“I count it one of the luckiest things in life to have been born within reach of a river valley; not in it, nor above it, but just so far removed from it that it never became a too familiar sight and never quite ceased to be a wonder. A man born on a hill must look down on the world; a man born in a valley must look up to it. We, on the other hand, had neither to look up nor down. Standing on flat but raised ground, we looked across and about us; we saw things squarely, at a proper distance, on a proper plane, in a proper perspective. And that gave us perhaps, in that district, the sturdy independence for which we were noted.”
H E Bates, Down the River (1937)
Filmmaker James Murray-White welcomes you
I was immediately attracted to this project when Clare mentioned her idea, because it focuses on exploring this little 13 mile stretch of river, meandering through two beautiful villages. And it touches deeply into our human connection with rivers — a deep dive into a watery anthropological journey.
Growing up not far away, in the village of Girton — which has a small stream at its woody edge, where I spent many a happy day splashing in the water and building dens nearby — I know these flatlands and fens well. They are engrained into my very soul, and I find that lines from Benjamin Britten resonate with me:
“I am native here, rooted here.
By familiar fields, marsh and sand, ordinary streets, prevailing wind”
Benjamin Britten, Peter Grimes (1962)
Clare’s words dive deep into history and human connection with the Mel. It’s been a wonderful honour to walk the Mel with her and get to know some of it, to pause where she was inspired to write, and to point my camera and capture some moments in time.
It’s also been a real treat to meet with Bruce, either walking by the river, hearing about the work of the River Mel Restoration Group and his sightings of various birds and fowl over the years. And to be with him hearing stories from the elders in the villages of their engagement with the river over the years, and see him enthusing youth at the school.
Previous page: Welcome