The meandering river Meon

A few people have asked me about the significance of the photo I use on my website and other social media sites…

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Photo: Carolyn Hughes

This is a view of the river Meon, in Hampshire, very close to where I live. The Meon is not a grand river, for it is only twenty-one miles in length, and for much of that length it is a somewhat shallow chalk stream – in summer months, at any rate. The river rises in the South Downs, near the village of East Meon, and winds and meanders – how aptly is the river named! – through the other villages of the Meon Valley, until it rushes, broader and deeper, out into the sea, the Solent, to the south of Titchfield.

The early form of the name, Mēon, is Celtic or pre-Celtic. The meaning and etymology seem unclear, but it may be associated with a word that means ‘damp’ or ‘to wash’.1 Yet that seems unromantically mundane – too obvious, perhaps – and I prefer to think of the lovely Meon simply as the river that meanders…

But despite the rather gentle, meandering nature of the Meon, it nonetheless has power. Within the past few years, villages at either end of the Meon’s length – East Meon and Titchfield – have experienced severe flooding when the river burst its banks and overwhelmed their roads and houses. More helpfully, for centuries, the steep gradient of the terrain over which the upper reaches of the river flow has enabled the water to be exploited for a surprising variety of manufacturing processes – iron working, wool processing, paper making, tanning, and flour milling.2

The peace and beauty of the Meon’s landscape – with its gently flowing stream, the occasional heron or egret fishing at the river’s edge; the lush water meadows, sometimes occupied by grazing cattle; the odd rushing weir; and the few surviving stone and brick arch bridges that span it at various points along its length – are, you might think, reason enough to use a photo of it to illustrate my social media pages. But there is a little more to it than that.

If you already know that my novel, Fortune’s Wheel, is the first of the “Meonbridge Chronicles”, you will of course put two and two together and conclude that these novels are almost certainly set in the Meon Valley. I will confess, however, that you will not be able to find “Meonbridge” on any map, or indeed any of the other local geographical features referred to in the book. Meonbridge is a fictional village, a fictional manor, but one that, in my imagination, is located broadly here, with the river Meon running through it, and the hills of the South Downs rising behind it.

But although Meonbridge is fictional, in my heart and mind it lives and breathes. That really does sound corny! And yet it’s true. And the river plays an important part in the first of Meonbridge’s stories – the river, the flour mill built on its banks to serve the manor’s needs, and, most crucially, the mill wheel that harnesses the river’s power to drive the stones that grind the grain. In Meonbridge, the Meon proves it can be anything but “gentle”.

  1. From “Saxons in the Meon Valley: A Place-Name Survey” by Dr Kelly A. Kilpatrick, Institute for Name-Studies, University of Nottingham, Sept 2014. http://www.saxonsinthemeonvalley.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/MeonValleyPlaceNameResearch_Sep2014.pdf
  2. The River Meon, National Rivers Authority, Southern Region, July 1993. http://www.environmentdata.org/fedora/repository/ealit:3872/OBJ/20003280.pdf

 

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