The River Trent is one of the most significant waterways in the East Midlands; in the past it enabled the longships of Viking war bands to penetrate far inland, ravaging the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Even earlier, the Romans recognised the usefulness of the waterway, and named it Trisantona.
By the second century AD, the Romans were importing Rhenish glass from what is now Germany, and fine red Roman pottery called sigillata from the south of Gaul, near the present Toulouse, and exporting ‘pigs’ of lead and lead/silver alloy mined and smelted in the Peak District. Also, locally produced ‘Derbyshire ware’ , a coarse utilitarian pottery fired in small kilns in the Derwent Valley, was being transported around the province of Britannia.
The river has its origins close to the Staffordshire town of Biddulph. Fed by rivers such as the Dove, Derwent, and Soar, the Trent is navigable downstream of Burton-on-Trent, thanks to the works of George Hayne, a Derbyshire merchant, who opened the Trent Navigation in 1712 giving access to the North Sea via the port of Kingston-upon-Hull. Various ‘cuts’, or short lengths of canal which have been constructed around weirs and shoals along the river’s 185 mile length, mean that barges carrying gravel - there are huge gravel deposits alongside the river - and the local agricultural produce, could take cargo, including the marvellous beer brewed at Burton, all the way from Burton to Gainsborough. The Trent becomes tidal at Cromwell Lock near Newark and commercial traffic carries on towards Trent Falls on the Lincolnshire/Yorkshire border where the Trent joins the River Ouse and they merge with the mighty Humber (1 mile wide at this point) which quickly flows to the North Sea.
The early Industrial Revolution was driven by the use of narrowboats on a network of canals. At Shardlow, formerly known as Wilden Ferry, on the River Trent, no less than three such waterways came together – the Trent & Mersey Canal (west), the Erewash Canal (north) and the Leicester section of the Grand Union Canal (south). Quickly, warehouses sprang up, and boatyards and boat chandlers – thus creating the first inland port in Great Britain.
Nowadays the Trent is also a major focus for recreation; the National Watersports Centre at Holme Pierrepont, just outside Nottingham, has a superb regatta lake, white-water canoe slalom course and water-ski lake. Just a few miles away the river is bordered by a series of now-flooded gravel workings, which have been turned into the Attenborough Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1982, home to many species of wildfowl and other birds which over-winter including the Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) and Common Pochard (Aythya ferina). The Trent has always been a superb river for fishing, with excellent stocks of ‘coarse’ fish such as Roach (Rutilus rutilus), Common or Bronze Bream (Abramis brama) and European Perch (Perca fluviatilis). Indeed many local and national championships have been held here. I would recommend ‘Practical Observations on Angling in the River Trent’, (1801) by Charles Snart - accessible via Google Books - which is the equal to ‘The Complete Angler’ by Isaac Walton, who was inspired, in part, by fishing the River Dove in Derbyshire, a Trent tributary.
The cabin cruiser you can see above is another indication of the recreational magnet the river, with it’s associated canals, has become; narrow boats on local canals are available for hire, and companies such as Princess River Cruises, out of Nottingham, offer their specially constructed river boats for weddings, parties and other functions. I am sure that those onboard the cabin cruiser ‘Scintilla’ are enjoying the view of the ruins of Newark Castle (partially destroyed, or ‘slighted’, by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces at the end of the English Civil War in 1646). I think a diary on the fascinating Newark Castle lies in the future!