Rivers were once the lifeblood of major cities around the world, bringing in food, immigrants and wisdom from those far flung places that many thought only ever existed in folklore. They brought employment to the masses, served as the ultimate fortification in war and also played host to some of the best festivals man has ever witnessed.
The halcyon days of the river may have passed but they still enthrall the casual visitor with their majesty, speed or outstanding natural beauty. We asked you, the h2g2 Community, to get water-wise and tell us about your favourite river and your response is below.
Eggleston Beck, England
From high on Middleton Moor, Eggleston Beck tumbles into the Tees. It passes on the way a bridge whose arches, had the river been built elsewhere, could easily have been home for several families - but of course it wasn't.
The exact same stretch of river was the inspiration behind the film Deliverance, which was based on the adventures of some small boys who, armed only with bags and pocket-knives, made the torturous journey downstream in an inflatable dinghy. They stopped only to construct dams or build a killer rope-swing, These were designed with a stunning degree of skill (and equally stunning disregard for safety) so as to break and dump the unfortunate swinger in either a goodly clump of stinging nettles, or indeed the river itself, to the immense amusement of all other small boys in the vicinity.
Glaslyn Gorge, Beddgelert, Wales
On a hot summer's day, Glaslyn Gorge is an idyllic walk through a narrow mountain pass, with the river on one side and the trackbed of the old Welsh Highland Railway on the other. Trees drop down to the river, with rocks exposed and the river running between them while buzzards circle overhead. Children often play or swim in the river and they can often be seen sliding down the waterfalls. With a pleasant walk back to the town of Beddgelert and a cracking ice cream to look forward to when you get there.
Having a look at the gorge in winter will reveal a rushing torrent of water trying to force its way down from the mountains of Snowdonia to the sea. Where rocks were uncovered in summer, they've now got water flowing over and around them. The small waterfalls become much greater in volume and the noise and spray are noticeable. Pools between drops now have eddies flowing round and round as the water is forced into circulation. Turn up sometime in the winter and you might see some people kayaking down this section of river.
River Trent, England
The River Trent rises on Biddulph Moor, north-east of Stoke, and flows 171 miles until it enters the Humber Estuary at Alkborough and flows on to the North Sea beyond Hull (making it the third-longest river in England, after the Thames and the Severn). At the point where it flows through Nottingham, it used to be a very important supply line, and was even used by the Romans. The river gave rise to the first settlement of the Roman city. Along its banks these days are the City Ground (the Nottingham Forest football stadium), and the famous Trent Bridge Cricket ground.
In Victorian times the river used to freeze over, and people would ice-skate on the river. However, it no longer freezes over. Anglers were also once able to catch trout in the river, but because of pollution this is no longer the case.
Strangely, when the River Trent reaches Stoke-on-Trent it's little more than a trickle - it only acquires what many conceive as 'proper river' status when it meets the River Sow at Great Haywood, just south-east of Stafford. There, the river runs parallel to the Trent and Mersey Canal and there's a lovely old stone footbridge that links Great Haywood with Shugborough Hall, the seat of Lord Lichfield. The river's pretty wide there, but also quite shallow.
When I was growing up it was a lovely place to go - paddling around, making rope swings out of trees overhanging the river, carving things out of sticks, messing around with inflatable dinghies and the like.
River Avon, Bath-Bristol, England
Perhaps the nicest thing about the Avon at Bath is the Pultney Bridge. It must be one of Britain's oldest bridges, and is the only one that still has shops and buildings along its sides.
There's also a rather nice weir on the Avon at Bath, which offers a nice photo opportunity with Pultney Bridge in the background. Be warned though, quite a lot of people think that the water's safe for swimming - it isn't, and several people have drowned on that particular stretch of river.
Follow the Avon down and you'll come to Bristol. There you'll find the now attractively-restored Bristol Docks and three examples (four if you count the nearby GWR Railway) of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's work: the Clifton Suspension Bridge spanning the Avon Gorge, the SS Great Britain and the floating harbour.
