Saturday, 17 August 2019

On Spitfire Hill

On Spitfire Hill

Last night I walked on Spitfire Hill in the evening cool as the sun executed its final descent. It seems this summer, despite the recent rains, seems to go on forever, the extended heat perfect fodder for the BBQ lifestyle marketeers. Staycationers laugh, as well they might, in the face of airport meltdowns.

Chattis Hill airfield now known as Spitfire Hill
Spitfire Hill, despite its name, is not what most people would regard as a hill. It is gently sloping grassland, what we more commonly call around these parts downs when we are not pretending they are hills. The Spitfire bit, as you might imagine, has something to do with the British fighter plane - two stories exist as to why, one I know to be true and the other I would like to be true.

The first, which is based on fact, is that this bit of land was used during WWII as a storage airfield, the newly built Spitfires flown here from the bomb vulnerable Southampton factory before being dispersed to their battle squadrons. The other is that three years prior to the outbreak of war a group of Air Ministry officials gathered on this vantage point to watch an aerial demonstration of the as-yet-unnamed Merlin engine powered prototype. Their mission on that morning was to decide whether to put the aircraft into production or not. Had the decision gone the other way I'm certain I would not be writing this today.

As I walk eighty plus years on from that time all evidence of that past is long gone but the sound of aircraft still fills the air. Away in the distance trainee Apache helicopter pilots are circling a current airfield in the gathering gloom at the Middle Wallop Army Flying School. I guess these must be the rawest of new recruits for they don't venture beyond the boundary fence to endanger the lives of us local citizenry as they yaw, dip and track sideways in quite alarming fashion. You'd think the intrusion would be annoying, but the creature-like nature of the Apaches and the very randomness of their flight is endlessly fascinating to watch. As are the swallows.

They are, in must be said, considerably more nimble than the Apaches as they skate no more than a foot above the downland turf, their trajectory perfectly mimicking the contours of the land in a constant search for insects. They are a bit like trout; they know what they like. And when they like it, they will feed for hours on one particular bug to the exclusion of all others, homing in with an ocular vision that is more akin to the raptors than birds of a more normal type. The bumble bees who work the grassland with equal diligence are buffeted in the wake of the swallows, who for reasons that I guess are obvious, rarely eat them.

The activity of the swallows, their southern departure less than a month away, is a reminder that more of the summer is past than ahead. As is the dust thrown up by the combine harvesters, that is so dense and all-pervading that the last rays of sunshine are seen through a dirty filter as the teams work almost around the clock to capture the last and best of the summer weather. Full grain stores are the harbinger of autumn.

I see all this from the highest point of Spitfire Hill; the walk home is all slight downhill. The neighbourhood hare ambles off long before I get near but the young badger continues to scratch in the turf as I get closer than I have any right to do. I have discovered over the years of this walk that if I continue straight at them without altering my pace or posture they simply don't notice me. Sometimes I'll get almost within touching distance, standing immobile until, eventually, I'm noticed and off he or she heads towards the hawthorn scrub with that rolling gait badgers pretend is a run.

It is nearly dark by the time I get close to home. A grain wagon thunders by, the tractor driver giving me a cheerful wave from his air-conditioned cab, the orange hazard light on the roof apparently strobing to the beat of his music. I return the wave such is the nature of our rural etiquette. An apparently insignificant act that seems to bind us in some common purpose that is probably more imagined than real. But it is enough to make you feel good about not just about yourself but the world in which you live.

Fly on the road

You've heard of mobile banks. Post offices. Libraries. Surgeries. Well, now the Montana fly shop Fins & Feathers based in Bozeman, the fly fishing capital of mid-West America, have gone one step further with an on-the-road fly store.

Like many a good idea it has come about by accident; the guys at Fins & Feathers knew they needed a new outpost to supplement their shop of 18 years but could not decide between a variety of locations. So, in the absence of an overwhelming vote for one particular place, the Flyfish Truck was born.

It is more than just a fully loaded fly shop because it is also kitted out to be a window on the world of fly fishing. A beacon in car parks, shopping malls, festivals and apparently random events to bring newcomers into our great sport by showing that fly fishing is both damn good fun and really not very difficult to learn.

A brief look at their roadshow calendar for August and September shows how wide and diverse they intend to take the message: music festivals. Car shows. Brew-ins. Universities. Shopping malls. Fishing lodges. All with free casting clinics, advice and of course, the chance for locals to stock up on the latest gear.

Notes from a fly fisher's life
Yet More Sweet Days is the latest book from the leading South African fly fishing writer Tom Sutcliffe charting his pursuit of trout around the globe. 

Naturally his home country features greatly, but there are chapters amongst others on Iceland, two chapters on the chalkstreams and one on my favourite topics of all, fishing trucks, plus another on the flies of Ollie Kite.

Tom's book is out now in paperback from Amazon at £9.03.

Special Offers

My August special offers are still running. Here they are:

HALF PRICE (£87.50 instead of £175) for selected weekdays during August.

SAVE £40 Book a Rod on the carrier (£55) and receive a ticket for the catch & release lake (value £40) for free. The photo is of a happy Sam Macleod who took advantage of the offer.

2 FOR 1 Book two rods for the price of one (so £47.50 each) during the remainder of August.

Save £100 (was £450 now £350) on two days and one night at The Parsonage for up to four people. Call or email for dates/booking August 24th-31st.

The Quiz

As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1)      Which year (excluding this one!) recorded the wettest August in the UK?

2)   How many Spitfires were produced and how many survive to this day?

3)      Who designed the Spitfire warplane?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1) 1912
2) Over 22,000. 179 survive.
3) Reginald J. Mitchell

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