'BB' has forsaken his familiar caravan and Land Rover and embarked on the motor cruiser Jolly Enterprise. Instead of dusty, noisy highway there is the quiet byway of the River Nene, which threads through rural Northamptonshire. Less well known than the Thames, Ouse or Severn, along its winding way, flanked with willow groves and water meadows, 'BB' found peace and tranquillity.
His naturalist's perception and his ability to impart scene and atmosphere are combined in this record to enrich our own understanding of the mysterious life of a river. The names of the riverside villages convey the magic of the English countryside – Wadenhoe, Titchmarsh, Water Newton, Tansor, Fotheringhay, Cotterstock, Orton Waterville – and Denys Watkins-Pitchford's exquisite engravings evoke the flora and fauna, the backwaters and locks, churches and watermills, which formed the setting of this voyage.
'BB' found himself very conscious of the past: at Fotheringhay, for instance, where Mary, Queen of Scots, went to her execution; at Lilford, where rich birdlife in wood, field and river inspired its fourth Earl to become one of England's most celebrated ornithologists. He complements his own narrative with many recollections of an old lady – Mrs Julyans – which re-embroider the faded tapestry of rural life in this area at the turn of the nineteenth century.
'BB' conjures up for the reader the fragrance of water mints, and the wild, wet weeds about the weirs, that 'unforgettable, unforgotten' river smell, through summer's unfolding to the time when the mists of autumn cloak the water meadows and departing swallows hold their parliaments upon the gold-lichened tiles of many an ancient mill. In this noisy age of dense population, such things have an increasing value; perhaps the waterways of England are the last strongholds of quietness and peace. This book will summon up for many a reader on a dark winter's day a vision of an idle, golden summer, where the only sounds were those of the whispering reeds and willows,
and the secret music of lapping waters.