Not many people know about the floating harbour; it's much less famous than the other two engineering sights of Bristol. Basically, the floating harbour is kept at a permanent state of high tide, allowing bigger ships to be moored, by a series of pumps, lock gates and a diversion of the River Avon (called 'the new cut', and dug by French POWs).
The River Almond, East Central Scotland
The River Almond has always been close to my heart. Growing up in Livingston as a child, there was always a river trip every year, along with the customary Edinburgh Zoo trip! In my last year of primary school, we became custodians of a stretch of woodland (sadly now all houses) and the river flowed through part of that. It's been a huge part of me and I still walk my dog along the river almost every day.
The river begins on the east side of the Cant Hills, about a mile north of Shotts (North Lanarkshire). It flows past Harthill, through West Lothian, catching Whitburn, Blackburn and Seafield. Here it's joined by the Briech Water. It flows through Livingston (old and new) and on to Mid Calder where it is joined by Linhouse Water, a main tributary. It goes under the Almond Aqueduct, which holds the Union Canal, along the M8 motorway and then hits Edinburgh. The river goes under the M9, past Kirkliston and the airport. It travels under Cramond Brig and Barnton before reaching the Firth of Forth at Cramond. The journey is a little under 28 miles in total.
One of the nicest places to see the river is the Almondell and Calder Wood Country Park. There are a large number of great walks there, and the river is a key feature in most of them. When it's been raining really heavily and you walk down there, the sound of the water is almost deafening.
The Almond Valley Heritage Centre, Livingston, incorporates Livingston Mill Farm. This has a waterwheel (which has been restored) and is powered by water from the Almond. The location makes a great day out for the kids (even grown-up kids!) if anyone is interested.
Cramond is another grand day out. If you haven't seen the wonder of Cramond, or have not walked out to Cramond Island at dusk, then you are missing a treat. Seeing the sun set over the bridges is an experience.
Until a few years ago, no creatures were ever seen in the river. It was heavily polluted as a result of the oil, shale and coal mining industries in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Apparently it was Scotland's worst polluted river. Fortunately, a plan was implemented to improve the water quality, and now you do see fishermen along the river. Often while walking the dog at night you find all sorts of frogs and toads hopping about. It's a lovely thing to walk beside. Just beware of the midges!
The Forth, Scotland
From Loch Ard to the North Sea, the Forth wanders through Scotland's historal sites such as the battlefields of Stirling Bridge (1297), and Bannockburn (1314). But it is its bridges which serve to really define the river for the rest of the world, or rather one bridge in particular that featured in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, a lasting memory for an entire generation.
The thing about the river is not so much the river itself, but the classic Victorian Forth Rail Bridge (often used as a metaphor for a never-ending job: 'It's like painting the Forth Bridge'). The Forth was once the lifeblood for Edinburgh, with goods coming into Leith.
A few years ago, a whale got stranded on the Forth and now the bones are in the Museum of Scotland (Chambers Street, Edinburgh). Also it is traditional for a few of the more braincell-challenged to jump into the Forth on New Years Day.
For me, the river holds many happy memories - days spent wandering along its more gentle upper reaches with a rod in one hand, trying to wave away midges with the other. Sailing out to the Bass Rock at the mouth of the estuary and being mobbed by hundreds of gannets and herring gulls and sticking a gloved hand into a hole in the ground and pulling it out, complete with clown-billed puffin trying to bite off a finger. Shore fishing of the neuk of Fife and reeling in a catch only to find that I had half a fish and that grinning seal out there had the other half. Sitting in a small boat in bright sunshine with a friend and a couple of bottles for company, while 200 yards away the sea mist formed an impenetrable wall complete with foghorn blasts.
The River Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland
Most people think of the industrial works along it when they think of the Clyde - the great shipyards, iron works and mills. They are mostly gone now and the river, which was the main source of employment for Glasgow, has gone quiet. There are flats and shopping centres where the works used to be. The river also has another side where there is a lot of wildlife and beautiful walks. A favourite is a walk from the outskirts of the city to Bothwell Castle - a ruin now, but still impressive. From its origins in the hills to the great Firth of Clyde there are lots of interesting places to visit. There is even talk of salmon returning to the Clyde now that industrial pollution has been reduced.
