Highland River by Neil M Gunn

Gunn, best known as the author of 1941 novel The Silver Darlings, was still working as a customs and excise officer in the Highlands when he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1937 for this, his sixth novel proper. It tells the story of Kenn who, like Gunn himself, is born and grows up in the Caithness coastal village of Dunbeath. Kenn poaches his first salmon in Dunbeath Water, the Highland river of the novel’s title, before finding himself in the trenches during the first world war. Returning scarred and traumatised to Dunbeath, he finds in the river and its source the well-spring of his own sense of self. Today, a statue commemorating Kenn and his salmon stands in Dunbeath, near to where the river flows into the sea.

Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem

Lara Maiklem is a modern mudlark, the name given to those who in the 18th and 19th centuries made a living by scavenging along the banks of the River Thames in London at low tide and who are nowadays more likely to scan it with metal detectors, their official Society Of Mudlarks membership cards stowed safely in their pockets. Part memoir, part meditation, Maiklem uses her experiences and her finds to tell the story of the river and of the people who lived and died (and still live and die: at one point she finds a body) along its banks. As the tides rises and falls, she writes, it reveals “the story of a city, its people and their relationship with a natural force.”


Thames mudlarker Lara Maiklem in action

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others”. So begins Norman Maclean’s celebrated autobiographical novel which, like all great novels about rivers, is about more than just a river – because otherwise it would just be a book about a river, right? Published in 1976 it came within a whisker of winning the Pulitzer Prize for its author, the son of a Presbyterian minister whose own forebears were Gaelic speakers from Mull. Essentially the story of Maclean’s wild upbringing and his relationship with his brother Paul, whose murder in 1938 was never solved, it was made into an Oscar-nominated film in 1992. Robert Redford directed and Brad Pitt played Paul Maclean.