Mapping the Sounds of the Tweed Rivers

Listeners all over the world can now tune in to the sound of a Border burn, music and voices, through a new Tweed Rivers soundmap created by the Working the Tweed artists.

Location recordings that can be heard on the sound map include electrofishing on the Teviot, interviews with anglers David Mitchell and Ronnie Glass and river experts including Paxton Netting, Tweed Forum and the Tweed Foundation. The soundmap also includes  Borders music from Kirsty Law, Rachael Hales and the Small Hall Band, and environmental recordings made on burns and rivers, including some from World Listening Day 2013.

The project is part of Working the Tweed, and features recordings made by some of the project artists, including Jules Horne, James Wyness and Claire Pencak. The Tweed Sound Map has come from an international collaboration with Berlin-based Udo Noll from global soundmap radio aporee. Tweed Sound Map

Jules said: ‘radio aporee has field recordings from every corner of the world. You can zoom in on a Google map and hear sounds from that place – it’s very atmospheric and interesting. We wanted to give a flavour of the distinctive sounds and voices of the Tweed catchment, to highlight a sense of connection through the river.’Tweed Sound Map

Udo Noll said: ‘The Tweed soundmap is a great example of international exchange and collaboration, and I especially like how sound and recording is used here. Listening to the Tweed map gives you a strong idea of the relation between landscapes, nature and the people living there.’

The idea for project and theme-based maps on radio aporee came from sound artist John Grznich at the MoKS Centre for Art as Social Practice in Estonia, who linked up with Borders artists when taking part in the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in Hawick.

The hope is that the Tweed sound map will continue to be added to over time so that it can build up into an archive of voices and river sounds.

To access the sound map, go to

Riverside Meeting 1 – Paxton-Berwick

The boat is late. The tide is touch-and-go. Hot weather has dropped the levels in the Tweed and the Paxton-Berwick shuttle is waiting for safe passage.

We’re five miles inland on the river at Paxton House, among landscaped gardens, fields of sheep, a tractor mid-harvest over on the English bank. A seaboat in this calm farmland idyll seems unlikely, almost alien. But here she comes, On a Promise, a yellow-white skiff skippered by David Thompson, fresh from the port at Berwick. David has a quick catchup with the netsmen and then it’s off down the widening Tweed to the sea.

Martha Andrews, Paxton curator. Image © Kate Foster

Martha Andrews, Paxton curator. Image © Kate Foster

The crew for the first Riverside Meeting: Kate, visual artist, Sandy, musician, Jane, theatre maker, Claire, dance maker, Bridget, poet, Jules, playwright, Cath, textile designer, Michael, venue manager, and Janet, a crime writer scouting for likely murder haunts.
Martha Andrews, the Paxton curator, fills us in. Paxton is one of only two netting stations left on the River Tweed, from its heyday of around 80. George and Jo Purvis run a small commercial fishing operation – the rest have been bought out for ‘the rods’.

Netting at Paxton

Netting at Paxton. Image © Michael Scott

George spots a change of wind, the ripple of salmon heading upstream. Reading the river, its subtle signs. The rowboat heads out in a wide loop, the nets splashing cork by cork from the boats. As the team pull the net in, the corks dip – a sign of a catch. Once landed, the fish are rushed to the anaesthetic-tub and tagged by Tweed Foundation. Ronald Campbell’s industrial strength stapler plants a yellow plastic cable in the fish’s side. The groggy fish comes to in oxygenated water and is ferried back to the Tweed.

Dr Ronald Campbell of Tweed Foundation tagging a salmon

Dr Ronald Campbell of Tweed Foundation tagging a salmon. Image © Michael Scott

Ecologist Melanie Findlay is an otter specialist. A nearby bridge looks a likely spot. Sure enough, otter spraint. It has an earthy, metallic smell. Kate makes spraint-marks in her notebook. We hear about Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed, and compare with sycamore, ground elder, sea glass… will today’s scourges also be transformed by time?

Ecologist Melanie Findlay at Paxton

Ecologist Melanie Findlay at Paxton. Image © Michael Scott

On the boat, we pass the abandoned shiels of the netting industry, some just roofless ruins, some renovated as holiday retreats. At some point, our lips start to taste of salt.

Rounding the last meander, we see the bridges of Berwick as we’ve never seen them before. From low in the water, passing beneath the sleek A1 concrete, the Victorian railway arches, the ancient pink sandstone, it’s as though history unfolds. Two territories, one each bank, connected and divided by a river.

Someone mentioned the word ‘rival’ derives from the Latin for river. ‘Rivalis‘ – ‘an adversary in love’. Neighbours in competition. Maybe our forebears once stood on the bank each side? Waving, shaking fists, and then rowing across, bartering fish, grain, daughters.

