As part of WCT’s involvement in Common Ground’s 2001 Confluence project, we talked to residents at Streets Meadow Care Home about their memories of seeing otters along the River Stour when they were children. Using these words, we wrote songs which were then set to music by various composers, in styles ranging from traditional church music to contemporary jazz.
Listen to a few of the songs here
“I saw this otter – I would imagine I was about twelve. My mother died and I went to live with my grandmother who brought me up. In Verwood we followed this otter home. Previous to that I had seen an otter just below the bridge at Pottern, just peeping out of its hole on the side. I didn’t see it come out. I think I was by myself when I saw it. It was very cute. I didn’t know what it was! I thought it was a rat but it was obviously bigger than that! Somebody must have been there that told me it was on otter. That was quite common then – seeing them. We weren’t really allowed to go down. There used to be a wooden bridge over the river. Now, of course, it’s all concrete.
The hunt was men with dogs. We went with them – I don’t know how many miles we walked along the river. I knew what I was looking for because I’d already seen one – just peeping out of the hole in the river. They had a great following of men with sticks and dogs.
I caught an eel when I was a child.”
“We used to live by a stream. You used to have to walk down the stream to get to our house. Every now and then you’d hear a splash and one of them would jump into the water or come out from the bank and we used to see it. Like a big rat! Quite big though! I think there was quite a few there – there was nearly always something jumping about in the stream! We often used to have to paddle to get to the road. The stream ran to a mill.”
“I saw them on the River Stour up at Julian’s Bridge. I was only a child. I always remember I picked up a ten shilling note – that sticks in my memory more than any otter! It was soaking wet. In those days you didn’t take it to the police. It was on the same day that I saw the otter. There were loads of dogs – it was a hunt. They were basset hounds. We saw the hunt regularly because we lived in Old Road. There were plenty of people there, walking.
My cousin used to go eel bobbing.”*
“They look like a big cat more than anything. I remember it up on its hind legs and begging. It knew I was there. I could look right in its eyes. I saw it more than once because we lived right by the river. I saw it with babies – the last one I saw she had four. It was a very peaceful part of the river. We saw lots of wildlife by the river – it was lovely there. It used to come and eat right out of my hands – I used to give it mostly worms! A group of us used to go down there – I was one of ten. They went away downstream. We used to stand there and watch the hunt. I didn’t think it was cruel to hunt them. I loved watching. As children you don’t think about it. We used to have a pet pig there as well!”