Downstream, By Tom Fort

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The Independent Culture

Finding a trickle of water measuring just "12 inches across" in a field in rural Staffordshire, Tom Fort feels kinship with Speke at Lake Victoria. Travelling by foot, bicycle and sometimes punt, his easy-flowing narrative follows the River Trent until it mingles with the Ouse.

The river's reluctance to shed its identity reminds him of T S Eliot: "A river is within us, the sea is all around us." Fort's paean to the Meander of the Midlands ranges from Rugeley, which is famous for Dr William Palmer the murderer and a power station, via Newstead Abbey, where Byron's youthful passion for a local heiress was stymied by a foxhunter called Mr Musters, to the bizarre etymology of Nottingham, apparently from "homestead of Snot's people". A splendid voyage.