I suspect my Monday, in common with a great many other small business owners, was a long, long one. I will not grumble too much as fishing seems to have dodged the bullet this time from the get-go.
By 10pm on Sunday The Telegraph web site was carrying the headline: Can I play sport outdoors? What about golf, tennis and fishing? As you might imagine that sort of caught my eye.Reading down the piece did not exactly fill me with hope as it became clear that golf, tennis, gyms, riding stables and sports centres were all to close from Thursday. Not much hope for us then?
As I write this, I still have no idea how The Telegraph knew what they knew; it would take another 72 hours for the Angling Trust to come to a similarly definitive decision. But the short paragraph, which said, “Angling, on your own, with members of your own household or with one other individual is allowed.” was enough to let me sleep easy.
Sloe berries with those vicious thorns
Of course, Monday, even armed with that juicy bit of news, was not entirely easy. We had to discuss the implications and disseminate that news to those who needed to know, not least for our own working lives. And not everyone is equally affected. If you have to travel long distances there will be nowhere to stay overnight. For some lockdown becomes a personal choice or work plans change. For others it will make no difference. All these are understandable and reasonable considerations, but all have to be dealt with in a variety of ways with cancellations, postponements or simply reassurance. So, by the time dusk crept in soon after 4pm on Monday, I had had enough. I headed for the downs.
I take a certain masochistic delight heading out at this time, certain in the knowledge that it will be dark by the time I make it home. I also refuse to wear a coat despite the imminence of rain and the disappearing sun sucking what little heat there was from the fast ending day. For a change I set out through the neighbouring farmyard that takes you onto an arrow straight track, an ancient route that eventually connects to the Iron Age hill fort that dominates the landscape around these parts. It is usually rutted, a regular route for farm machinery but all of a sudden it has the appearance and feel of a regular Appian way. Instead of slipping and sliding in mud and puddles I am gliding along on a smooth, rolled surface of bright, white flints that light my path, catching as they do, the last rays of sun.
The track is now a mighty fine road, far too good for anything it will ever be used for but it has largely come about by accident. Nigel the farmer has a useful side-line in flints. Around here flints in ploughed fields are a perpetual nuisance. We are not talking here about small ones. These are the type that start at the size of rugby balls, often being two or three times bigger. They will snap even the most robust plough shear or seriously mince up the insides of a combine harvester. So, each seasonal ‘crop’ of flints that works itself to the surface is gathered up, with little apparent utility for the consequent pile of gatherings.
However, Nigel has found lucre in flints. He acts as an aggregator of flints gathered on farms in the area, creating a pile each year that is as large as a house. These he sifts, cleans of dirt and grades into giant aggregate bags which will be sold to a Dorset firm that makes pre-cast flint panels for the construction industry. Yes, I hate to break it to you but that pretty feature home on that new housing development you might have admired is not exactly all it seems, but it does at least bring some income to the rural economy. So, as you probably guessed the by-product of something that is already a by-product is thousands of tonnes of golf ball sized flints that are too small for use in the panels but do very nicely for farm tracks repairs.
Near the base of the Iron Age fort I turn for home; it is now technically dark but it doesn’t seem that way with the blue/grey sky turning the landscape an inky black and white, backlit by the rising moon. Ahead of me a barn owl lifts from the ground. It seems early for him or her to be out, but I guess it is dark enough to hunt already. I mark the spot along the hedge line, confident that I would find some left behind prey. It is always interesting to see what they eat, though it is mostly mice and baby rabbits. But this time no sign of a mangled corpse but rather a pile of tiny fruits, the autumn fall from a wild crab apple. Why not, I suppose?
But my snowy friend got me thinking and looking. There is an amazing feast along the hedgerows. The hawthorn, the hedge bush of choice which thrives on the thin soil that cloaks the chalk beneath, is thick with red berries. Sloes, with the most vicious of thorns so perfect for cattle proofing, are intermingled, the dusky blue berries as luscious looking as supermarket bought blueberries from other continents.
