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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 7 May 2013
A lot of outdoor writing is all about the idyll. But for Charles Rangeley-Wilson this idyll is exactly the opposite: a once-perfect little chalk stream that rises in the Chilterns just west of High Wycombe and gets swallowed up by brutal ribbon conurbation long before it joins the Thames at Bourne End.

Loosely structured as a personal diary of repeated pilgrimages through the valley of the Wye, the diary's inner and outer landscapes reflect and reveal each other. The story of how humans came to bury this river is one that builds in evocative, fascinating "concentric rings of growth" like the industrial heartland and housing estates of High Wycombe itself.

It's not all about Wycombe, however. Much in the manner of WG Sebald, a wide range of black and white illustrations are carefully placed within the narrative, and sidelights include dream sequences, geological stratigraphy, the workings of water meadows on the Herefordshire Dore, Sir Francis Dashwood and the Hell-Fire Club, Luddite rebellions, sacred springs, how trout got to Australasia, and the toxic rivers of the underworld.

The cumulative effect is powerful and haunting: a work of literature which invites us to ask ourselves searching questions about the sort of landscapes we've created and now, sometimes, have the opportunity to restore. Highly recommended.
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on 14 July 2013
Funnily enough I spotted this book in a bookshop in the Eden Centre High Wycombe - literally a hundred yards from the scene of it's core theme. Why did the River Wye disappear from the built-up area of High Wycombe?

The simple answer (not mentioned in the book) is that at the time the river was buried the Oxford Road, that ran alongside it was literally that: 'The road to Oxford' and the amount of traffic needed a pragmatic solution. It's interesting also that the replacement M40 flyover at Loudwater and the devastation it caused to the river is another main focus. So perhaps you can say it was Oxford's fault the river was buried and trashed in High Wycombe!

But the book's not really about that superficial layer. The Wye river at High Wycombe is just an anchor to meditate on 'natural' time beyond the yearly cycle that we are consciously engaged with (super-year time I suppose you could call it) and the relationship between the human and natural worlds. The human world is represented by the town of High Wycombe and its written history, and the natural world represented by the river and Charles' totemic trout whose home it is.

It's a mundane position in the scheme of things but the book makes you see the interface between these two worlds here as an exemplar of a wider balance/fault-line/battle/relationship between the human and natural worlds and also contextualises it with the long natural history that brought it about in that place and time . It just so happens its in the physical form of the River Wye in this case because he's spotted something essential going on there.

This book brought out themes that I hadn't thought about much before. It has definitely changed my outlook, and for the better I hope.

I recommend this book. Just flow through it like a trout in a chalk river and see how different and energized you feel at the end.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 February 2014
This is a book about the loss of a river to a landscape and its people.

The River Wye is a small chalk stream that slides through an equally small part of England. This book follows the river from its source in porous chalk to its eventual disappearance in the concrete culverts of High Wycombe.

Chalk streams are (possibly) the epitome of the southern English countryside – slight, small, managed rather wild, but still holding a vision of something larger and more grand.

This is a book that is “haunted by rivers” as Norman Maclean may have said – for while the river still exists today in some form it is the old river - the one that was lost – that dominates the book. The physical loss of the river and the lost industry that it once supported are the central planks of the book.

We meet chair makers, millers, trout fisherman and trout themselves – all of which needed the river and most of which have been lost.

In a history of one small place, I think the author is trying to write a story that has wider application, and in many ways he succeeds. The story of this lost river is matched in the loss of natural places world wide – when a place is no longer valued or understood, it is easier to let it be lost. And to make sure such places are protected they need to be valued; while clearly not an original idea, this book contributes to the idea that we need to reconnect to the landscape around us to ensure its survival. Landscape is not something that can be viewed in the same way museum pieces can be – it needs to be lived, experienced.

However, the book does seem always seem to flow comfortably from page to page. In the sections which look at the landscape of the river and the author reaches for an emotional or philosophical response, the prose seems to slow and become labored. I found myself rereading a number of sections, where the sentences seemed to falter mid-phrase. These sections contrasted with the more “historical” sections – especially the account of bringing trout to Australia – where the book is a real page turner – crisp, succinct and flowing. In my opinion these were the best parts of the book.

So, in summary I found the book a little two paced – rather like the pools and riffles of a stream itself – and I suppose different readers will find charm in either part.

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on 8 December 2015
A lovely idea - tracking a once beautiful chalk stream through the largely gloomy urban landscape of High Wycombe and downwards through time, local history and edgeward sprawl. Given the lack of narrative arc or dramatic tension, this is a demanding challenge, which Rangely-Wilson pulls off in part, when he lingers long enough to become lyrical. But too often the text itself gets bogged down in meandering musings and bittiness.
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on 15 May 2013
A very quirky way to tell the story of our local river, it runs at the bottom of our garden.
Would think of interest to anyone fascinted by the way water works...literally! And a sub
story too.......!
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on 9 May 2013
the book is a sad indictment of our use of the environment in favour of commercial enterprise, opportunities were lost. It also speaks of our history and how towns develope. I found the book very absorbing.
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on 28 June 2013
Pure poetry ~ words and pictures complementing each other ~ a book to treasure ~ I have lent it to one or two friends but make jolly sure it comes back to me each time ! Thank you !
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on 18 May 2014
The River Wye has been hidden from view in High Wycombe, covered over in the sixties as the powers that be at the time thought it was unsavoury and full of rubbish. Rangley-Wilson wants to go back to the source of the river, and discover about the people that lived and worked on or near the river, and the reasons why it was covered up.

He travels to soggy fields in search of the springs that make the tributaries and to the sites of old mills, and spends a lot of time in council offices trying to find out why the river has been stifled and ignored for so long. He writes about the inventor of the water meadow who saw how water flowing from a molehill kept the ground near green, rather than the parched grass nearby. He visits old mills, and hears the river through a grate in an underpass.

I always look forward to books that concentrate on a single place or entity. An author who really knows his landscape and his subject can really make these books soar. In parts this is really nicely written, he has a way of making what he is writing about engaging and interesting, and Rangley-Wilson does know the location having lived there in the past. However there are some parts that don’t seem to make the sense. One chapter was on trying to take salmon spawn to Tasmania, I can see the links, but a whole chapter? Interesting in lots of ways, but I feel it could have been so much more.
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on 4 February 2014
This is good. Some of the criticism of the one star review is justified, though. It could have been edited a bit. It takes him a while to get going on this book, and you begin to wonder if he is just losing it, but he finally manages. And it is good. Very good.

Anytime he starts talking about himself, that's kind of a bore. And anytime he has, you know, a 'dream' you think 'Gawd, stop. Embarrassing.' I hate it when writers have dreams. They just kind of make them up. You know, deep down, they didn't have any damn dream. And it's all just filler. But anyway.

Yeah, a couple criticisms. But the individual stories, the threads, are excellent: trout, furniture, the Luddites, Tasmania, council housing, all gripping little gems of writing.
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on 13 February 2015
Thoroughly enjoyed this. The atmosphere created around the stream was amazing and drew me in as though I was there witnessing it for myself. Whilst accepting the validity of their inclusion, I found the historical and geological passages sometimes a little too laborious to read and a touch distracting. An amazing author, certainly had me hooked!!
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