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.


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