River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Riverwatch Revisited

May 2015

Winter is now a fading memory. Today the river Wissey is dead calm and idyllic. Fish surface and plop as they come up for flies. A new season in the making. The hour is very early but it is already bright. The birds are singing and the forecast promises another sunshine day. A nearby meadow is full of rabbits all busy munching the grass. A colourful sunset has been and gone. Most people are still asleep but they will surely wake up and have that feel good factor!

On a similar day exactly 100 years ago a rowing boat makes its way down the river. The river is very narrow and reed beds stretch from the bank far into the river leaving only a narrow ribbon of water for navigation. In places undergrowth meets overhead and makes a tunnel. A waterman rows along at a slow pace and his young wife sits cross legged at the front of the boat holding aside reeds and branches that hang over the water. All is peaceful and idyllic. Love is in the air!

Suddenly the brightness of the early morning disappears. An alien black cloud now screens the sun. The sunrise of only a few minutes ago with its spectrum of reds and yellows is forgotten. The black cloud is a mystery. A fine and joyful day is no more.  A breeze and then a wind becomes obvious. There is a strange eerie feeling whereupon the water becomes rough and disturbed.

The young woman lifts her head back and enjoys the moment. The water laps against the bows of the boat as it slowly cuts through the water. The day is to be really hot and the river is the perfect place to be. Moorhens swim in and out of the reed bed. Ducks follow the boat hoping for food scraps. The two people are off to market to buy and sell provisions. They have vegetables from their garden to sell or to exchange for meat.

The high expectations for the day have gone. There is a negative feeling that cannot be explained. The birds have stopped singing and the rabbits have disappeared. Strangely in the distance there is no darkness and the weather is still bright and normal. The transformation is only to our stretch of the river.  We have entered a new world of difference and time.

Suddenly the boat tips over. It has hit a sunken tree. The young woman slips into the water. Her husband has lost his balance and is also in the water. He shouts for his wife but there is no answer. He swims around and in desperation dives under the surface to find her. The boat is overturned and is sinking fast. Soon the young man has also disappeared. Within a minute or so every reference to them was gone other than a pair of oars floating downstream!

Our morning alongside the river has now changed back again. The dark cloud has gone. The wind has blown away and the prospect of a perfect spring morning has returned. A flight of geese land on the river. A pair of otters have woken up and are now sliding down the bank for a wash and play. It is still early on the clock and they will return home again before anyone can see them. A huge fish jumps completely out of the water and returns with a loud splash. Soon the river is completely becalmed again and clearly mirrors the reflections of the bankside trees and colours. Frogs and toads croak away in the margins and reconfirm a new season is upon us.

No one ever knew what happened to the young couple. It was even more tragic as they were  newly weds of only a week. The river was searched but nothing was ever found. The river folk still continued to use the their boats to go backwards and forwards to market. The wise woman of their village had promised that one day the gods of the river would show signs of where the accident had happened whether it would be shortly or even a hundred years hence. And there the matter was left!

By Ivor Hook

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