Just messing about on the river

Story by Jack Foley

ONE of an Englishman's favourite pastimes in the middle of the summer must surely be the ability to mess about on the river. A new exhibition, entitled Our Living Waterways, at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley from September 14 to October 27, celebrates this hobby through a series of captivating photographs.

Specially commissioned by the Environment Agency to capture the spirit of 'Our Living Waterways' in Jubilee year, the photographs capture people at play, from the biggest of river festivals at Wallingford on the Thames and Maidstone on the Medway, to the smallest, such as the annual plastic duck race at Werrington Primary School on the Nene.

Images include the classic 'one man and his animal' race at Maidstone, a life-size cut out of Sven- Goran Eriksson being paddled down the river on a flag bedecked raft at the Bedford River Festival and the angry swan resisting the swan uppers on the Thames.

From starting the race at Henley to working the lock gates at Pinkhill, from a quiet kiss midstream to white water canoeing, from youthful pirates in a rowing boat to a moment of contemplation on a towpath bench, the pictures promise to provide a beautifully crafted reminder of the role of rivers in our lives.

Commenting on the motivations behind the exhibition, Barbara Young, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: "We decided to mark Jubilee year with a special commission of photography, celebrating life and living on some of our rivers.

"Rivers play a very special role in our lives as places of fun and magic, as well as providing us with water for our daily lives. The Agency works hard to conserve their peace and wildlife and at the same time to ensure that they are open to all, whether you are a sportsman or just want to sit quietly at a lock side watching the world go by. We are delighted that the River & Rowing Museum wished to show our photographs."

As part of the process of compiling suitable material for the exhibition, the Agency commissioned Apex Photo Agency to comb the odd and interesting spots of its main navigations, the non-tidal Thames, the Medway, the Great Ouse and the Nene, to capture the spirit of 'our living waterways'.

Photographic director, Guy Newman, commented: "This is one of the most challenging and fun commissions we have ever had. Rivers are such an emotional part of most people's lives; everyone can remember their childhood holidays or their first attempt to row a boat. We wanted to do justice to the spirit that rivers seem to impart to all who use them."

This was a view endorsed by Paul Mainds, chief executive of the River & Rowing Museum, Henley, who added: "The River & Rowing Museum is delighted to host this unique collection of photographs specially commissioned by the Environment Agency to mark Jubilee year. The exhibition reflects the essence of some of England's most majestic rivers, including the Thames, and the wealth of activities and variety of pleasures our waterways have to offer."

The final selection of photographs will be divided into five main sections entitled Living Waterways, Jubilee on the Water, Sporting and Spectating, Refreshing the Soul and Life on the River.

The River & Rowing Museum in Henley is open from 10am to 5pm, daily, and entry is £4.95 for adults and £3.75 for children. Telephone 01491 415600 for further information or visit the website by accessing the link above.

Our Living Waterways, Until October 27, River & Rowing Museum, Henley on Thames, Mill Meadows, Henley-on-Thames, RG9 1BF.