Friday, 23 February 2018

Two guys and a Hi Lux

Nether Wallop Mill, Hampshire, England - 23 February 2018

I am still not exactly sure why we did it; it seemed like a good idea at the time. What would be so difficult about fishing the compass extremes of the world's chalkstreams? As it so happens, it is more problematic than you might expect.

Not a chalkstream?
Now, I think (all modesty aside) I know a thing or two about our unique rivers but finding the most northerly, easterly, westerly and southern examples was more challenging than I expected.

Do you define by where an individual river starts or where it finishes? Or perhaps by where the arc of its flow takes it. How do you classify a river that starts as a chalkstream but ends as something else? And if you do, where exactly is that point of difference? Are maps the definitive guide to each and every chalkstream? Not always. Are some so small as to be just technically a river? A trip took me to the Isle of Wight where I could barely see the Cawl Bourne even though I was on the bridge that straddled it. Was there any point fishing a river that was patently unfishable? And most importantly how do you precisely define a chalkstream?

On that last question I was extremely fortunate to have the assistance of the Environment Agency's expert Lawrence Talks and writer/conservationist Charles Rangeley Wilson. Both have done many years of research on precisely this question, with maps and lists of the English chalkstreams. There were a few points of difference but in the end finding where to head - Yorkshire to the north, Dorset to the west and Norfolk to the east - was relatively easily decided, give or take a few topographical compromises. But as for the south ......

Now everyone wants to claim a chalkstream; it is marketing gold. So, you'll find claims staked in New Zealand, Russia, Slovenia, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, plus plenty more I probably never came across. I am sure many of these simply arise from mistaken identity, plus a dose of wish fulfilment, for there are a great many rivers that look and act like a chalkstream but are, in one or more important characteristic, not the real deal. If you start from the basic premise "the technical definition of a chalk stream is any river whose base-flow index (the volume of river flow derived from groundwater aquifers) exceeds 75%, and whose course runs over chalk geology" you will get some idea of the geographical complexities involved.

Extent of English chalkstreams
The fact is chalkstreams only exist in two countries: England and France, the latter containing somewhere in the region of a dozen. Unfortunately for me there was no French equivalent of the EA or the Delphic voice of Rangeley Wilson to guide me. The best source I could find was a tour of French rivers by English Nature in 2003 which starts with the less than inspiring aim, and I quote, of 'understanding how rivers - particularly SAC rivers nominated by Member States under EC Directive 92/43 - are managed and protected in France'. It was useful but far from definitive.

Again and again in the research I ran into the same problem - it looks like a chalkstream but it isn't a chalkstream. I am sure plenty of you have travelled around Provence in the south of France and admired the gorgeous limestone rivers in towns like L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (pictured). But they are exactly that - limestone rivers where the water arrives through fissures in the rock rather than being first absorbed into porous chalk. It makes a difference. Often you'll notice a slight 'milkiness' to a limestone river which is in fact tiny particles of limestone that the chalk would otherwise filter out.

So, I turned my thoughts back north to concentrate on the well-known chalkstreams of Normandy such as the Risle, a favourite of Frank Sawyer, and the Andelle. They seemed a good enough solution but something kept nagging at me - champagne. If you travel around the villages surrounding Stockbridge these days you'll see thousands of acres of recently planted grape vines since it has been discovered that our chalk downs are the geological twin of the Champagne region. 

Actually it is wrong to call them a twin, for one is really the continuation of the other. The chalk ground that the Pinot Noir grape and the other two varieties favoured in champagne making like to grow on is part of a seam that starts in Yorkshire, runs down the east coast, jinks south west, disappears under the Channel (hence the Cawl Bourne on the Isle of Wight) to reappear in Normandy until it finally peters out in the Champagne region. And the river that follows more or less along the Gallic leg is none other than the River Seine. All 482 miles of it. Could it be that the river that runs through the centre of Paris is really the southernmost chalkstream in the globe?

Next time in part 2: First stop Yorkshire


Who knew rabbits could be so controversial? In the last quiz I asked, 'Who imported the rabbit to the British Isles?' and gave the answer, 'The Normans from what is now northern France in the 12th century.'

Plenty of people subsequently pulled me up, pointing out that the Romans had bought rabbits to Britain and you are all entirely correct. The question I had intended to set was who introduced rabbits to the wild (the 
Rabbit brooch. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Roman ones were domesticated) and hence my answer. It is generally accepted that had rabbits existed in the UK between the Romans and the later introduction they would have been noted in some form or another in the Domesday Book of 1085.

However, just when you thought it was safe to put this one to bed I came across yet further research that may prove all the above could well be wrong as it seems we have proof rabbits lived here long before the Romans set foot on British soil as remains of rabbits dating back half a million years were found at Boxgrove in West Sussex and Swanscombe in Kent during digs in the 1980's and 1990's.

Palaeontologist Simon Parfitt of the Natural History Museum, who worked on the Boxgrove dig, is quoted as saying:

'We found all sorts of animals - from the tiny ones like shrews and bats to huge ones like elephants. All of these animals were living in the landscape and were buried together. We also found remains of hares, and a rabbit's tooth. This was quite a surprise, as previously the idea had been that rabbits were living in the Mediterranean coastal regions - around Spain, Southern France and Italy. We don't know if humans were eating the rabbits at this time - there's no evidence of that yet.'

There is a very long time gap between the Boxgrove and Swanscombe rabbits and the Roman rabbit... almost half a million years. As far as we know no evidence has been found of rabbits existing in Britain between those two dates. So what happened? Probably the last Ice Age.


Photoshop magic? No.

This is what happens when a shark catches up with the bonefish on the end of your line. This was all that was left of my friend's 7-9lb bone on a recent trip to East End Lodge in the Grand Bahamas. I rather like the sort of perplexed look in the eye of the fish that seems to be saying, "Is this really happening to me?"

And as for the video
, well I think we may have got off rather lightly with just a shark .........


Hopefully I have it all correct this time! As ever, all just for fun and the answers at the bottom of the page.

1)     Which is the longest river entirely in France?

2)   Alba is the ancient name for which country in Great Britain?

3)  The Latin name Galanthus translates to milk flower. What plant is this?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answers:

1)     The Loire at 629 miles
2)     Scotland
3)     Snowdrop

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