According to visitthames.co.uk, the river starts at Cricklade and flows into the sea between Kent and Essex. The Thames has been the focal point of London since Roman times, mainly used for trade; at one time it hosted the world's biggest docks - the Port of London. When the river froze over, the frost fairs it hosted were a major attraction. Due to this highly-industrialised past, it was really filthy for about 1000 years, but in the past 20 years or so has become far cleaner and now has a lot of wildlife.
In Central London, the riverside is a fabulous place to walk. You can see the Houses of Parliament, the new GLA headlamp building, the scummy South Bank buildings, the Globe Theatre, St Pauls, the Tate Modern and many other attractions. Further east (best seen from a boat) you can still see many old dock buildings, many of which are now converted into apartments. And eventually, of course, you get to Greenwich and Canary Wharf, both of which look spectacular from the river. There is also an interesting riverside walk from Greenwich to the currently empty Millennium Dome.
The Dart, England
The Dart is stunningly beautiful throughout the whole of its length, and inspires a deep love in those that know it, yet the folklore that surrounds it is very dark.
It rises in the bleakness of Dartmoor, then winds through steeply wooded valleys, becoming tidal at Totnes and meeting the sea at Dartmouth Castle. The river still supports a few traditional salmon fishermen, but the main trade today is pleasure trips and visiting yachts; occasional warships and cruise liners still visit Dartmouth, but timber ships no longer navigate the tortuous channel to Totnes. Even today the river dominates life in its lower reaches as there is no bridge below Totnes, and the only way to cross is by one of four ferries.
The name comes from the old Celtic word for oak, and the river is unusual in being considered masculine. Local people are still quietly very superstitious about the river; children are taught to 'love the Dart, respect the Dart, but never ever trust the Dart'. Everybody in the area knows the old rhyme which in one form begins:
Dart, cruel Dart,
Must take each year
at least one heart.
In all honesty, it is difficult recall a year in which the Dart has failed to claim his grim tribute.
The River Tyne, England
The Tyne is a beautiful river with a lot of history. It starts in Cumbria, on Alston Moor (Alston is the highest market town in England), skirts Hadrian's Wall, passes Wylam (where George Stephenson - he of the railways - was born), Blaydon, passes under the eight bridges of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Gateshead (with the new Baltic Art Gallery - the largest art gallery in England outside London), past Wallsend (named thus because Hadrian's Wall ends there), then the Tyne and Jarrow (where The Venerable Bede lived) to Tynemouth where it empties into the North Sea.
It was a major route for the export of coal from the 13th Century until the decline of the coalfields in the second half of the 20th Century - giving rise to the saying 'taking coals to Newcastle' which proverbially describes a self-evidently pointless task.
The lower reaches of the river used to be one of the world's most important centres of shipbuilding, but, despite valiant efforts, it's pretty much all gone now. To support the shipbuilding and export industries of Tyneside, the lower reaches of the river were extensively remodelled during the 19th Century, with islands removed and bends straightened.
Due to all the industrial work going on along its banks, the Tyne, like many major rivers, used to be filthy - little more than an open sewer - but it's been cleaned up and is now one of the finest salmon rivers in England. There's no river tour, but you can get a foot passenger ferry, which goes between North Shields and South Shields.
The Mersey, Liverpool, England
Well, one Scouser at least had to cite the Mersey. The source of the Mersey is in Stockport, under a large shopping centre where two smaller rivers (the Goyt and the Tame) meet before heading off to Liverpool and the Irish Sea.
Once you get to Liverpool, although the river itself isn't that great (despite being home to porpoises and squid, apparently), the banks, especially on the Liverpool side, have such magnificent buildings - the Three Graces, fantastic views of Liverpool, historic docks (including the world's first dry dock).
Also, at one time it was probably (commercially, at least) second in importance only to the Thames in London. It does flow, after all, through the British Empire's second city.
The Glen River, Northern Ireland
It may not be long, but the Glen River is impressive. It flows down the slopes of Sleive Donard above Newcastle, Co Down, Northern Ireland, and has a relatively short life before it reaches the sea below. However on the most popular route up Northern Ireland's highest mountain it is an almost constant companion.
