The River Trent swells from a mere trickle in North Staffordshire into a mighty tidal waterway. For many people it marks the point where the 'North' begins, that mythic smoke-blackened region of real ale, gritty authenticity, flat caps and even flatter vowels. As a natural communication route the Trent Valley provided sites for early human settlement. Archaeologists have found well-preserved primitive boats up to 3,500 years old. For three decades the Trent denoted the limit of Roman occupation. In Anglo-Saxon times, cultural change and continental ideas spread along the river corridor; Scandinavian Vikings used the Trent as an invasion route to strike at the heart of England. For the settlements that grew up along its banks the river was a vital resource. Medieval hedge weirs funnelled fish into nets or cone-shaped wicker baskets and the power of the current was harnessed to drive mill wheels. Nottingham, Newark, and Gainsborough grew into significant ports. Wool, coal, lead, corn, stone, beer, salt, cheese, earthenware and iron goods were shipped downriver, and boats returned laden with groceries, consumer goods, furs, timber and pig iron.
By 1712, the Navigation extended as far inland as Burton-on-Trent. Unable to compete with rail and road transport, shipping declined in the 20th century. Neglect and industrial exploitation left much of the upper river polluted and sterile. In recent years, however, greater awareness of the potential for environmental damage and its impact on the quality of life has led to a more sensitive and co-ordinated approach to river management: water quality has been transformed, otters and salmon are returning, and imaginative waterfront regeneration projects have reconnected Trentside communities with their river heritage. The author interweaves this many-layered story with a stunning selection of carefully selected illustrations that celebrate the river's geographical, historical, commercial, cultural, and, in part, spiritual, journey from windswept moorland to the Humber Estuary.