Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
“The River Greta is a relative trickle, albeit a very lively and beautiful one that flows - on its short, fast, snaking, four-mile ride to the River Derwent – through some of Lakeland’s most amazing scenery. It is, certainly, to my mind, and for all sorts of reasons, the greatest little river in the world.”
Keith Richrdson has written a hymn of praise to the river that whispered through his childhood dreams.
Eric and Kath Bainbridge live close to two bridges that cross the Greta. One is the old stone bridge that stands beside the old forge, where he has lived all his life. The other is the Greta Bridge, “The best Civil Engineering Structure of the Century”, “nicknamed the ‘B-Dum; bridge by some locals because of the sound it makes” when lorries pass over the joints. For two years, Eric worked as a welder on the bridge. Today one of its supporting columns stands in his garden and the roadway casts its shadow over their cottage.
Across the road from the Twa Dogs pub is Greta Cottage, once the home of Billy Wilkinson. Keith used to buy black jacks and gobstoppers from his little shop, though Wilk would often be out fishing, watching the heron and the dippers and telling a tall story to any unwary lad that came by. But he’s also remembered for his cartoons of such locals as “The Man Wot Likes His Pop”.
Wilk’s son, the artist, Donald Wilkinson, recalls watching the river, the colour and the rocks, and seeing water voles by the chestnut tree “washing themselves and sitting in the sun”.
Paul and Eleanor Paxton followed the hippy dream from Coventry to Toll Bar Cottage in 1970. Their son, Adam, remembers that, “As children we were never out of the water.” For him, the river is always different, ever changing and never still.
Robert Southey followed the Greta to its source in the headwaters of the Glenderamackin. Raisley Calvert lived on its banks. William Wordsworth wrote a sonnet to the river and Sara Coleridge fell into it. Bobbin mills were built on its banks.
But there are dark clouds. The river can be unruly and burst its banks and its waters have been polluted by lead mining in the past and the rubbish and litter left by some people today’
Val Corbett has photographed its swirling waters, the fish emerging on the line, the boys leaping in to swim, the red squirrel on the pine branch, the heron and the kingfisher, the ribbed fur of the wet otter. One lovely picture shows Calvert Bridge clothed in Virginia creeper, another the rusted post of the old sluice gate.
Old photographs and paintings tell the story of how it all used to be and a fold-out of the Victorian Ordnance Survey map shows just how it once was.
Keith Richardson’s books have celebrated the character of the country he knows so intimately. In the people and places of today he senses the past that has shaped them.
The Greta is a mere four miles in length but it flows through the heart of a community.
On May 25th, just five months ago, Keith, after half a century, returned to Stony, his favourite swimming pool when he was a lad. The day was sunny but the water was cold.
This stroll along the Greta, through its history and its people, is as joyous, refreshing and nostalgic as that swim in Stony Pool. Enjoy it.