Book review – English White Water

English White Water – Pesda Press, editor Franco Ferrero, BCU book.

Book cover

Well, its quite comprehensive and you should probably get it for completeness of your library. You should definitely get it if you are planning on kayaking in the SW, or if want to know the paddling options near your home, and your home is not featured in its own personal guidebook.

This book is by the British Canoe Union. It is a consolidated attempt to provide a guidebook to the best white water in England.

That is a very good thing to do, because its not been done for a bit, and so it fills a gap. Previous to it, the most recent “bible of all rivers” is Terry Storry’s 100 best rivers of Britain. That is a great book, with lots of character, and a must for your library, but of course, its getting on a bit, and only has 100 rivers in it, because… well, because thats what it says in the title.

In contrast “English White Water” describes 170 rivers just in England, and tallying up all sections and playspots, reaches about 250.

The introduction includes an explanation of access – and its a fairly pertinent one. Of course, it has to tow the BCU line. Nevertheless, it is informative I think, and not too bossy. But do refer back to the Storry book for the full gen on the history of access and some interesting philosophy and geology lessons.

So how useful is EWW as a guidebook?

Some very good bits. Some nice things about this book – the symbols indicating optimal river flow, danger/hazard ratings etc are all very clear. Some of the descriptions are quirky and characterful, though there are few funny anecdotes. The book includes lots of playspots and weirs, which have previously not really been featured much in guidebooks.  The river descriptions are all fine, very varied – presumably very many contributers. They do include some little gems not included in other books – e.g. Peak district rivers. Some descriptions are more detailed than others – in some cases, I would have liked a bit more detail, and certainly some more diagrams of the rivers. And its not as browsable as it could be.

Maps and diagrams are a bit of a problem, as is the organisation of the book. Basically, the format is not totally condusive to easy browsing and choosing of a river, nor of easily planning for a river you’ve chosen:

  • There are no diagrams of the individual rivers. Boo.
  • There are no summary tables – summary tables make choosing a suitable river of the right grade, length, condition etc a doddle. We’ve seen this in other books. But not here. Boo.
  • The book divides the country into big regions and then those big regions into mini regions. So far so good. Sometimes the mini regions correspond to catchment, sometimes not – its a bit random, but still fine. However: There is no overview map anchoring the mini-regions within the big regions, so the reader unfamiliar with the region is not helped out much, and this too makes browsing really quite cumbersome. NB in the same series, “Scottish White Water” does have an overview map anchoring the sub-regions. Tick.
  • The mini-regions do each have an overview map indicating all rivers therein. These are, however, labelled by numbers, not names of rivers. This makes things uncluttered, but the effect is not pleasing, or nice to browse. And I don’t feel at all confident to find a put-in based solely on those maps.

So Pesda press, if you read this, we love you very much, and your excellent series of books, and we can see the huge amount of work and local expertise which has gone into this book, but please could you improve the format when you do a 2nd edition: we are spoiled by books which give us diagrams of rivers, clear indications marking put in and take out, and, most of all, area summary tables by grade, lovability and amount of rain needed. We Want Those Things!

Should you get this book? 

If your boating is mainly N England, then the first few books you really need are your own area book, e.g. the excellent “White Water Lake District,” and Terry Storry’s British white water, for history and coverage of all of Britain. And then as you build up your collection, you’ll want this one for completeness.

If your boating is in the SW, SE or midlands or if you rely on playspots, then English White Water should be a lot further up your list – certainly we did rely on it and enjoy it when on holiday in Devon.

Weaknesses of EWW: The diagrams and maps, the lack of summary tables, and the impact of this on browsability. (NB these are things that could be changed in a later edition.)

Strengths of EWW: Combined knowledge from multiple contributors, the coverage of: South West rivers, playspots in the midlands and SE, local rivers for local people, and some other areas which were previously under-served by other guidebooks.

So, to sum up, if you want an up-to-date guide book with fairly broad coverage to rivers in England and, for example, are going to Devon for New Year, then put this book on your Santa list. Available from the excellent pesda press and probably also the BCU maze/website.

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