Thursday, 9 July 2020

Make mine a G&T


Life on a Chalkstream




3rd July 2020


Make mine a G&T

Is it safe to swim?

Nymph Fishing in Perspective

And the winner is ....

Summer fly selection



It is doubtful you have heard of the American writer and humourist Garrison Keillor but you will certainly have heard him – he has, for most of this century, been the voice of the long-running Honda ‘Power of Dreams’ adverts.


As I went in search of Hampshire’s newest craft gin distillery last week I was put in mind of a quote by him, “You learn more about the world by lying on the couch and drinking gin out of a bottle than by watching the news.” It has been a long time since I did that but, considering the current state of the world, it seemed not such a bad idea. The recently minted River Test Distillery in Longparish seemed an excellent place to obtain the raw material.


In the past decade gin has gone from an also-ran in the alcohol stakes to the go-go drink of choice. There has been an explosion in craft gin distilleries, not least because, as the River Test Distillery founders, Sarah and Jon Nelson, told me gin is not actually that hard to make. In their case, first dig a borehole deep into the chalk aquifer for the purest spring water which you mix with 96% proof grain spirit in the proportions 160 litres spirit/300 litres water. To this you add what they call the botanicals – the stuff that gives gin its distinctive flavour: juniper, coriander, bay, rosemary and such like. But every distiller worth his or her salt has that special botanical. In the case of Sarah and Jon it is the Meadowsweet herb that grows in profusion in the water meadows.



You’ll recognise it when you see it; it is a regular in July bankside fringes, growing 4-5ft tall, the pale creamy flower heads seemingly fragile, rather like baby lamb tails in appearance and, if you care to go close, with a sweet smell. For Meadowsweet is a member of rose family. So, in a few weeks’ time Sarah and Jon will gather together friends and family for a mass Meadowsweet pick, the flower heads then sundried, shredded and finally powdered.


Suitably infused the 460 litres goes into the still where it is boiled to 78C at which point the steam rises up the condensing column where it pools into liquid, the gin coming off in three tranches: heads, hearts and tails. The heads (about 5 litres) is waste the consistency of nail polish. The tails (about 20 litres) is undrinkable but suitable for a second distillation. The hearts are the gin, about 120 litres of it at this point, but as yet undrinkable at 78% proof. It requires an infusion of fresh spring water from the aquifer to bring it down to a drinking proof of 43%. At this point most gins are bottled off and ready to ship but not so River Test Gin. It will stand in the barrel for a full month to let the chalk settle out and it really does make a huge difference. I put my nose to the barrels of both new and matured batches; the ‘column’ of flavours increased by I’d say a factor of three in that month and the gin smells softer, the individual botanicals coming through behind that sweet smell of Meadowsweet.


I wish Jon and Sarah every success in their new venture. The craft gin market is a crowded one but they have already won Gin Of the Year Award and with their distinctive bottle, with a cool glass and wood stopper it is a bottle you’ll both want to own and give as a gift. To visit The River Test Distillery or buy online visit




Is it safe to swim?


I see this week we had the virtual version of what should have been the 26th UN Climate Change Conference. Originally due to be held in Glasgow later this year, the city will now host the gathering of some 30,000 delegates in November 2021. I’m sure the irony of the size of this gathering will be lost on nobody other than those attending. No doubt NetJets surge pricing will kick in …….


However, cynicism aside, we are trashing our planet. We all know that. But where many of us part company with the UN panjandrums is whether their grandiose global solutions will arrive fast enough to save us from our own locally created problems.


Take rainfall. We are told by none other than Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency (EA), that Britain ‘is no longer a wet and rainy country’. I’m guessing that the average person would agree with this sentiment. But the facts speak to something entirely different; there has been no significant change in annual Britain rainfall during the lifetime of most of you reading this. Average annual rainfall in the three decades 1971-2000 was 1,126mm. In the decades 1981-2010 it was 1,154mm. Well, if the head of the EA, the man in charge of our water can’t speak without reference to the facts, there is little hope for rational debate.


So why did he say it? My guess is that on the one hand he is saying what he thinks people want to hear, whilst on the other he is deflecting. Deflecting from the serious failure of the EA to come to terms with providing sufficient domestic water supply for a growing population whilst providing inadequate environmental oversight of our rivers.


Wild swimming might be all the rage, but would-be swimmers should pause before they dive headlong into the water: a report in The Times last year showed none of England’s rivers were safe to swim in. If you log onto the Rivers Trust web site you can check out your local English river; the map will tell you three things: the sewer storm overflow spill duration measured in hours in the year 2018/19. Locations of domestic treated sewage discharge. Locations of continuous treated sewage discharge. The advice from the Rivers Trust is to “avoid entering the water immediately downstream of these discharges, especially after it has been raining.”


In choosing to fight ‘climate change’ battle Bevan, the UN, governments, NGOs and all the other not-for-profits who will rock up at Glasgow are trying to frame the debate in terms that suit them. They have simply shuffled such simple desires as non-polluted water to the bottom of the pack. But the truth is we should not let them. We should tell them what we want. When we want it done by. And hold them to account to deliver.  




Nymph fishing


Let’s be honest, nymph fishing is still regarded by some as the bastard child of fly fishing. At best a necessary evil. At worst a high crime and misdemeanour. My view? Well, I simply love dry fly fishing. Nothing in my life is ever more exciting than the moment a trout breaks the surface to take a fly. Be it mine or the natural I’m about to imitate.


But, to a certain degree, dry fly fishing is easy. Rarely is pinpoint accuracy required of the cast. The strike is easy, the fish often as not hooking themselves. The hardest part of dry fly fishing is not so much the fishing but the preparation: good tippet, good fly care and good fly selection. Nymph fishing, on the other hand, does require pinpoint accuracy and an incisive strike. Frankly, I find it more difficult than dry fly fishing. I have to concentrate more. Read the water better. Focus harder on my target fish. My strike rate is in every respect, lower with a nymph than a dry. The only good thing, on the chalkstreams at least, is that the palette of patterns from which you have to choose tends to be fewer.


However, for all the skill required, nymph fishing still has the sense that it is arriviste. The new kid on the block trying to upend the natural order. Which, in truth, is not quite true. Which is my favourite revelation from Terry Lawton’s new book Nymph Fishing in Perspective. In the early chapters Terry has put together a timeline which reveals writers were onto fish feeding on underwater nymphs as early as 1600, with Japanese Samurai warriors using flies with real (!) gold beads in 1650. Astonishingly it was to be another 340 years before gold heads caught on again when Dutch fly tyer Theo Bakelaar joined the tying roadshow with his head and face spray-painted gold to promote his patterns.


Which is part of the reason why I like this book so much. Terry has managed to combine the quirky with the technical, filling the pages with tales of the often-flawed characters who have pushed fly fishing to where it is today as often by accident as design.


Nymph Fishing in Perspective is available from book stores and Amazon at £15.99 



And the winner is ....


We’ve had it all this June from body-sapping heat to thunderstorms that stripped roses of their petals. The countryside, I would say, is 2-3 weeks ahead of itself. I’ve rarely seen haymaking done so early or golden barley ready for harvest. The fields around our way look amazing with the pale pink of poppies and the blue of linseed.


And everything is so vivid green. It is a constant battle to keep pace with the fast-growing bankside fringes and the weed cut, as I wrote last time, was one that will live in the memory for a while. The rivers have held up very well; it is only recently that we started to see the flows fall back and I finally screwed down the mill race to a trickle here at Nether Wallop around midsummers day, something I’d have usually done in late April.


Amidst all that our June winner from the feedback forms was Freddie Lloyd-Jones who fished at Avon Springs. A bottle of River Test Gin is on its way, as it will be for the July and August draw winners.




Summer Fly Selection


My Summer Fly Selection is on sale now with three free leaders and free p&p. Buy online or click & collect.





A newsletter topic theme this week but as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the page.


1)     Which nation is credited with the invention of gin?


2)     In what year was the All England Wimbledon Tennis Championship last cancelled?


3)     What is the origin of the name of the month of July?




Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director




1)     The Dutch in the 1600’s

2)     1945

3)     Originally called Quintilis (Roman word for fifth) it was changed by Julius Caesar in self-honour.




Time is precious. Use it fishing



The Mill, Heathman Street, Nether Wallop,

Stockbridge, England SO20 8EW United Kingdom

01264 781988



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