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.

Working the Tweed at the Border Union Show

Working the Tweed at Border Union Show.

Working the Tweed had a lovely weekend at the Border Union Show thanks to Tweed Foundation, Tweed Forum and the Border Union Agricultural Society, who let us share their marquee.

    ClaireatBUS3 small

We were placed next to a large map of the Tweed which belongs to Border Union Agricultural Society, and made an interesting contrast in scale to the Tweed Catchment maps drawn by Working the Tweed artist Kate Foster.

Kate’s maps caught people’s attention and imagination because they reveal the complexity and density of the Tweed catchment, which is the most dendritic in Europe. As one person noted, it looks just like a lung.

Knowing your River Border  Union Show CP

The maps are one element of Knowing your River, a family activity which encourages us to consider where we are each placed within the catchment and how the Border region is connected through the many burns and tributaries which eventually all meet and flow into the Tweed.

After a slight pause for thought, many people were able to find whereabouts they were located on the map, which shows the fantastic amount of river knowledge that people have in the Borders.

I liked this local river knowledge encapsulated in a verse:

The foot of the Breamish and the head of the Till
Meet together at Bewick Mill.

People used the catchment ink drawing to make a tracings which showed their river journey to Kelso if they had travelled there using the water ways. By adding other details of favourite haunts, activities and memories, these transformed into personal maps of stretches of the rivers. These will all feature in the Working the Tweed exhibition at Harestanes Countryside Visitors Centre, October 9th – 31st.

Jules Horne also collected ‘biological records’ about our visitors, along with what their local river means to them and what they might change if they could.

Making the most of having so many river specialist in the same space, we were introduced  to the art of tying  fish flies by Tweed Foundation, were entertained with lively conversations and stories by River Bailiffs Eric Hastings and Kenny Graham (below with Tracy Hall from Tweed Forum), and witnessed the difference that Natural Flood Management techniques can make to slowing down water as it moves through an area through the Tweed Forum’s comparative catchment models.


Next weekend we will be at Kailzie Wildlife Festival, Kailzie Gardens.

The Riparian Listener or Knowing the River

25 June 2013, Twizel Bridge to Norham

If, like the aesthete, fish divide perfumes into light and dark, and bees classify luminosity in terms of weight…… the work of the painter, the poet or the musician, like the myths and symbols of the savage, ought to be seen by us, if not as a superior form of knowledge, at least as the most fundamental and the only one really common to us all; scientific thought is merely the sharp point – more penetrating because it has been whetted on the stone of fact, but at the cost of some loss of substance – and its effectiveness is to be explained by its power to pierce sufficiently deeply for the main body of the tool to follow the head.

Claude Levi-Strauss

Artists are often thought of as knowledge producers. This process is flattering for the artist, but it can also become means of dragging artists and artistic discourse into the realm of empirical and scientific thought, which can then see that knowledge packaged and appropriated for various uses far removed from the artists’ intentions.

How can we ‘know’ a river, if knowing means a way of realising or gathering knowledge? Given that our project Working the Tweed will of course take account of both scholastic and phenomenological approaches to knowledge production, one of my adopted ‘problems’, in a research sense, converges on the relative merits of these different forms of knowing. Is a walk by the river, senses alert and mind in low gear (if not absent), as effective a means of epistemological enquiry as a professionally administered scientific survey?

I’d like to think that in drawing on decades of research and practice, my midsummer walk from Twizel Bridge towards Norham, on the Northumbrian side of the Tweed, unveiled as much important and useful knowledge as the most rigorous of scientific surveys, though the nature of that knowledge is less measurable and therefore less easy to represent, or misrepresent, than the knowledge produced by scientific means.

Throughout the year I want to listen intently to various aspects of the river Tweed and its larger tributaries, in this case the mouth of the Till, with a view to establishing a modest typology or nascent archive of a variety of sites and walks where the visitor can engage with the river without suffering too much noise or intrusion. This is less an airbrushing exercise and more a search for the quiet places, which, I’m happy to report, do still exist.

Looking at the map of the Tweed catchment, and knowing the river systems well enough, it becomes clear to me that busy trunk roads run close alongside many of the larger rivers, largely for historical reasons. This particular stretch, Twizel Bridge to Norham, takes the walker off the main roads and away from the noise quite quickly and assumes a trail close in to the river, separated from most traffic noise by large arable and mixed fields, mature and new woodland plantation. Finally, the river valley itself provides fine acoustic cover from all but the more intimate river sounds.

Walking from the car park below the ruins of  Twizel Castle , I took the path along the final reaches of the Till. This is uncomfortable walking at the height of summer because of an overgrown path, stinging nettles and various invasive flora of frightening proportions such as giant hogweed. The invasive species issue becomes immediately apparent – see it, touch it and know it. The path soon veers away from the road, passing beneath the Twizel Viaduct, offering glimpses of the Till, sandy and sluggish in its final mile. With more open views in early spring, autumn or winter this would be an excellent recreational walk with good river listening.

