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The River Tas

The River Tas rises near Carleton Fen (two miles east of New Buckenham) and then flows northwards for approximately 20 miles before joining the larger River Yare at Trowse - just south of Norwich.

River Tas at Shotesham

River Tas at Shotesham Mill

The Tas is a charming, mini-river which has inspired poetry from a number of poets - including Edwin Brock and Anthony Thwaite - both of whom lived at Low Tharston. Thwaite and his wife Ann moved into 'The Mill House' at Low Tharston in the 1970s and Edwin Brock and his second wife Elizabeth Skilton moved into 'The Granary' (next door) some time later. For Brock in particular, the Tas provided an important source of inspiration. Here is his poem Tas in Marsh which captures two swans on the river during the bleakness of early spring:

White on dark water, so stark
I leave my binoculars behind
and watch with bare red eyes

two swans, taut with sexuality,
stretching their necks
alternately side by side.

They are early: colour is
still to come to bone-dry rushes
and trees bank black strangling

their green. It is a hard wedding:
sharp brambles and ivy-covered
stumps hunch and hug;

sleet pokes the surface from
a blank neutrality, to come back
spitting with all its mouths.

Roused, the spread wings
beat their own storm towards
the north, wind against wind.

Somewhere in all this a small
heat is held, like the hope
of a cold man drowning.

River Tas

Markshall bridge

River Tas

Tasburgh bridge

Over the centuries, the Tas has also been visited by two of England's finest poets. The first was William Wordsworth who came to stay with his sister Dorothy at the Rectory at Forncett St Peter in 1790. It is very likely that Dorothy would have taken William for walks through the meadows next to the river and his sonnet Sweet was the walk was directly inspired by Norfolk. (Today there is a way-marked footpath at Forncett which is part of South Norfolk District Council's Upper Tas Valley Way.)

The second was Philip Larkin who visited Anthony Thwaite at the Mill House - Thwaite being his literary editor. In fact, there is a marvellous photograph of Larkin reclining in a punt on the river with Thwaite doing the pole work.

Larkin on the River Tas

Philip Larkin and Anthony Thwaite on the River Tas
(Photograph by Ann Thwaite)

The Tas also inspired my own poem River following a visit to Rainthorpe Hall near Tasburgh in the spring of 1990.

You flow endlessly.
Over you your lights are beautiful—luminous and dark, moving and still, broken and whole.

In summer, columns of light—mottled by leaves.
In winter, the bleak light over farmland, the frosted-grey depth.
Today, in spring, lights dancing in and out of shadow—concealing and revealing.

n your course you are infinitely changing—neither crooked nor straight.
You fit your banks.
Running you are beautiful—slow in the deep pools—vociferous and fast in the shallows.

In private land you are hidden.
In public land you are open.
Beneath bridges you reflect back the faces of watchers.

In winter, you fill with water and become clouded.
You race between alders, pound through sluices, tumble over fords.
You wear a sullen expression.

In summer, you slow up and become limpid.
You display your weed in long floating trails.
You glitter past grazing cattle.

Then after long concealment your fish  appear—sparkling-sided, melting and merging, vanishing and visible.

In the churchyard of St. Mary's Church at Tasburgh is the grave of Sir Malcolm Bradbury - who co-founded the M.A. course in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia along with Angus Wilson.

After passing through Shotesham and Stoke Holy Cross - the river comes to Caistor St Edmund. Here lie the remains of a significant Roman town called Venta Icenorum. Archaeologists originally thought that the Tas  must have been considerably larger during Roman times - largely based on evidence that there were rings attached to the town walls which were used for tying up boats. However, it is now thought that the Tas has always been similar in size to today.

There is an old rhyme which states: 'Caistor was a city when Norwich was none, and Norwich was built of Caistor stone.'

After Caistor St Edmund, the Tas flows through Markshall (a deserted village) and on into Arminghall - passing close to the site of a wood-henge monument.


More River Tas Photographs





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