April 4 2005

Throw another log on the fire and draw near while we turn the clock
back.
Hands up those who remember the days when the river that put Stafford
on the map was a force to be reckoned with?
We’re talking history here. Long before the Bridge Cafe stopped serving
cream teas and became the Curry Kuteer, even before Freddy Sandy
brought the first Wimpy to town, the muddy old Sow had aspirations.
It slurped through Doxey marshes, thumbed its nose at the sad,
sail-less windmill at Broadeye, held its breath past the clipped
keep-off-the grass splendour of Victoria Park before fizzing under
Bridge Street and leaving the town centre behind to join the Trent at
Shugborough,
Once a year or so it burst its banks and the people of South Walls and
Tenterbanks moved upstairs until the rain stopped.
The Severn it never was, but it had Izaak Walton and water rats, mute
swans and eels, crayfish and freshwater mussels.
In short, as any sixty-something born within the sound of St Mary’s
bells will tell you, the Sow had character.
And there was something else.
It had boats.
Lots of them.
Before Sainsbury’s changed the northern townscape, the gasworks
provided the backdrop for two-bob trips to paradise for young lovers
aboard skiffs hired from the nearby New Inn.
The low bridge prevented access to the park and though the scenery on
the other side wasn’t inspiring, the boats drew many an adolescent
river pirate armed with nothing more than a bottle of Tizer, five
Woodbines and a head full of shiver-me-timbers.
Then they drained part of the marshes, put in culverts to stop the
flooding and the boats sank without trace.
And when they went, the Sow died a little.
Nowadays few people live in the town centre and those who do no longer
fear the river gushing into their homes.
Nobody worries about the Sow any more.
They just ignore it.
The environmentalists and the planners have worked wonders, of course.
The riverside improvement from Bridge Street to the park and beyond is
pretty and the big clean-up means that wildlife is beginning to thrive
again (though the otter I spotted a few months back on the stretch near
near the Express & Star’s office turned out to be a fugitive mink).
But smart as the river now is, it could do with an image makeover. It’s
time it stopped skulking and made a comeback.
Perhaps it needs a touch of the Stafford Castles.
Nobody gave that concrete-stuffed stump of a folly the time of day
until the archaeologists moved in a couple of decades ago. Now it’s a
key medieval site with history trails, fake battles and summer
Shakespeare.
Who knows what the PR people might do with a river?
They could bring the skiffs back for starters. Or put punts in the park.
How about an annual boat race? A regatta even? An Izaak Walton angling
fest?
If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
Stafford-on-Sow has a certain ring.

 

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