My first stop: facing southwest at Tillmouth proper with the Till on the left joining the Tweed on the right. Two standing anglers upstream and a cottage on the Scottish side having its verges trimmed by a noisy motorised tractor-mower. Rowing boats both sides the Tweed. The occasional vehicle on the B6437 reminds the listener just how far and with how much energy low frequencies will carry. The tractor-mower stopped for around forty minutes, conveniently allowing me to take a long recording, from the wooden bench by the rod-stand, and to digest my surroundings in relative peace. The recording will be archived until we decide what to do with these comnplex and problematic representations. Back to the river, you have to allow time for the soundscape to establish itself. Given enough time and gentle wide-field concentration, emergent properties become apparent, of which more at a future date.



I’m no expert, but the birdlife here seems to be exceptionally rich, or more accurately the topography lends itself to a variety of species. Almost cacophonous at times, the birds dominate the recorded soundscape with their ceaseless foraging and chattering. The covering of deciduous behind me, in addition to harbouring all manner of unidentified tappings, whoopings and flutterings, echoed the wider field of sound from the large thick horizontal blanket expanse of mature broadleaf across the river, and from the smaller riparian trees along the main channel. I’ll take a chance and suggest that these might be ‘residual alluvial forests’. A fine range of contrasting habitats. Finally the flurry of various waterfowl and the delicious sound of muscular salmon breaking the surface occupied the middle foreground, with insects taking up the nearfield panorama.

Walking downstream to ‘The Rocks’ you pass numerous small wooden signposts marking the beats. The bothy at The Rocks is another fine listening point opposite sandstone crags. This stretch in its entirety offers an excellent soundwalk. Here I spoke with two Northumbrian anglers who told me the following:-

  • Tillmouth salmon fishing costs around £70.00/day but at peak season can cost up to £700/day.
  • An angler caught six fine salmon yesterday (he was out on a boat again today on the same beat). The young lad I spoke to was looking out an orange fly which seemed to be doing the trick. The colour of fly, as opposed to the specific fly, seemed to be the deciding factor.
  • Poachers are rare because the authorities have devised methods of testing for river fish which prevents quick and easy black market sales.
  • Scottish rules (whatever those are) are in force for angling on both sides of the river.




Eventually the path rises away from the river to  Twizel farmhouse. Some kind of high pressure siphoning from the river is taking place for irrigation purposes, no doubt closely monitored according to the statutory regulations in the Tweed Catchment Management Plan. Either that or I’ve just alerted the authorities and somebody’s about to be nicked.

Of the three paths on offer I descended again to the river towards Norham. Here the path runs high above the Tweed affording tantalising glimpses of the river through the covering of thick wood and luxuriant vegetation. At times the woodland soundscape is Edenic, broken occasionally by startled waterfowl. Some notes and observations: this is a path less travelled, almost completely overgrown in places; no midges – you couldn’t walk this kind of path on the West Coast in comfort; the joy of brushing against riverside oak, too rare in Scotland these days; a series of excellent contrasting listening environments, especially from the small footbridges over tributary streams which offer resting points, in particular the bridge facing the rushing weir before Dreeper Island.

Just after Dreeper Island the river opens out and you’re level with a completely different Tweed, now expansive and slow flowing, more like a large lochain, which soon folds back into various canalisation morphologies. Traces of wild garlic, a riot of songbirds and incongruous but inviting rondavels on the opposite bank at Upsettlington, a meeting place for warring parties during the wars of Scottish Independence.






Finally on listening points, I’d recommend a stop at any of the bothies along the way, especially the black painted corrugated iron shack upstream of the small weir.

Returning by a different set of paths marked out on the map wasn’t easy or pleasant. What looks like a straight run of open land is actually waist- and even head-high with various crops. Creative cartography is required to avoid damaging the crops, so out of respect for the farmers I’ll refrain from mapping a return course and recommend that during the summer months you either aim for the nearest road as soon as possible or return the way you came. But I should mention to finish that the liminal zones between thick broadleaf woodland and hay meadows are unspeakably beautiful with their secret and intimate moods, as are the random explosions of poppies which pepper the fields of oilseed.







Next up – soundwalking and listening somewhere around Scott’s View and Bemersyde.

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.

Voice: David Mitchell, Selkirk Angling Club

Fishing flies are designed from the point of view of the fish – they’re meant to emulate beetles and flies, and look tasty from below the water line.

In this audio clip, David Mitchell of Selkirk Angling Club talks about different flies in his collection.

Here, he talks about the joys of trout fishing and wildlife on the River Tweed and tributaries.

This interview was recorded by Jules Horne to be part of the exhibition Where the Pools Are Bright and Deep on Selkirk Angling Club, by Scottish Borders Council Museums.