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English Rivers

At the BSFA meeting, peake offhandedly said there were five great rivers of England, and the interviewee, Rob Holstock, agreed. Which five are they?

The Thames, the Severn... and then there's more competition for rounding out the set. Avon? Trent? Great Ouse? Tyne? Ouse? Wye?

This was apropos of a very interesting subject: a third-hand critique of Neil Gaiman's Englishness, and how he includes no river gods in American Gods, and the role which rivers play in Americans' conception of their country. (It's true. I picture the Midwest as a watershed, my home state bounded by the Missouri and the Mississippi.) The discussants then mildly contested this claim, as England is a country chockful of rivers, as is shown by how easily most of the country would be submerged if the waterlevels rose. But that's just the point. American's rivers are on a scale so much bigger than those of England. They carve the landscape on a much more momumental scale. England's rivers have their moments of vastness, but as they mingle with the sea and become part of the coast.

Let me illustrate. Here's a photo of the Arkansas River, a tributary of the Mississippi, and the sixth-longest river in the US. It's not a river I think about much, I have to say. This is a photo of it a good two hundred miles from the Mississippi. (Photo taken from Petit Jean State Park.)



Obviously size and influence don't necessarily correlate in terms of rivers' influence on their countries, and England has been very much formed by its rivers, especially before the railroad, when cargo transportation was still easiest on boats and ships.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
gillo
Jan. 25th, 2008 12:26 pm (UTC)
The Trent is definitely in there with the Thames and the Severn, both in terms of length and influence. The Tyne is another definite IMO. I'm not sure which I'd pick for the fifth - the Dee has one heck of an estuary and was a national frontier for quite a while. The Yorkshire Ouse drains a lot of other rivers - its complete basin is big and important. The Tees is another "frontier" river in a way, though.

And yes, that picture makes most of our rivers look like streams. But we are an island, not a continent!
owlfish
Jan. 25th, 2008 12:29 pm (UTC)
This country is in proportion to its rivers!

Thank you for your thoughts on rivers - I thought it might just be me as a non-native unable to figure out what the fifth would logically be. I'm reassured that you're uncertain too.
chickenfeet2003
Jan. 25th, 2008 12:38 pm (UTC)
It's hard to have really big rivers when nowhere is more than 100km from the sea!

I think my three besides Severn and Thames (and let's face it, Thames isn't much above where it stops being tidal) would be Tyne, Mersey and Tees I think.
swisstone
Jan. 25th, 2008 12:39 pm (UTC)
Thames, Severn, Humber, Mersey, Tyne. No room for the Trent in the top 5, I'm afraid. Or the Dee.
gillo
Jan. 25th, 2008 12:50 pm (UTC)
But the Humber is basically the Trent estuary. And the Yorkshire Ouse estuary. It only becomes the Humber where they join and is very short as a river. By the time it gets to Hull, or even Scunthorpe, I really don't think you can count it as a river.
swisstone
Jan. 25th, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
Fair point - I amend to Thames, Severn, Humber/Trent, Mersey, Tyne.
gillo
Jan. 26th, 2008 12:20 am (UTC)
That I can live with.
sam_t
Jan. 25th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
I think the trouble is that in a lot of cases it's not so much the river as either the estuary (for trade) or the feeder rivers and streams (for industry). So the Orwell and Stour between them (they join, more or less) have three ports that are or have been of a reasonable importance to the country (Ipswich, Harwich and Felixtowe), but no-one would argue for the Gipping (the Orwell before it becomes tidal, before Ipswich) as a Great River, even when it was in use as a canalised goods route.
geesepalace
Jan. 25th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Fair point. Still, without the dams the Arkansas would be much less impressive this time of year. For me that's one of the main differences between US and English rivers/streams/creeks: those in the US tend to be seasonal, full to flooding for a couple of months and much scrawnier the rest of the year, while those in England -- at least those not in estuaries -- tend to be so consistent that grass can grow to the edge of the water pretty much year round.
austengirl
Jan. 27th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
I agree with swisstone, in terms of size and industrial importance, the Tyne and Mersey are right up there with the Severn and Thames.
brendajecas
Jul. 16th, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC)
Both the Severn up to Stourport and the Thames up to Oxford have a fair traffic, but the Thames and Severn Canal is not much used.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )