Friday, 14 February 2014

Flooded? How 4 inches and 500 year old engineering has saved Nether Wallop Mill

Flooded? How 4 inches and 500 year old engineering has saved Nether Wallop Mill 

Nether Wallop Mill 14th February 2014

I have to express sincere thanks to everyone who has asked how we are in The Mill here at Nether Wallop in these watery times. It is usually a lovely place, with two rivers flowing under it and completely surrounded by the burbling Wallop Brook that joins the River Test nine miles downstream.

But burbling is hardly the word I would use right now. Torrential and turbulent come to mind more readily. As I sit here in my office the din of the water that is pummelling beneath our feet through the mill race almost drowns out normal conversation.  The lake and the river have joined which makes me think some of the trout we have so loving nurtured since the close of the season will have made a bid for freedom. So are we flooded? Well, happily not and it is all due to some amazing hydrological engineering that dates back 500 years that takes the water under and around but not through the buildings.

There has been a mill here at Nether Wallop for over a thousand years, listed as it is in the Domesday Book. The current buildings are relatively new, from the 1600’s when the water meadows and mills around here were largely created by Dutch engineers who obviously knew a thing or two. But I have to confess when doing the restoration back at the turn of the millennium I almost undid all their good work at a stroke by filling in what turned out to be an essential spillway.

Essentially we have two rivers; one that takes the Wallop Brook and the other a diverted channel that powers the mill wheel, the latter being a  full three to four feet above the level of the true brook.  As the channel approaches the mill it is contained by man-made banks that carry the water above the level of the house to create sufficient ‘fall’ to spin the mill wheel.  As the channel gets close to the buildings the banks are replaced by brick walls, which at the time of the restoration needed some minor repairs. It was the height of a dry summer, with just a foot or so of water so it was all easily done but I could not understand why the top on one of the brick bank walls dipped down for two yards of its length by 4 inches. It looked a bit irregular and my plan was to fill the gap to level the top. But the bricklayer (bless him) took a shine to it and decided to retain it as a feature, simply repairing the damage to keep it as it was. If he hadn’t I can promise today we would be flooded because that four inches represents  the emergency spillway that is the difference between a being wet and dry.

So whoever you are, Dutch water genius of medieval times, thank you. Your foresight has now saved me twice; once in 2003 and again right now.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The debt we owe to the French

Nether Wallop Mill  - Thursday February 6th 2014

I hope none of my French readers take offence, but France is not commonly associated with chalkstream fishing. True, the most southerly chalkstreams are located in Normandy with the names of the Risle and Andelle made famous by Charles Ritz (l) and Ernest Hemingway (r)Charles Ritz (of hotel fame) who captured the essence Gallic fly fishing in his book Fly Fisher's Life where he entertained Ernest Hemingway and our very own Frank Sawyer. The former two are pictured here at a book launch at The Ritz in 1958, though I am bound to say it looks more like a Marx brothers film scene!

But the debt we owe to the French is not as recent as that dating back as it does a 150 years to the time of the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800's and Admiral Sir James Whitley Deans Dundas. He put to work the French prisoners of war on his considerable Berkshire estate at Barton Court on the banks of the River Kennet at Kintbury to create fifteen miles of river from three. I can't find a record of how many people toiled or for how long but the mighty system of carriers, side streams and the hatches that control it still exist today.

What was then a single estate is now spread across three owners, but the bulk of what Dundas created is contained within the Benham Estate which includes The Wilderness fishery which has a tightly knit syndicate where guest tickets are highly prized. I was there last week to see the keeper John Colley and not surprisingly every inch of stream laid out by the Admiral is full to brimming and beyond.

John is rightly proud of The Wilderness, the seven miles of which he has made his own. With no lack of modesty when I asked him what made the place so good he said that in a bad year the hatches are excellent to good, but most years with the variety of Iron Blues, Blue Winged Olives, Pale Wateries, Large Dark Olives and of course, Mayfly he rates as very good to excellent.  That told me! But what I like The Wilderness is that it has retained its character; there is a bit of everything - wide and deep, wide and fast, wide and shallow. Small carriers and devilishly hard side streams. There is wading if you want it or not as the case may be. It is truly a place to lose yourself in the very best sense of the phrase and for that we have to thank the French.

Syndicate vacancies on The Wilderness  null

Due to retirements there are a limited number of syndicate vacancies on The Wilderness for 2014. If you would like to take a look around John Colley will be more than happy to give you a guided tour. For more details click here or email or call me on 01264 781988 to arrange a visit.