I can’t wait to get a copy of Charles Rangeley-Wilson’s new book the Silt Road, the story of a lost river. A chalk stream that rises in a copse much like the River Chess from a spring in Pednor, a small stream I played in, fished and watched nature unfold as a child. Wagtails and kingfishers and the occasional mink. This story charts the course of a river and the history that unfolds from its source to where it disappears under car parks and streets, where it once gave life to the town.
Much of what I have read so far about the book is mirrored in my own life from my childhood experiences. There were two streams that I would fish for trout in, the River Chess and the River Misbourne both start as trickling streams one from a copse and the other from a field and run their course in the Chiltern Hills and off to places I never knew, for me once the river disappeared from view it had gone. There was another stream the Wye but I seldom ventured over the hill to the Hughenden Valley.
In the book the Silt Road it refers to Chairmakers who die of fever, these are the Chairmakers in Hampden Woods, the wood that are close to my parents home where I would find their rotting tools in the undergrowth and the earth works that would be the only indication of their existence. So much of the essence of this book I can relate to. The stream that runs from the back of Radnage through semi industrial High Wycombe where furniture making was its main craft. The River Wye cuts through the Hughenden Valley in through Hughenden Manor once the home of Disraeli, the former British Prime Minister. The Wye flows through the town via Bourne End and into the Thames. The Wye is the other important Chiltern chalk stream.
The River Chess runs from the back of Chesham through the town where it meanders behind cottages and onto open meadows via Latimer where once a 1st Century Roman Villa stood on its banks across meadow land to Chenies then onto Sarrat. However the Misbourne appeared to come from a spring in a field that fed a small lake in a field that in some years disappeared completely and when running twisted its way through Little Missenden to Old Amersham where it once ran in front of a Roman Villa and then again runs behind small brick and flint cottages onto the memorial park until it drop out of view. It passes through towns where it was once used to throw bottles and waste into. It passes industrial plants, gas works then under the London Road to Chalfont St Giles then the pastoral plains of Chalfont St Peter. The Misbourne then runs into the River Colne ,you will end up driving over it if you use the M40 to drive into London, ultimately the Colne feeds into the Thames.
Whilst searching the foreshore for more ceramic shards for my project Words In Water I found a complete fossilised sea urchin. I have found similar on Brighton Beach and a couple in the soil on Chorleywood Common as a child.
Going back to the Silt Road I am still fascinated by the finds in the silt and sand of the Thames. Each and every item has had a purpose and has been handled by lost souls. Within the Thames I have found Saxon fish traps and bones tools, Medieval jugs and floor tiles where many a foot has trodden, clay pipes from the brewery workers and shipwrights, coins dropped by the ferryman, porcelain dolls from Victorian children, numerous ceramic shards of plates, bottles and jars of which the brands are long gone but their soul still remains. Buttons from service men and of items vintage fishing tackle such as spiral Wye weights and bait droppers.
- Silt Road: The Story of a Lost River by Charles Rangeley-Wilson: review (telegraph.co.uk)