A visit to the rapid where she lost a cherished friend unexpectedly reignites Amy-Jane Beer's love of rivers setting her on a journey of natural, cultural and emotional discovery.
On New Year's Day 2012, Amy-Jane Beer's beloved friend Kate set out with a group of others to kayak the River Rawthey in Cumbria. Kate never came home, and her death left her devoted family and friends bereft and unmoored.
Returning to visit the Rawthey years later, Amy realises how much she misses the connection to the natural world she always felt when on or close to rivers, and so begins a new phase of exploration.
The Flow is a book about water, and, like water, it meanders, cascades and percolates through many lives, landscapes and stories. From West Country torrents to Levels and Fens, rocky Welsh canyons, the salmon highways of Scotland and the chalk rivers of the Yorkshire Wolds, Amy-Jane follows springs, streams and rivers to explore tributary themes of wildness and wonder, loss and healing, mythology and history, cyclicity and transformation.
Threading together places and voices from across Britain, The Flow is a profound, immersive exploration of our personal and ecological place in nature.
Prologue: Only water, moving on
Chapter 1: Fresh and yet so very old
Eddy: Snow dome
Chapter 2: Torrent
Chapter 3: Oak-water
Chapter 4: Fly while we may
Eddy: Dark water
Chapter 5: Lines upon the land
Meander: Bath toys
Chapter 6: The meanings of water
Chapter 7: The Bell Guy and the Gypsey
Chapter 8: A willow grows aslant a brook
Eddy: Minus seven
Chapter 9: The cry of the Dart
Chapter 10: Trespassers will
Eddy: Summer on the Nene
Chapter 11: Chalk stream dreaming
Chapter 12: Land covered by water
Eddy: High water
Chapter 13: Ouroboros
Meander: Ghosts in the willows
Chapter 14: The silver fish
Chapter 15: Light and water
Chapter 16: Anadrome
Chapter 17: Riverwoods
Chapter 18: Confluence and influence
Meander: A river released
Chapter 19: The Mucky Beck
Eddy: Withow Gap
Chapter 20: Rodents of unusual size
Eddy: The narrow bridge
Chapter 21: Heartland
Chapter 22: A descent into Hell Gill (and out the other side)
Author's note and acknowledgements
Amy-Jane Beer is a biologist turned naturalist and writer. She has worked for more than 20 years as a science writer and editor, contributing to more than 40 books on natural history. She is currently a Country Diarist for The Guardian, a columnist for British Wildlife and a feature writer for BBC Wildlife magazine, among others. She campaigns for the equality of access to nature and collaboration between the farming and conservation sectors. She is a member of the steering group of the environmental arts charity New Networks for Nature and the land rights campaign RightToRoam.org.uk, and honorary President of the national park society Friends of the Dales.
– Winner of the James Cropper Wainwright Prize Shortlist 2023 for UK Nature Writing
"[...] As with all the best books about nature, The Flow is a marriage of two things: a hard-won knowledge of the subject and a rare ability to write beautifully. [...] Throughout the book I was reminded of the words of therapeutic counsellor Susan Holliday: ‘We defend what we love. We love what we particularly know. We particularly know through seeing deeply.’ The Flow speaks powerfully to every aspect of that quote. Amy-Jane Beer sees deeply, she loves what she sees and she is willing to go to great lengths to defend it. Add to that a generosity of spirit in wanting to share nature with as many people as possible and the result is a warm and immersive book. It flows along like its watery subjects, from one captivating story to the next. It was a pleasure to read."
– Ian Carter, British Wildlife 34(4), February 2023
"A true masterpiece; generous, elegant, acute, tender and furious. [...] A sublime and companionable meditation on nature's processes."
– Charles Foster, Times Literary Supplement
"The perfect commingling of deep research with sparkling observation and quiet eddies of feeling, helmed by a lifelong kayaker, biologist and all-round adventurous soul [...] small wonder The Flow is such a knockout. I loved it."
– Melissa Harrison, author of All Among the Barley
"A quietly courageous, open-hearted exploration of Britain's becks, bourns and streams."
– Patrick Barkham, author of The Butterfly Isles
"Lyrical, wholehearted and wise, The Flow is a hymn for the rivers of Britain."
– Lee Schofield, author of Wild Fell
"Honest, raw and moving, Amy's prose is as captivating as the rivers she describes. I thought I knew what rivers were, but this stunning book is a powerful reminder of their infinity, their mystery, and their bewildering complexity."
– Sophie Pavelle, author of Forget Me Not
"The Flow moves deftly between deeply touching personal experience and carefully-researched erudition. It is a book of wit, of wonder and of wisdom."
– Nick Acheson, naturalist and conservationist
"The Flow is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary author."
– Chris Jones, conservationist and farmer
"A gutsy biologist with webbed feet, Amy-Jane Beer plunges the reader into rivers the length and breadth of Britain. We emerge bathed in wonder and full of fresh understanding."
– Derek Niemann, author of Birds in a Cage
"Part memoir, part celebration of the many rivers and waters of Britain, The Flow is passionately alive – a work of tremendous range and scope by one of our finest writers about the living world."
– Caspar Henderson, author of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings
"The Flow is a tour de force: blending crystal-clear prose with mythic poetry and a cascade of lucid facts, washed down with uplifting insights into life, death and the water that sustains us."
– Guy Shrubsole, author of Who Owns England?
"Haunted by loss, The Flow is about the urgency of a life, land and love."
– Nicola Chester, author of On Gallows Down
"From the incredibly moving opening scene, to a delightful conclusion, Amy-Jane Beer takes us on a journey on, in and through the waterways of Britain, in sparkling prose. A worthy successor to Roger Deakin's Waterlog."
– Stephen Moss, author and naturalist
"The Flow is a wonderful book: as passionate as it is knowledgeable. From Yorkshire Derwent to Dart to Dee via the Zanskar, Amy-Jane Beer really does take us, in her phrase, 'as close as we might ever get to being a river'."
– Mark Wormald, author of The Catch
"With a poet's gift for description, Beer makes her global travels vivid [...] She's got an ability to make even a small moment resonate, such as her child's serendipitous discovery of a carnivorous sundew plant, with sharp prose and quick pacing. The result is an aquatic tour de force."
– Publishers Weekly
"Beer's book examines the reverential place rivers hold in our culture and the stories hidden in their depths."
– Joe Shute, The Sunday Telegraph
"I have read dozens of books about rivers and The Flow is one of the finest."
– David Profumo, Country Life
"Necessary reading for us all."
– Julie Brominicks, landscape writer, BBC Countryfile
"This erudite book is a joyous combination of science, nature, history, and mythology [.] a genuinely moving voyage of discovery of our ecological and personal place in the nature that surrounds us."
– Yorkshire Life
"The Flow is an epic memoir that inspires awe for rivers and reveals their dual nature as both boundaries and portals."
– Kristine Morris, Foreword Reviews
"Beer's moving book is about water and landscapes as well as friendship, memory, loss and resilience. It is full of quiet wisdom and passion, and shows us what words can do when the personal and the ecological are blended organically."
– Elif Shafak, New Statesman
"Water courses through biologist Amy-Jane Beer's deep-dive into the lyrical beauty of Britain's rivers."
– Country & Town House
– Stephen Moss
"The Flow is gutsy and profound from the off, with exquisite evocation of place, dives into deep time, moments of humour and surging anger at what we've done to our rivers."
– Ben Hoare, BBC Countryfile