On a hot day it can be a godsend to dip a cloth or hand into the flow to wet a sweaty brow on the ascent or descent of the mountain.
Valle Verzasca, Switzerland
The Valle Verzasca river flows through a rugged mountain valley in the south of Switzerland, not far from the Italian border. It's a beautiful region, with an almost Mediterranean climate. Trekking is very popular in this valley. You can go from the railway station in Locarno to the village at the top end of the valley, Sonogno.
A walk along the track down the valley offers beautiful scenery of the river, with a varying landscape consisting of forests and meadows and small well-preserved, typical mountain villages. There are bus stops along the way, which means that you can choose between different distances - if you feel you've had enough, just check for signs to the nearest bus stop.
The Danube in Bulgaria
The Danube is really huge. It starts in southern Germany and then meanders across half of Europe before emptying out into the Black Sea. It has inspired a waltz, considerable romantic prose and hundreds of boat tours.
40km south of Bucharest, in Romania, is a small town called Giurgiu. If you go there, and head south, down a long straight road flanked by rusting ex-Communist factories, you will eventually stumble onto the shore of the Danube.
The first thing you will realise is that it isn't as blue as people imagine. It is a dull greyish green. The second thing you will realise is that Bulgaria looks pretty depressing. From the Danube shore in Giurgiu you can see across to Bulgaria, and it seems to largely feature much of the same lumpy Communist architecture as Romania.
However, as the afternoon goes on, the sunlight becomes golden and the shadows long. Huge barges will drift by you in both directions. There are benches by the old police station. It is an experience that you will not find anywhere else.
Angara River, Siberia
Flowing northwards out of Siberia's Lake Baikal is the Angara River, the only river to flow out from the world's deepest freshwater lake.
Legend has it that the 336 rivers that flow into Lake Baikal are the sons of Old Man Baikal. But Angara, his headstrong and only daughter, had fallen in love with Yenisei (Russia's longest river), instead of the more trivial Irkut who he preferred for her suitor. As she fled towards her lover to the north, he threw after her a large boulder - Shaman Rock can still be seen partway between Listvyanka and Port Baikal, where the Angara leaves the lake.
De Zaan, The Netherlands
... or as locals might say 'Saen', is a tiny river flowing past Wormer in the Netherlands and is still the heart of the industry there. The area is so built up that it is hard for trucks to deliver their goods so it's much easier for the goods to be transported by boat. The main products that can be seen floating by are cocoa powder, flour, rice and sand.
Cumberland River, Kentucky, USA
Along the Cumberland River (and Lake Cumberland) are some quaint and amazing sites. Around many corners are an old-fashioned train track and an old-fashioned train with puffs of smoke and a red caboose.
The sides of the river are jagged rocks. Since most of the walls were formed by President Franklin's incentive for work, in building rivers and lakes the rocks have dozens of facets. Along the side at the ends of the river are murals. On the south end, next to a marina is a painting of a group of animals. The north east end has another similar mural.
Since it is largely connected to Lake Cumberland, the Cumberland River has dozens and dozens of boats, mostly speedboats. Many go to the dam and some go to Echo Point. Around that point is a great waterfall and a high cliff where people jump into the pool beneath where the water falls. The water itself is becoming increasingly polluted and crowded with wood. Fewer boats go in the summer now, when water pollution seems to mysteriously rise.
Mississippi - That's M - ISS - ISS - IPP - I
The Mississippi ('big water' in Algonquian) is the Grand Dame of American rivers. On it you can:
Walk across it in 15 steps where it starts at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota.
Board one of the Delta Queen steamboats at the northernmost landing in St Paul.
Witness the results of two decades of environmental cleanup as a bald eagle swoops for its lunch in Lake Pepin.
Take a chance on the Quad Cities (north-western Illinois, south-eastern Iowa) casino riverboats.
Explore the American Story in Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's hometown.
Experience the Arch of St Louis, gateway to America's west.
Make your rock 'n' roll pilgrimage to Graceland in Memphis.
Drift by Arkansas.
Learn about Vicksburg, the 'Gibraltar of the Confederacy', site of a decisive battle in favour of the Union forces in America's Civil War.