Rose hips, the final iteration of the Dog rose pink flower (so called as it was once considered a cure for a rabid dog bite) shine as if each has been buffed to perfection. I am told they have a sweet, syrupy taste but I’ve never felt the urge to try one; I’ll leave them for the birds who rely on the Vitamin C hit in the depths of winter.
On the ground there are beech nuts in profusion, the spiky cases cracking and shattering beneath my feet whereas the acorns, made of hardier stuff, just simply push down into the turf. Strangely, however hard I look is cannot see a single hazel nut. Maybe the squirrels have already done what squirrels do best. Somebody, or something, has certainly done for all the blackberries. A month ago, they provided a handy walk-by snack. Today there are none, the cups that held them now vacant spaces or the runts of the crop shrivelled to nothing. Mushrooms, or they could be toadstools I can rarely tell, are simply everywhere.
As I hit the ridge, vacate the shelter of the hedgerow and begin the downhill run to home the wind gets up. Maybe that coat thing was not such a good idea after all. Old lore has it that when berries are many in October, beware a hard winter. If that is true, I will need to dress better in the months to come.
Can I go fishing?
As I alluded in the opening piece, to quote Dora the Explorer, yes, we can!
The advice from The Telegraph that we could fish on our own, with members of our own household or with one other individual from another household has been proved spot on by subsequent advice.
The one outstanding question was how far we were able to travel to fish. The last time when we were eased out of Lockdown #1 early there was no distance restriction. This time there were some early questions when a government web site talked about ‘local areas’ in a general sense. However, the clarification soon came stating “this should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel to do so if necessary.”
So, we are free to fish where we like alone, with a friend or with the family with no restriction on duration or time of day or night.
Yes, we will now only be able to travel in our minds for the foreseeable future. So, in the spirit of desktop adventure here is a selection of photos from Hatch magazine.
At the edge of the world - Chasing giants on the windswept plains of Tierra del Fuego
Abaco after the storm - 20 images of Hurricane Dorian's destruction in the Bahamas, which proves however bad it is here, we are really very fortunate
Where dorado is king - Exploring Argentina's Iberá Marshlands in search of golden dorado
In the Highlands - Prehistoric trout and char in Iceland's wild interior
Enjoy the trip!
Click here to scroll through the photos on the Hatch Magazine web site
That was the month that was:
God bless a proper autumn. Chill winds. The occasional storm. First frosts. And rain. Lots of it. For October brought us double the average. And goodness how it is already showing.
Despite a dry run from April to September the groundwater levels remained remarkably high during the summer so it has not taken much to top them up. Springs that you would not usually expect to break until Christmas time are running. Ditches are backing up. Side streams in our villages, essentially winter bournes that most years only flow with any sort of enthusiasm once we breach the New Year, are burbling away. The carriers on the water meadows are defining the field profile for the months to come.
The extra water, with the discolouration that it sometimes brings, has not been entirely a blessing for the first tranche of the grayling posse that will stalk our banks until the end of February. However, the faster flows do embolden the fish. They feel a bit safer with the extra depth and velocity, which also helps in their for their search as they dig amongst the gravel for their favoured diet of shrimps.
October also marks the final feedback draw of the season; our half case of River Test gin has been a popular prize. Hard to believe you might prefer that to a copy of one of my books?! Well, done to Nigel Fitzroy who fished at Avon Springs, wins the remaining bottle.
If you did not win, do not despair as I think I’ll bring our local tipple back next year. In the meantime, a bottle might make a great Christmas gift or, better still, make the winter pass just a little quicker. Shop online with the botanical maestros Sarah and Jonathan Nelson at the River Test Distillery in Longparish.
This week as we return to the random collection of questions to confound, dismay or delight.
The answers are, as ever, at the bottom of the page.
1)Today (6/Nov) is Arbor Day in Congo. Which country ruled Congo until independence in 1960?
2)Flint is the official gemstone of which US state? It is also the birthplace of more US Presidents than any other.
3)‘Hanging chad’ was a term than gained fame (or notoriety) during which election?