Redland springs – and some thoughts on owning rivers

I’m getting really interested in the beginnings of rivers, and especially springs.  I’ve never really thought about them until recently, but when I did, I imagined them as something like the Source of the Malago, rather than the oozing of water that was the other Dundry stream source that I saw with Tracy when we were exploring the beginning of the Malago (and more!) back in February.

I’ve been doing a lot of pouring over my OS maps, looking at the sources of rivers, and looking for Bristol waterways, and last month I went walking through Redland, to see if I could find the Cranbrook, the little stream that starts out at Redland Green and disappears underground.

These aren’t great photos – I’ve broken my film cameras, so was playing with my friend Cee’s camera, and some are mobile shots – but they’re like it looked, if that makes sense.

The beginning of the Redland secret stream

Redland secret stream

Unfortunately, the stream itself is behind huge spiky fences, running along the bottom of the Redland Green Allotments, and although the snow had only melted the week before, it seemed pretty dry.  But walking along the fence, looking to see if I could take some photos, I found a spring.

The first hint of it was what looked like a makeshift “bridge” of wood laid over something smaller and wider than a stream, before it ran under the fence.


Following it up, it looked a little more stream-like, but then opened into basically just muddy ground at the bottom of a slope.

Streamlet heading to the stream

The spring becoming a stream

Spring becomes a stream

Spring - or rather, water oozing from the ground

It’s so fascinating to me – visible because of the water darkening the soil and because there are no annual plants, but what’s it like in the summer?  Is it even there year round?  Is there more in wet times, and does it disappear in the dry?  I’d love to find out more.    There are other places that look like they could be springs when it’s wetter up there, and I should definitely go back and explore more… if it wasn’t so annoying to get to for me!

Redland spring

It did get me thinking about the public/private nature of water, though.  There’s been a clear choice to fence the Cranbrook off, and make it private (albeit “owned” communally by the allotment-holders) and of course water is always a valuable resource, so there’s no surprise that people want to control it.  But that fence could equally have been on the other side of the stream, making it accessible, and I wonder why it happened that way.

I’ve been thinking about how rivers and streams move so quickly between public/private – walking the Trym with Tracy, we had some really abrupt examples of how that river goes from different iterations of public to these shocks of fences.   The fencing around the Redland Allotments is of the modern, aggressive, spiky kind, that pulls no punches in the ‘keep out’ message, but at least (if you lean close and tilt your head) you can see the river in places.  A battered wooden fence, like the one the Trym disappears behind in Westbury, has warmer connotations, but it makes it clear that even looking at that part of the river is for private eyes only.

And the more I think about it, the more I don’t like the idea of rivers being something people can “own”, though maybe I’m a hypocrite, as if I had the chance to buy a house backing onto a river, or even an urban brook, I’d jump at the chance (well, after checking out flood risks, because I’m practical, at heart).  It seems to be accidents of history, mostly, that decide when a river is open access and when it “belongs” to a person or a business, although I really appreciate that, for example, the Bristol Council Planning Department have insisted on keeping the edges of the Floating Harbour accessible, where possible (find out more about that, and how we nearly lost the Harbour in the 1980s, in this podcast with Richard Holden), while I worry about what looks like plans to privatise the Avon Viewpoint and the end of Spike Island by covering it with luxury flats, if Mayor Marvin Rees has his way (check out an artists’ impression, with all the land around the bonded warehouses filled with tall ‘luxury riverside apartments’ – and find out more about the history, landscaping and ideology of the Cumberland Basin and Ashton Meadows, in my podcast with Wendy Tippett).

Rivers and streams are important as corridors of nature, and of course I believe that access to the water should be public, and defended.   And I’m interested in how organisations like the Bristol Avon Rivers Trust are working to re-naturalise a lot of them (find out more about them in a podcast too!).  My local rivers, growing up, were the Pool and Ravensbourne, though I never really knew it was there, and next time I’m in London, I’m definitely going to walk Lewisham Council’s Waterlink Way, where sections of the Pool have been brought back up from underground culverts under industrial spaces, and made into public parks.  I’d love to see more of the Bristol rivers brought back into life like this, too.  Here’s to a future with fewer fences.

More of my photos of the Cranbrook on flickr.

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