Contemplate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and all that jazz in New Orleans.
Besides being the most important river in the United States, the Mississippi has a colourful and interesting history. Its importance was first noted by fur traders who used it to navigate down from Canada. It was also a boundary marker for many years, and finally, the main form of transport of cargo from Minnesota to Louisiana. It captured Mark Twain's heart, and even influenced his pen name. It has allowed many cities to form along its banks, including St Paul and Minneapolis, the Twin Cities.
Aside from its commercial use, it is also very pretty. Itasca, Minnesota, where it begins, is a pristine, sparkling place, and the waters from which it comes are very clear and cold. It is interesting to trace these small beginnings to the mighty river, already quite large by the time it has reached the Twin Cities. In fact, it is large enough to flood a great portion of the Midwest, as seen in 1993. The great Mississippi River ends in the Gulf of Mexico after travelling the full length of the United States. New Orleans formed around its mouth and has developed its unique culture.
The Mississippi itself stays entirely within the boundaries of the United States. However, some tributaries of the Missouri River (which flows into the Mississippi just north of St Louis) drain part of Canada.
There seems to be a consensus that the Mississippi formed at the end of the last Ice Age, and was undoubtedly a much larger river than it is today, given the vast quantities of meltwater that it had to carry from the glaciers that straddled what are now the Great Lakes. Consider also that the St Lawrence River would not have been a conduit for much of this meltwater because it was still under the ice for some of this period.
The Native Americans were familiar with the Mississippi and its tributaries. One could travel across about two-thirds of the interior of what is now the continental United States by canoe on the streams that make up the Mississippi River system.
Big Black, USA
Big Black River is located in the Mississippi River area and, as its name might describe, is very dark. Trees hang over its waters and creatures like deer, racoons, possums, and foxes live on its banks. The river has been fished for over 200 years and one Researcher's grandfather lived off its bounty. It is quite beautiful and leads to some of the most fantastic swamps in the country!
Grand River, Canada
It's not a very original name for a river which, by global standards, is perhaps not that grand after all. Almost anything factual that could be said about the Grand River has already been said. It flows 290km north to south from Kitchener-Waterloo to Lake Erie, right through the middle of southern Ontario.
One new bit of information is that the provincial government has decided to pay attention to the Grand River and its contribution to the growth of the region by declaring this stretch of Ontario as 'Grand River Country' in an attempt to entice Americans (cutting off the corner between Buffalo and Detroit) from the highway, and enticing some of their money out of their grasp before they disappear back over the border again. That's a bit cynical, perhaps.
When I was that boy, it used to be illegal to play in the Grand, because it was considered too polluted to be healthy. It was certainly never as dirty as a lot of other rivers though. I think the main concern was bacteria bred from the sewage of the cities along its route more than any particular industrial nastiness. There was never any danger of the river bursting into flames, for example, as other rivers have famously been known to do.
Perhaps it is still illegal to go for a swim... but the Grand River is a lot cleaner-looking than it used to be; and there is now a lot more in the way of wildlife to be seen along its banks. Many years ago, there weren't beavers waddling about, biting trees, and slapping the water with their flat tails. Now there are. And there are a lot more white-tailed deer to be seen too. There seems to be a lot more fish, as well, mainly because there are a lot more fish-eating birds, like great blue herons and even the occasional osprey. This is a bit funny, if you think about it, because the birds aren't responsible for the increase in fish numbers, except the number that have been eaten by birds. Nevertheless, you have to take their word for it, because the fish are hard to see most of the time.
My old friend Stuart's dad used to say that more kids got sick from backyard pools than from any ill-effects caused by swimming in the river. And he was a doctor. I think that the river's reputation back then for being a dirty embarrassment was probably ill-deserved. Just as nowadays its new role as a tourist attraction is a little overstated. People dream up these notions and the river just continues to flow along. Not many of these people, I suspect, spend much time actually watching it flow by.
The Mighty Columbia, USA
On the north-west coast of the US is a small town called Astoria which you might remember from the movie The Goonies. This small town sits on the banks of one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, the Columbia. It runs from south east Washington State to the Pacific Ocean, separating the states of Oregon and Washington. There are two big dams, the Dalles Dam and Bonniville.
