Episodes

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01Gaelic Waters20190513

Gaelic songs and stories burst with mythical water creatures, from seductive kelpies and selkies to woeful waterfall banshees. In the first of five Essays from the banks of British rivers, folk singer Julie Fowlis guides Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough through a watery Highland underworld.

Producer: Alasdair Cross

Folk singer Julie Fowlis conjures kelpies, selkies and waterfall banshees from Gaelic song

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

02Medway Mudlarks20190514

On the banks of the River Medway, Nicola White is in search of artistic inspiration. Driftwood, perhaps? A Victorian poison bottle or a Roman pot? In the second of a series of Essays on British rivers Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough joins the mudlark artist as she combs through mud and shingle.

The Medway rises in the South Downs and passes through sleepy Maidstone but it starts to get really interesting as it broadens out into mudflats, industry and islands. It's here that Kentish history, from the 43AD Roman invasion of Britain through the peaks and troughs of the Royal Navy's Chatham Dockyards to the preparations for Nazi invasion, can be read from the shore.

Nicola collects the stories she finds there- military dog-tags, messages in bottles- and turns them into art inspired by the naïve abstraction of 20th-century St. Ives.

Producer: Alasdair Cross

Driftwood, a Victorian poison bottle and a sailor's lost boot. Potent inspiration for art.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

03The Art Of Zen Fly Fishing20190515

For Feargal Sharkey the perfect cast is a lifelong obsession. It's the moment when man and river exist in perfect harmony. It's a passion he shares with generations of artists before him on the chalk streams of Hertfordshire. Dame Juliana Berners, Prioress of St Mary of Sopwell wrote one of the earliest books on the etiquette of hunting, hawking and fishing in the 14th century. Her work influenced Izaak Walton who opens The Compleat Angler with a vivid description of a walk from Tottenham to the waters that Feargal fishes today.

Growing up in Derry with the mountains and trout-rich rivers of Donegal on his doorstep, Feargal fished from childhood but when the punk fame of The Undertones reached its peak he found himself in north London with only the Grand Union Canal for company. Discovering the chalk streams on the edge of the city brought fishing back into his life and since then he's dedicated himself to the preservation of these waters. England contains most of the world's chalk streams, perfect habitat for trout, waterfowl, otter and water vole, but abstraction for drinking water and pollution from farming and industry has pushed many of these rivers to the edge of destruction.

Feargal shares his determination to save the chalk streams with Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough and instructs her in the Zen art of fly fishing.

Producer: Alasdair Cross

Once lead singer of The Undertones, Feargel Sharkey now gets his kicks from rod and line.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

04Power And Glory20190516

Stand knee-deep in a river and consider the energy flow. Water presses against you, light reflects upon the surface. What else can you feel? Helen Czerski of University College London views the Thames with the eyes of a physicist. At low tide she takes Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough for a wade through the surprisingly clean waters separating Brentford from Kew Gardens.

How would the river look if embankments were removed and channels breached? Why do islands form and persist? Where does each drop of Thames water come from? Why do artists like Monet and Turner observe and interpret the river in different ways?

You may never view the Thames in quite the same way again.

Producer: Alasdair Cross

Helen Czerski shares a physicist's view of the River Thames.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

04The Power Of The Thames20190516

Stand knee-deep in a river and consider the energy flow. Water presses against you, light reflects upon the surface. What else can you feel? Helen Czerski of University College London views the Thames with the eyes of a physicist. At low tide she takes Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough for a wade through the surprisingly clean waters separating Brentford from Kew Gardens.

How would the river look if embankments were removed and channels breached? Why do islands form and persist? Where does each drop of Thames water come from? Why can the river flow east and west at the same time?

You may never view the Thames in quite the same way again.

Producer: Alasdair Cross

Helen Czerski shares a physicist's view of the River Thames

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.

05Swimming The Avon20190517

Poet and wild swimmer Elizabeth-Jane Burnett joins Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough for an inspirational dip in the chilly River Avon.

Elizabeth-Jane's latest book, The Grassling, is a nature memoir about her father, his illness and her attempts to reconnect with the fields and rivers that sustained and moulded his family for generations. Her poetry collection Swims describes a series of wild swims around Britain, connecting them to the environmental and political issues of the day.

In Worcestershire she enjoys her first taste of the River Avon, braving the cold but enjoying the sand martins, the skylarks and a low flying heron which might just find itself immortalised in Elizabeth-Jane's next poetry collection.

Producer: Alasdair Cross

Poet Elizabeth-Jane Burnett swims the River Avon in search of inspiration.

Essays from leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond.