Georgian Dorset town and Thomas Hardy Country. I would later follow this river to Christchurch, a place I also made home, and the spot where the Stour and Avon meet before flowing as one and merging with the sea. Both of these rivers fascinate me. Their connection to Stonehenge and the ancient as well as urban settings they pass through sets my mind raving to the connections between distant family and ancestors. The river continues to flow as time itself. The joining of the Stour and the Avon kept coming to me as a mental image as the year progressed and life, work and art merged as these rivers do. Thankfully however, I do not feel lost at sea!

This brings me back to Penryn and the river. Penryn is one of the oldest settlements in Cornwall. It has community and it has soul. It had perhaps once upon a time seen a more flourishing high street but artists continue to open spaces and the community is as strong as ever. As I reflect during these winter days and nights I embrace the time to rest and the time to dream. I dream of the rivers and their resilience, their determination and energy. Arterial energy snaking the land and perpetually carrying our connections.