Saturday, 20 April 2013

Searching for the Source of the Frome

This is, at this very moment of writing these words, a virtual exploration of the source of the River Frome. It will eventually become real, booted and begrimed, but until I get my head around Cotswold Green's rickety-rackety 'bus timetables, this riverine search takes place on the laptop on the kitchen table, rather than on (or is it in?) a water table. I know I have to get up to Nettleton, near Birdlip, and Climperwell Farm, near Brimpsfield: what watery poetry is contained within these names! Two groups of springs issuing forth in 'Nettle-ton' and 'Climper-well', near 'Brim-(p)sfield'.
These two trickling lines join together at Caudle Green, near Miserden, where the water is honoured with the name, 'Frome'. For some, 'Frome' is derived from the Celtic river-word, 'fram'; this certainly seems to make sense along what was once also called the Stroudwater, with Frampton, Framilode, Fraherne and so on. Do we walk this river in the company of shadowy, dripping and muddied dark-age ghosts?
Whatever. But it is certainly a beguilingly deceptive river as it drops down to Sapperton, disappearing, as it does, at times. No wonder King George 3rd became confused in 1788, when he started talking to trees. It was probably his visit that year to the canal tunnel wot done it: where's that river gone? It was here a minute ago.
But we are more interested in the origins of this river - its first cause, as it were; its ability to spring from nothing in a sort of duck and egg conundrum. I know that geology and hydrology help explain the pattern of springs; I understand that gravity and scientific laws explain why water flows in the direction it does. But, at the same time, isn't there something magical, alchemical and beyond imagination about it all? The John Keats as well as Isaac Newton trope sort of thing; I'm not invoking a deity - just metaphorically standing jaw-dropped at the is-ness of it all.
For there we have the confluence of two springs, determined by the shape and content of sky and landscape, dropping down to Caudle Green. Here on a delicately balanced watershed, on the finest of lines, gravity's scales of justice direct some water west via the Frome, to the Severn and the Bristol Channel; other droplets drift eastwards via the Churn to Cricklade, then on to the Great Wen and the English Channel. Conjoined droplets of water, slipping apart to opposite points of the compass, yet still conjoined by history and language: the Celtic 'fra', denoting a 'brisk' river; the Celtic 'chwern', indicating a 'swift' flow.
When I was a child, a popular junior school essay was 'A Day in the Life of a Penny'; what about, instead, 'A Tale of Two Oozes'?

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