Small wonder

DIPPING: The first use of water from the Isbourne was for a sheep wash a few yards from the source.

EMPTY: The sheep wash as it is today. It has been restored and is now protected by barbed wire.

FLASHBACK: A picture of Dumbleton Mill taken in 1954. The Isbourne drove the watermill.

MECHANICS: This photo taken in 1986 shows that the waterwheel is still in reasonably good order.

First published in Country News latest by

WHEN it comes to cataloguing Worcestershire’s rivers, the little Isbourne could well slip under the radar. Dwarfed by its three large neighbours the Severn, Teme and Avon, the Isbourne is only 13 miles long.

It flows from the northern face of Cleeve Hill, just north of Cheltenham, to Evesham, where it slides insignificantly into the Avon at Hampton. Indeed, it is known locally as Hampton Brook, which doesn’t make it much of a river.

However, the Isbourne has a claim to fame of which more distinguished waterways would be proud. Because it is one of only two rivers in the world, allegedly, which flow north. The other is the Nile and you don’t get much more celebrity company than that. Or a much greater contrast.

For while the Nile meanders more than 4,000 miles down Africa, cutting a fertile green valley through the Egyptian desert, the Isbourne hurries and tumbles through north Gloucestershire into south Worcestershire, driving watermills and fountains and providing water for everything from swimming pools to sheep dips along the way.

Now due tribute has been paid to this interesting little river through a new book authored by Mike Lovatt, a mechanical engineer with a penchant for watermills.

Called The River Isbourne – In the service of Mankind (Amberley Publishing £14.99) it covers the route of the river from source to mouth, accompanying the narrative with a host of photos, both ancient and modern.

Along the relatively short length of the waterway there are no less than 22 watermill sites, which works out at almost two per mile, and there are some lovely old sepia prints of how the world was back in the early 1900s.

In more recent times, the Isbourne was the culprit when floods swept through the area in 1998 and again in 2007, damaging properties, and particularly the old mill at Sedgeberrow.

Undoubtedly the most spectacular usage of the Isbourne water has been to create the Stanway Fountain in the grounds of Stanway House. The tallest gravity fed fountain in the world powers water to a height of more than 300ft thanks to two huge holding tanks built in the woods above Stanway and dropped more than 250ft through a 12-inch diameter polyethylene pipe.

Although it gives every impression of being a piece of Victorian engineering built to grace a fine country house, the fountain only came into being in the late 1990s, when a reservoir used to store water for use in Evesham was closed down and the contents diverted to create the fountain. The current mechanics actually date from only 2004.

Tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world, on a par with the river Nile: for a humble little Worcestershire river, the Isbourne can walk tall.

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