Stealing Rivers

I grew up in the edgeless industrial conurbations of the West Midlands, where the suburbs of one town seep into the retail parks of the next in a sluice of brown brick and grey concrete. When we went on holiday, dad always made a point of taking us somewhere green. Sometimes Devon. Once Scotland. Mostly Wales, where we’d drive along fidgety hillside roads and around lakes ringed by ragged mountains.

On every journey dad would find somewhere high and splendid. He’d get out of the car with his big-lensed camera and start climbing over a stile, or onto a wall, or into a hedge for a good shot. ‘Look at that view!’ he’d call back.

‘Uh-huh,’ I’d go, from the car.

I don’t remember when or how he managed to infect me with a love of the countryside. He’s persistent. But when I left home I went somewhere squeezed between the mountains and the sea. From there, we moved somewhere smaller still. It’s not high and hoary, like those Welsh holidays, but low and leafy: patchworked with centuries of farmland and copses where the ravens roost.

Quite a lot of it makes its way into Below. Here’s some text from the Harvest card, when you sneak away from your duties to laze by the river:

“Down at the riverbank, where the willows draped their long leaves in the water, the grass was soft with buttercups and forget-me-nots. You lay in the shade and watched dragonflies hum over the slow surface. The sun tarried in the sky, and gave you plenty of time to doze and plot your excuses.”

And here’s the river that runs through our village:


It’s tiny and wee, certainly much smaller than the one I imagine in the game, but you can see the willows in the distance, there. No dragonflies today, though. There are sprays of buttercups and crocuses (artistic license!) further along the bank, but you can’t see them here.

A side-note: here’s an image Yasmeen made for an as-yet-unimplemented card. This is about the size I imagine the River Roving in Gallowmoor to be. But how close is this to the picture above? Freaky!

Here’s another excerpt from that card, where you can collude with a friend to steal a jug of cider:

“You distracted the field-workers while your friend filched the cider. You met under the old bridge and traded swigs from the flagon until your head swam, your stomach turned and you were comprehensively, gloriously sick.”

Here’s the reason that happens under a bridge: just around the bend in our river is Fleming’s Bridge, built in 1620. The local rector, Dr Samuel Fleming, had it built after he tried to cross the river during a flood and was dragged from his horse and almost drowned.


Over the bridge is the church – ridiculously imposing for a village this size – and its graveyard. That’s another place that’s made its way into the game…


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