There is a bridge in the town of Cascade Locks that was once believed by Native Americans to be a natural rock bridge. The area is known for Native American legends, such as the history of the mountains in the Cascade Range. You can take an old-time sternwheeler from the city of Portland up the Willamette River to the Columbia all the way to Bonniville Dam. Along the way you pass under the above mentioned bridge, The Bridge of the Gods, pass Multnomah Falls, which come from a glacier on Mt Hood, to Bonniville Dam and then back to Portland. If you ever go to Portland, this trip is highly recommended. You won't regret it.
Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that it shares a name with one of Zimbabwe's finest beverage products, but there's certainly something exotic in the name 'Zambezi,' which never fails to conjure up an image of croc-ridden Tarzan-esque African adventure. So it's not surprising that from where it rises in north west Zambia to its gargantuan Mozambiquan discharge into the Indian Ocean, that's pretty much what it has to offer.
From its Zambian source, at Mweni Lunga (near to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo), the river flows 2574km (1544 miles) to the coast, paying visits to Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique along the way, draining some 1.57 million square kilometres of Africa. At one point, at the confluence with Botswana's Chobe River at Kazungula, four countries' borders (Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe) meet, tip to tip. And at every stop, the river is vibrant with the sights and sounds, colours and rhythms of Africa.
The jewel in the Zambezi crown is Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya - 'the Smoke that Thunders', where plumes of white spray spew upwards towards the sky accompanying the awesome thunderous roar created by (at the height of the flood season) 546 million cubic metres of water plummeting each minute into the 100-metre deep gorge. Victoria Falls is a World Heritage Site and quite understandably one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Immediately below the Falls is Batoka Gorge, where Teva-wearing raft-groupies can tackle what is internationally acclaimed as being the wildest whitewater rafting experience in the world. The 25km or so of rapids including, memorably, the infamous rapid no 9, nicknamed 'Commercial Suicide', are classified by the British Canoe Union as Grade 5 - 'extremely difficult, long and violent rapids, steep gradients, big drops and pressure areas'. Commercial Suicide itself is classified Grade 5/6, meaning that on a bad day, it's 'maximum difficulty, and involves serious risk to life'.
Further downstream is the phenomenal Lake Kariba, at 42km wide and 290km long, an 'inland sea' created in 1959, when the Kariba Dam was completed at the head of the gorge. This is the site of the famed Operation Noah which set out, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to rescue many of the thousands of animals stranded by the rising water. Fewer column inches, it seems, are given to the 50,000 people, mostly of the Batonga tribe, who were displaced by the scheme.
Nyaminyami (River God) - The name Kariba refers to a rock which once thrust out from the water at the entrance to the gorge, but which is now well-drowned below the water surface. This rock was regarded as the home of the great River god Nyaminyami, who caused anyone who ventured near to be sucked down forever into the depths of the river.
David Livingstone - Scottish missionary David Livingstone (1813-1873) made several epic journeys along the River Zambezi. He is generally accepted to have been the first European to have seen Mosi-oa-Tunya, naming the falls after his Queen and Empress, Victoria.
The White Nile flows from Lake Victoria to Khartoum, where it is joined by the Blue Nile, which rises in Lake Tana. From Khartoum the Nile flows to the Nile Delta.
Nile cruises run from Aswan to Luxor and beyond - Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo are popular stopping points for the temples. There are also cruises on Lake Nasser, which was formed when the Aswan Dam was built in the 1960s. Some cruise boats are better than others, so try to find out as much as you can before booking a cruise. Personal recommendation is good, if you know somebody that has done a Nile cruise.
Feluccas are sailing boats that have been used on the Nile for years. Felucca rides are often part of any trip to Egypt, usually arranged in advance by your tour group. Alternatively, you could take a ride with one of the many 'sailors' who have boats berthed by the Nile - arrange the price before you step into the boat.
There are also hotels that have rooms with Nile views, but they usually charge extra for the view. Examples that spring to mind are the Meridien and the Winter Palace in Luxor, and the Old and New Cataract Hotels in Aswan.