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A journey of discovery walking the River Trent

Follow Paul Baggaley as he walks the length of the River Trent, unearthing the changing influence of the river through the decades.

The River Trent

In January 2018, I decided to make a New Year's resolution that would get me out in the fresh air and give me a bit of exercise. I enjoy having a project to keep me motivated and – presumably something to do with becoming ‘middle-aged' – I felt I wanted to learn something about Nottinghamshire's local history. I decided to walk the length of the River Trent from source to sea.

So began a year of researching, learning about and walking along the River Trent. At approximately 185 miles along, it is the third longest river in the UK. Starting as a small trickle at Biddulph Moor in Staffordshire it increases in size and power where it finally joins with the River Ouse and flows east out to the North Sea.

Trent Falls

If you were to walk the whole route in one go, it would take between 10 and 14 days. Due to general life commitments, my walk was limited mainly to weekends. I began in January and walked my last stretch in October and it gave me the satisfaction of having seen the river at different times and seasons throughout the year. This has helped my appreciation and understanding of its impact on local communities.

I have learned that the Trent has had a massive impact on our predecessors throughout history. The river once had huge strategic importance as the natural boundary between the old north and south of England, with wars fought for control of the river crossings that were so vital. Early Viking explorers entered middle England along the Trent, evidence of their early settlements existing in Torksey (Lincolnshire) and Repton (Derbyshire). The river was of vital significance to industrial towns and cities such as Stoke-on-Trent (pottery) and Burton-upon-Trent (breweries), whilst the non-navigability of parts of the river led to the development of the local canal network to allow movement of materials and goods into the heart of England and out to sea.

Burton on Trent suspension bridge

I learned that the Trent continues to have a massive impact on us in modern times too. The Trent region is home to “Megawatt valley”: the abundance of mineable coal throughout the East Midlands, combined with the presence of one of the UK's longest rivers resulted in the production of a series of 13 coal-fired power stations along the Trent's banks. By their peak in the 1980's the Trent's power stations were generating about a quarter of England and Wales' total power demand. I also observed how the Trent is used for irrigation in modern agriculture and its use in so many leisure pursuits - from local angling and boating to the National Water Sports centre at Holme Pierrepont.

I was really struck by the number of places by the river where people have sought to remember loved ones. In Nottingham alone for example, there are the impressive memorial gardens at the Victoria Embankment, with plaques dedicated to the service men and women from Nottinghamshire who have lost their lives around the world, whilst just 5 miles up-river there is Owen's Place – a tribute to a much-loved local boy who tragically died saving a friend who had fallen in the river in 2017.

Memorial statue at Victoria Embankment, Nottingham

My year spent following the Trent has given me the opportunity to look with fresh eyes at something I had always been aware of, but never really thought about. Using my river walk as an excuse for getting outdoors and reading ahead about the things I was about to see has given me a real appreciation of our waterways and the impact they have had and continue to have on our lives.

Two women eat lunch next to the canal

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Last Edited: 08 February 2019

photo of a location on the canals
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