Sunday, 25 March 2018

The otters tale continues

I can barely believe that a year has passed since TOT (The Otters' Tale) as we nicknamed it, came out in hardback. It has been a somewhat hectic time with talks, awards and articles as the book sold so well as to go to reprint.

Footprints in the snow
I have to admit it is not a book I would have ever imagined writing; Life of a Chalkstream fell squarely from my daily experiences, but for TOT I had to watch, learn and research - for creatures that have lived under our feet for centuries it is surprising how little we understand about otters, and how much we misunderstand.

Of course, I was lucky to have Kuschta living here at Nether Wallop Mill for three years. She wasn't the most compliant subject for observation, but her almost daily presence and the routine along the Wallop Brook gave me enough scope to intrude on her life.

Sadly I fear the worst for Kuschta; I have not seen hide nor hair of her since last summer. She would be at least six by now; five is a grand old age for otters and successfully raising two litters is a notable landmark. Our sole otter presence is a young adult, one of her offspring. He, or perhaps she, is currently living somewhere upstream of The Mill, which is strange as that means this otter is in the village rather than the desolate Badlands below.

Caught on camera
With the snow, which they pay scant regard to, I've been able to track her nightly arrivals and departures - I am going to assume it is a female because I think it is doubtful a young male would be a less regular visitor, more prone to wanderings. 

She comes down the mill stream, hauls herself up the bank just below my bedroom window, traverses 30 yards of garden and Brook to silently slide into the trout lake as you will see by the photo.

Sometime later she returns via much the same route, I can only assume fish-in-mouth, as there is no blood red slush of a dining area unless she has taken to eating on the island.

The Otters' Tale came out in paperback yesterday. It is available in all good bookshops or on-line via Amazon or Waterstones.

Editors note: I wrote the first draft of this on Monday and the following night I heard the tell-tale eeking of meeting otters. Maybe we'll have a new family soon ....... they must know the first stocking is due next week.

Trout fishing in the metropolis

As you read this we'll be very much out of our natural environment, battling our way on the Northern Line to the Business Design Centre in Islington for the first day of the London Fly Fishing Fair.

The New River
Actually Ilsington isn't as unfamiliar to me as you might think; those of you who remember Fishing Breaks from the very early days might recall that we had a N1 postcode at a time when I did this strange reverse daily commute to the chalkstreams. 

That said north London is not completely alien to our pure rivers. The River Fleet (the same one of Fleet Street nomenclature) ran from Hampstead Heath, past Kings Cross, down what is now Farringdon Street, under Holborn Viaduct to join the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge. I could be wrong but I don't think any part of the Fleet remains visible today, what is left all being underground. 

However, you can still see the remnants of another ambitious plan when nineteenth century town planners created a completely new chalkstream to bring clean water to a rapidly expanding north London. Less than imaginatively called New River you can still see parts of it today in Canonbury Gardens Park, ten minutes walk from the Design Centre.

If you would like to see us we will be on stands 56/57, sharing with Farlows. We are overlooking the casting pool.

The show hours are 9am-6pm on both Friday and Saturday.

Fancy a walk?
Recently I was asked to write a brief piece for The Guardian Lifestyle section for their Top 10 spring walks in the UK

Now I'm lucky enough to be able to tramp up and down our many miles of chalkstreams, but the brief demanded somewhere everyone could go. This had me dragging out my trusty Ordnance Survey map and piecing together what is , though I say it myself, a rather good route with the reward of beer at the end. Here is what I wrote:

Chibolton Cow Common
Start/end | West Down nature reserve (Google map)
Length | 5 miles/2 hours
Grade | Easy

Trains on the Spratt & Winkle line once steamed their way to London with a daily consignment of the watercress that still thrives on the banks of the chalk-rich Test. Today the disused line is the perfect path from which to catch glimpses of the gin-clear water, pausing on bridges to see trout, fresh from the deprivations of winter, gulping down olive mayflies that alight on the surface.

Soon you turn from the old track to head up the chalk downs. These absorb the winter rains, filling the aquifers from which these chalkstreams spring. As the path takes you to higher elevations, you'll see in the valley below, between green shooting wheat and the soon-to-be-yellow rapeseed, rows of vines: this is English champagne country, with vineyards such as Cottonworth, which produces a classic cuvée and a sparkling rosé. The chalk seam here runs south for hundreds of miles, finishing in the Champagne region of France.

Dropping back down to the river plain, you come to Chilbolton Cow Common, now bursting into spring bloom. Tall flag irises are still curled inside their buds but the marsh marigolds splash vivid yellow along the banks. Mallards fight for mates, and water voles duck and weave between the reeds eager to build the first nest of the season. Finish at the riverside Mayfly Inn in Fullerton, with local beer, local bubbly and local trout on the menu.
If you register on the Ordnance Survey web site (there is a free 7 day trial) you can pull up the route yourself to adapt or amend. Alternatively here is a link


Last time we had prizes! Well done to Chris Rocker who won the pair of tickets to the London Fly Fishing Fair.

1)    What is a Koch snowflake?    
       A mathematical curve resembling a snowflake.

2)     Who wrote Salmon fishing in the Yemen?
        Paul Torday

3)    The coarse fishing season closed on what date?             15 March

No quiz this week, but a rather a quirky video. But before you watch do take a look at the photo to take a guess at what the shrimp pattern is made from. 

I have to confess this is not the most all action You Tube clip you will ever watch, but it is a cunning bit of plastic origami. Maybe just fast forward through some of it. Click here to watch

Hope you are able to make it to the Fair.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

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