Arriving at Berwick. Image © Claire Pencak

Arriving at Berwick. Image © Claire Pencak

Bridges, Berwick

Bridges, Berwick. Image © Michael Scott

Bridges, Berwick. Image © Michael Scott

Bridges, Berwick

Sheep and swans from the Paxton boat

Sheep and swans from the Paxton boat. Image © Michael Scott

Tweed shiel and salmon lookout.

Tweed shiel and salmon lookout. Image © Michael Scott

George Purvis laying nets

George Purvis laying nets. Image © Michael Scott

Paxton netting team

Paxton netting team. Image © Michael Scott

Artists’ Paxton Netting and River Trip – 10th Aug

Calling Borders artists! Would you like to join a Riverside Meeting at Paxton, followed by a Tweed boat trip on the new Paxton-Berwick shuttle service?

This is the first in our series of six meetings between artists and river specialists, and it’s aimed at uncovering the hidden world of river work and making links between the arts, environmental and science communities, as well as cross art-form.

Get picked up by shared minibus from various parts of the Borders, then we head to Paxton for a riverside gathering to hear from Dr Ronald Campbell, fish biologist at the Tweed Foundation, Melanie Findlay, ecologist specialising in otters, and Martha Andrews, the curator at Paxton House. It’s a rare chance to see river netting and hear about the changing fish patterns in the Tweed catchment. Then we head downriver on the ‘On a Promise’ with skipper David Thomson to the mouth of the Tweed at Berwick, accompanied by Mel with her insights into the local wildlife. The boat can only carry 12, so please book your place soon! Deadline Fri 2nd Aug (later than on application form).

Download Riverside Meeting Paxton details here.

Download application form here.

Many thanks to Tweed Foundation and Paxton House for their support with this event.

Teviot meets Tweed

The nearest river junction to my home is in Kelso. It’s Civic Week.

We live up on a hill. Listening over the past couple of nights, we’ve heard fireworks in the sky. Celebrations down in the valley.
Today, on World Listening Day, the people and parties are gone. We’re hearing a hangover.


Kelso’s characteristic sound is its cobbles. Growing up, I lay awake in my grandparents’ house in Horsemarket, listening to cars rattling across the cobbles, the drunk race-day men pouring from the pubs, grandad’s unearthly snore, like a slow echoey giant walking the timbers overhead. It wasn’t a place to sleep easy.

By the Junction Pool, where the rivers Teviot and Tweed meet, Kelso is obliterated by a constant rush of white noise. The pool itself is quiet, the water slow-moving. The white noise comes from a cauld, used by the salmon and trout to travel upstream. A small waterfall, in essence. It’s like a soundbed that cushions and blunts everything else.

Junction Pool, Kelso

Layers pierce through. On the far bank, a couple laughing. Overhead – birds. I don’t know birds. Gulls? Something crow-like? Squawks and tussles in the air. Mike is with me and we listen. He names them. Black headed gull. Jackdaw. Something lighter, more delicate – swallow. Very far off – grey wagtail, I’m told. I wasn’t tuned in. I missed it.

Mike hears a birdmap when we go out walking. Each individual, its life, its territory, its name. My own birdmap was always a crude cartoon. Pheasant, cuckoo, and dislocated twittering. But lately, I’ve been learning birdsong ID near my home. The soundscape is pulling into focus. Yellowhammer. Martin. Curlew. Blackbird. Now I can’t get them out of my head. They’re everywhere, vivid. Beaks, lungs, feathers. It strikes me that listening is changed by naming.

Junction Pool, Kelso

Far in the distance, there’s a man shouting through a tannoy. The shows are in full swing, way across the other side of the town. His voice carries over the field, the river. Rags of amplified sound. His lips, a microphone, a cable, amp, speaker, all the way across Kelso to our ears.
Other sounds, close by: the click of a shutter, a blop of rising fish, Doppler flies. Our clothes, hair rustle. A generator drone.

We’ve lived here 12 years. It’s the first time we’ve stood on the bank at Junction Pool.

See video here.

Junction Pool, moon

Voice: Ronnie Glass, Kelso Angling Association

River fishermen know how to ‘read’ a river to find the best places to catch trout, in the seam between turbulent and dead water.

In this audio clip recorded in Kelso by the River Tweed, Ronnie Glass, trout fly fishing champion and chair of Kelso Angling Association, explains why trout love the seam, and why fishermen go out on drizzly days.

Recorded by Jules Horne in April 2013 for Working the Tweed.

Click to listen on Soundcloud – look for the orange ‘play’ button.