Friday, 29 March 2019

Passionate persuasion

Passionate persuasion


I type the words 'Mottisfont Abbey' dozens of times every week; it is, after all, the name to the National Trust estate that is home to one of the most iconic and beautiful stretches of the River Test with which I have a very special and longstanding connection. However, I rarely visit the Abbey itself. But last week, with a houseful of bored visitors, I put right an absence of at least five years.

Norman Thelwell
Of course I failed to warn my American entourage of the one most obvious thing about Mottisfont Abbey: it in no way, shape or form looks like an abbey. 

It is, essentially, a stately home though something of a small one, the house a melange of architectural styles dating back to the 1500's when the current mansion was build around an abbey rendered obsolete by the Reformation. It makes for something of a rather odd building inside. I forget the name of the guy from TV's Grand Designs but he'd eviscerate the layout of possibly one of Britain's earliest and longest lasting church conversions.

That said, architectural niceties aside, you get a lot for your admission fee. There is the magnificent rose garden, but don't expect much before June. There is the 'font' of Mottisfont, a crystal clear springhead of chalkstream water. There is a walk along the river, home to trout of mind-boggling size, which have fled our beats for the easy life of bread and crisps.

The house itself is interesting rather than awesome, though the Whistler Room, the triumph of tromphe l'oeil painted by Rex Whistler in 1939 took the eye of my party for longer than I could stand so I left them to it finding myself following the signs to the Thelwell: Laughter and Landscapes exhibition tucked up on the third floor. 

Artist proof cover for the Compleat Tangler
Norman Thelwell. I hadn't thought of that name in years. The cartoonist who gently lampooned the Pony Club set of ill-mannered children, overwrought parents and recalcitrant ponies on a mission to turn the innocent hobby of horse riding into a battle of wills. Anyone with a horse-mad sibling will recall the Thelwell books and birthday cards as staple gifts from aunts and grandparents. Thelwell, as far as I can divine, didn't much care for riding but he was a passionate fly fisher living from the 1970's to his death in 2004 in Timsbury village, between Stockbridge and Romsey, where a carrier of the River Test flowed through his garden. 

I am not sure that his depiction of our breed in the Compleat Tangler has done much for our cause other than stereotype us as bumbling, ineffectual fools. Maybe he is not that wrong? He definitely had an eye for the absurd, encouraged no doubt by his years as a Punch cartoonist where he was something of an early environmentalist in the 1950's. 

There is a cartoon of a harried man, brandishing a piece of paper, rushing into the office of a colleague which is piled high with similar papers. 'It's another memo from J.B.' he says, 'about the paper shortage ...'. 

The cartoon (opposite) of the child saying to the angler, 'You can catch them ready cooked down by the power station,' reflects the debate when the first nuclear power stations were mooted. 
There was definitely an interesting hinterland to the life of Norman Thelwell who sold over 2 million books. He truly loved the natural world, seeking to protect it by way of passionate persuasion with the gentle prod of humour rather than that of sanctimonious lecture.

If you have a spare hour the exhibition is worth a visit. It runs until April 22nd at Mottisfont Abbey.
Thelwell describing how he came to live on the River Test

BBC Countryfile on my otters

I am guessing that there are not many of you who haven't, planned or otherwise, watched an episode of Flog It! the antiques show hosted by Paul Martin.

Paul Martin with me last week at Nether Wallop Mill
It is such a ubiquitous staple of the TV schedules that you might be surprised to hear that the final programme was filmed last year. But with 1,300 shows recorded over the past 18 years I think it is reasonable to assume you'll be seeing it on a channel near you for many years to come. In fact Paul tells me the filming came to an end when the W1A executives discovered that old repeats were getting more viewers than the new shows!

I met Paul last week when he came to Nether Wallop Mill to film an episode for the spring edition of BBC Countryfile Diaries about my otters, with a twist on fishing. It seems that an earlier edition of the show had taken some flak from the carp fishing community who, for perfectly understandable reasons, are less keen on the otter revival than others.

Really the difficulty is that the stillwater revolution, for both trout and coarse species, took place in an otter vacuum. At the very time that the otter population was in steep decline, coming dangerously close to extinction in large parts of the country, just about every body of viable water was being turned into some kind of commercial fishery or other. No thought was given to furry predators because well, they weren't around.

The otter renaissance is generally regarded as one of the few ecological success stories of the past three decades. Proof that, despite lobbying by special interest groups, using poisonous chemicals in the countryside does exactly what you might expect - it kills things. It is no small irony that the very revival of the otters since the chemical ban has been helped by the lakes that grew up in their absence; a ready and easy food supply.

So my job for Countryfile was to explain how I cope with otter predation without resorting to deterrents such as fencing. What do I do? Well, nothing. In the end you have to bend to the will of Mother Nature. Accept that if you create something so utterly unnatural as an lake stocked with fish to a number and size beyond native reproduction then you'll become, whether you like it or not, the local walk-in-whenever-you-like-and-eat-as-much-as-you-like food bank.

The BBC Countryfile Spring Diary series will be aired in the week starting April 29th. I will let you know the time and date of the show in due course.

CHALK easier to watch

I know some of you struggled with the token wallet system operated by Fishing TV, the distributors of CHALK. Good news - it is gone! You can now watch CHALK with regular pay-per-view.

There are two options: pay £3.99 for unlimited access for 72 hours or pay £6.99 for unlimited access forever. Click on this link to watch the film or see the trailer. 

If you'd like to see the latest projects by filmmakers Chris Cooper and Leo Cinicolo visit their web site.

Your own record grayling?

I asked last time around how old grayling lived to and I'm thankful for Shaun Leonard of the Wild Trout Trust for providing the answer.

It could be you!
He has pointed me in the direction of the Grayling Research Trust Practical Guide which, based on individuals that have been captured year after year with electro fishing surveys, suggests that it is around 9 years. Shaun is also confident that, bearing in mind the side of his dorsal fin, our record fish is a boy.

Before we completely forget about grayling for a few months as they do their breeding thing a few dates for your diary:

John Bailey at Ilsington
John can't promise another record but he'll be back in the autumn and winter for more of his guided days on the River Frome.

October 25/26 and February 21/22

The cost is £325 for one day or £595 for two days. 

Introduction to Grayling Fishing
Our very own grayling ace Bob Preston will be running a one day course at Bullington Manor at the start of the season. Bob regularly racks up days when he catches 50+ grayling so you'll learn a thing or two!

October 15

The cost is £195 for the day.

To book call Diane on 01264 781988 or 

The Quiz

More questions to hopefully entertain and enlighten. As ever it is just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the Newsletter.

1)      Memo is an abbreviation of what word?

2)      In what country was April Fools' Day was traditionally called Huntigowk Day?

3)      In which year was Britain's first nuclear power station opened?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director


1)      Memorandum
2)      Scotland. A corruption of Hunt the Gowk, the gowk being  Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person.
3)      1956

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