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Rivers & streams : Left bank, right bank.

12 January 2012

I recently read some 30-year-old walking route instructions, from a fellow Irish writer. As he writes he’s standing on a bridge, looking up the mountainside toward the source of a substantial stream. The years have passed, but we are standing in his footsteps looking at the stream. It’s in flood, after several days of rain, so we really don’t want to be on the wrong side of it. I read on: “Work your way up the hill on the left bank of the stream”.
     But there are paths on both sides of the stream. Which one do I take? I ponder a moment and go to my right. My companion stops me. It says “left” – the instructions say “left”. And he starts to point at the opposite bank.

We are probably all familiar with the terms “left bank” and “right bank”.  For example there is a famous left bank of the River Seine in Paris. But …


How do we know which is the left bank?

Imagine you are standing astride a brook or a stream. Or perhaps on a bridge over a river. You are looking in the same direction as the water is flowing. Your back is to the river’s source and you are looking at it flow out (eventually) to the sea.

When you face this way, your left is the river’s left, and your right is the river’s right. So face always in the direction of the water’s flow, face “downstream”. That’s how to identify the left and right banks.

So in the case of these old walking route instructions, we were looking “upstream”. You might say we were looking the wrong way. And so our left and right were the reverse of those of the stream.  So I headed to my right to join the path on the left bank of the stream.

In this picture above, Natasha is standing  astride the River Shannagh in the Mountains of Mourne.  She has her back to the source (Lough Shannagh) and is pointing downstream in the direction the water is flowing.   Her left foot and stick are on the “left bank”.

Updated: 15 September 2016

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