Tony, I’ve been patiently awaiting your summary of the Bisterne trip but to no avail. I have decided therefore to bore you with an account of my latest trip to the River Wye with Mr. Loveridge.
I’d already phoned Mr L. the day before – Friday – expressing my doubts about the Welsh weather and the effect it would have on the river. However, as you are probably aware, Mick is not easily swayed away from matters-piscatorial and insisted that we see it through if only to enjoy a weekend away under canvas.
Well, I’m glad he did insist because it turned out to be one very enjoyable and very interesting couple of days. Little fishing was done of course, the water being literally 12’ above its normal level and racing through at about 20 mph – complete with trees, dead sheep and all sorts.
Saturday morning, early, saw us perform our good deed for the day when we came across a collie-dog, its back leg inextricably caught between two fence-wires; if its name wasn’t ‘Lucky’ then it should have been as the area probably never sees a human face in a month of Sundays. Its collar-tag sported a phone number and, being in possession of a mobile blower, we were able to alert the owner and eventually meet her half way along a public footpath with her mutt. (Both parties were clearly very pleased)
The footpath was both a revelation and easy access to a straight mile of river on which one could hide away for days on end if necessary…very private it was! The next couple of hours were spent exploring spots on the O.S map that I’d long been wanting to check-out.
Despite the flood-conditions, the straight mile still looked inviting in terms of camping so the tent was erected under the canopy of a big old chestnut tree and rods assembled for a short, half-hearted session in the flooded margins. Unsurprisingly we caught nothing and naturally gravitated toward the local boozer.
The pub we landed up in was nothing less than unbelievable! Resembling a condemned hovel – outwardly and inwardly – the place hadn’t seen a spot of polish for at least fifty years; a single, bare 60 watt light bulb struggled to illuminate the dusty bar and the arse-smoothed seats therein. On the counter were point-of-sale display cards from the early sixties featuring busty blondes proclaiming their love of Babycham. The pint beer-mugs and glasses on the back shelf were nothing less than sepia, matching perfectly the small windows through which passers-by regularly peeped and retreated from; I tell you – we were in a time-warp!
In charge of all this was an attractively-faced old gal who, when asked what drinks were on offer, gave us a rather old-fashioned look and said ‘Beer, cider and spirits’ – simple as that!
Looking around, I could feel some photography coming on. I ordered a round of dry ciders then engaged the old girl, Lucy, in conversation, learning that she’d run the place single-handedly since her parents passed away thirty-odd years before.
“Strangely”, she told us, few people came in nowadays, though back in the 60s she’d had the dubious pleasure of serving the Great Train Robbers when they were on the run. I took a picture or three (with her blessing) in the hope of emulating the quality and properties of those you see in the Sunday supplements – you know, moody and atmospheric. I was, though, using a new all-singing, all-dancing compact camera so I doubt if the results will be what I was hoping for.
Suddenly, the door was thrown wide open and there, silhouetted against the daylight, was the Hitchcock figure of a woman with Marge Simpson hair and a king-size fag in her mouth! Apparently it was ‘Fag-ash Lil’ who came in every day expecting Lucy to make her a cup of tea. She was deaf as a post, Welsh, but sounded Irish. Apparently she spent all her time drifting from boozer to boozer in search of a free cup of tea. I asked if I could take her picture and she gave me the go-ahead…then promptly fell asleep!
I took another shot of the elegant Lil, head dangling and legs akimbo, and explained to Lucy – quite truthfully – that I was testing out the camera in readiness of an exotic holiday. Well believe it or not, we were having such an unusual and interesting time that we stayed on for another couple of pints. During this time no end of tourists and general punters pressed their noses to the windows curious of what lay inside, but walk on by they did! Maybe it was the sight of me and Mick that put them off!
Back at the river, early evening, it was a pleasure to rustle-up the dinner and gorge ourselves. A pair of buzzards made a welcome appearance and a kingfisher plied back and forth until darkness fell. Hitting the sack before nine, a good day had been had: no fishing, but very eventful and most amusing.
The year 1999 when the foregoing letter was written still seems – to me – futuristic; like it’s still to come and when we get there the world will have been transformed with personal commuter-planes and a robo-servant in every home. But it’s 20 years ago! It’s gone, and it’ll be another 980 years until humans again feel that same sense of destiny and the worry of a millenium-bug.
Thirteen years later and after many more weekends camping and fishing, I moved to the Welsh border and immediately settled-in; I felt completely at home, as if it was where I was meant to be. All of those long journeys back down the east-bound M4, watching the hills recede, became a thing of the past and I wasted no time in settling into a new job.
My only salmon to date, 10lb 8oz
Naturally, the greater part of my spare time was spent on the river-bank, the backdrop of the Black Mountains a constant reminder of my new circumstances. I caught barbel, chub, trout, pike and even a salmon and a few grayling. It was good and it still is – apart from the lack of salmon coming up-river nowadays; I haven’t fished for them in the two years since I hooked and played a big fish for 1 hour and 20 minutes before the hook pinged out six inches from the net. Since then, I’ve seen just one stranded salmon leap in frustration from a high-summer pool below what had been the ‘rapids’. Chub, too, are less numerous, so the need to watch a float on a still lily-pool or to stalk an early morning carp on a softy-southern estate lake is becoming more acute with every season; there is, clearly, no ‘ideal’ area for an all-round angler to live in. I still manage to satisfy my fisherman’s lust for perch and roach and carp fishing but only after a 4-5 hour drive back to gravel-pit paradise in the south and south-east. It may be that the low frequency of such visits makes them all the sweeter: I’ll certainly be making the most of my carp-fishing this year with numerous 3-nighters within my plan, possibly using just one cane rod or one rod, Mitchell 300 and sweet-corn-only tactics – such is the eccentricity of my favourite lake’s manager. His rules are laid-down playfully and with tongue-in-cheek but he actually does insist on his conditions being adhered to! I don’t argue. I’m just pleased with the opportunity to fish for nameless whackers in utter solitude and from litter-free banks.
A nice Gaymire 15lber
It is also my intention to re-visit one or two of my less salubrious former haunts in the town centre. There, between the flowerbeds and with a magnificent view of a multi-story car-park I shall fish for roach, for I have seen some big, big specimens in there including one particularly bold monster of 3lbs + which rose right under my nose as I peered down from a low bridge and sucked-in a large chunk of burger-bun. You understand, of course, that it wasn’t ME who sucked-in the burger-bun…the roach did that.
Should I find myself in that part of the world come autumn, I may even cast a herring into the river – somewhere along the Sainsbury’s stretch I fancy. I’ve had them there to within a breath of 20lbs, entertaining amazed shoppers and lunch-break office workers who’d never have suspected such beasts within sight of their desks! It’s only a small river with a modest flow so to see a 40” snaggle-toothed torpedo lying on the lawn was something of a treat for the buggy-pushing housewives and fed-up call-centre clones…
A town-centre near-20lber
But I’ll be back up here in the valley for the whole of the winter, no doubt, and – like I’ve said – it’s not all wine and roses; rain in the hills frequently sees the river rise 12ft or more to form an inland sea from hillside to hillside. Roads become impassable and fishing is out of the question. The angler can only bide his time in a local pub or, perhaps, at home writing about fishing…
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