The English River: a journey down the Thames in poems & photographs

“There is magic to be found in the text and photographs here, and also in this beautiful rendering of what the river actually is”

– Pete Townshend

The publication of The English River: a journey down the Thames in poems & photographs sees Virginia Astley’s chronicle of life on the Thames spring to life.

Virginia grew up by the river’s upper reaches, knew the lock-keepers and was familiar with all aspects of the Thames and its hinterland. These poems tell the story of her return to the Thames, of three years spent tracing its course and of the lives of those connected with the river, as well as her summer spent as a lock-keeper’s assistant based on the upper reach.

The book is introduced by Pete Townshend of The Who. He writes in his foreword:
[su_quote]Virginia’s story is about the river and the people who work on it, especially those who man the locks. She captures a view of the upper reaches of the River Thames that is entirely fresh… Focussing on the professionals who work on the river, and who manage the locks and the flood plains around them, Virginia suggests – as she works as a lock-keeper’s assistant – that they become almost addicted to the peace and beauty of their place of work. She herself becomes enchanted, that is certain. She makes herself vulnerable in the most romantic way, working and writing and evoking everything she sees and feels as both a storyteller and poet, and as photographer[/su_quote]


The English River marks Virginia’s first major publication of poetry and follows on from her 2015 chapbook The Curative Harp. Writing has long been an increasingly important part of her creative output, which includes her 2007 long-form poetry work Maiden Newton Ecliptic. Since then, she has since won prizes (or has been shortlisted) in a variety of writing competitions. This includes The Frogmore, the East Coker Poetry Competition and the Plough Prize. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and is currently completing her book: Keeping the River – a narrative non-fiction based on the River Thames and the lives of those who work and live on the river.

Virginia’s writing career was also given an additional boost when she became writer-in-residence at Thomas Hardy’s Cottage in Dorset in 2017. English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy has been a strong influence on Virginia’s work. During the 1990s she worked on a potential musical based on Hardy’s novel The Woodlanders (Some of these ideas would later surface in song form on Virginia’s 1996 album Had I The Heavens).

The English River combines both photographs and poems to paint a vivid picture of the river and the community that surrounds it.

Virginia will be launching the book with a special reading and performance at Waterstones in Dorchester on 27th June, accompanied by her daughter Florence on harp. Further readings are scheduled to follow at record stores and venues along the Thames.

The English River: a journey down the Thames in poems & photographs is out now on Bloodaxe Books.

Virginia Astley will be giving readings (along with harp accompaniment by Florence Astley) at the following events: Wednesday 27th June 2018, 11am, Waterstones, Dorchester, Dorset, Saturday 4th August 2018, 2pm, Drift Records, Totnes. Details of these and further events can be found on our events page: