Friday, 17 January 2020
A welcome sound at this time of the year and my haven’t we had a lovely lot of rain.
We’ve a river high on vodka redbull at the moment - bursting with energy and unhappy with the confines of its usual environs.
It has broken the bank in a few places, but nothing like the water we had at the turn of the century and in 2013/14, both of which were described as “once in a hundred years floods”
On release from their bearings, oak sleepers sit very low in the water.
This photo suggests the river was at least six inches higher in the 2014 floods.
Like I said, it's just puddles at the moment.
As I write it is raining hard and I have tweaked open the hatch on the house to notch number five. A happy event that I am now marking with a glass of Aldi Cotes du Rhone Villages, which is really rather good.
A couple of ill ash trees threw themselves to the ground and an aged hawthorn leaned over a little too far.
The main trunk of the thorn has been retained for seasoning and processing via the medium of chainsaw mill, the smaller limbs have been introduced to the log pile.
Thorn’s a beautiful wood to burn, and must be saved for special occasions. An incredibly hard wood as orange as tango, if seasoned sufficiently it will burn like coal in the wood burner.
It came to light during our skirmishes with ash and thorn that Lord Ludgershall had been burning some of this high end wood mid week.
On the same night, he and Lady Ludgershall had also feasted on Lamb shank cooked in red wine for many hours.
and at this point I’d like to propose that Lord Ludg is elevated to Sun King
Lamb Shank on a Thursday indeed, it truly is a golden age to be a pensioner.
To quell any seeds of revolution and with a nod to Charles II we shall return to the trees.
Regular readers of this guff will remember that it laid down its head on a windless morning in the middle of summer (it’s on here somewhere)
The main trunks of the tree, for it had three, were left to lie in the dry Mill Stream.
I’d intended to pull the things out bit by bit with the tractor into the paddock filled with fruit trees, but with the high water and soft ground we (yes Louis XIV, we) would have created a right old mess,
and at this point I am reminded of the utterings of a venerable keeper (newly retired) further down the river who insisted that you knew the winter had been wet enough for the impending summer season if you struggled to get about the meadows in a 4x4.
For the past six Springs I could have tottered about the meadows in Madam’s highest heels should I have so wished without any fear of getting stuck.
Anyway, the Beech tree had to be approached from a different direction.
The road to be precise.
Me in the water in waders, The Sun King on the tractor racing up the road with each severed limb.
It seemed to slow people down. We didn’t have any high viz jackets or much of a plan if I’m honest, but it went quite well. The English breezed by at one point with a small dog and seemed fairly confident that this time we knew what we were doing.
The smaller limbs have gone the way of Dante and after a similar period of seasoning will be introduced to the inferno, because Beech burns beautifully. A fact that Maisie and Callum will confirm as they have a garden full of beech logs from a large specimen that cashed in its chips at the bottom of their garden.
We’ve also tackled a cherry that was getting a little too wild and imposing on the vista from my employer’s bedroom and en suite window.
Brimful of brambles, it was quite a task as the brambles were reluctant to release their fruity bounty. My employers throne room is now the most plush high seat in Hampshire with a clear line of fire of a couple of hundred yards. There are also over thirty five species of tree visible from the loo (it was a wet morning so we counted them) which is quite a claim.
This weekend we travel to London to visit William and Rosie. I don’t know how this happened, but William is now twenty five years old (Maisie will be twenty seven this year apparently)
Once again, I don’t know how this happened.
Apparently I am now older than I thought I was.
I have checked back on here and all the years are there since I first started chucking up this guff. I think that some time in my twenties or thirties I missed out a few years, or possibly added a few years on to my true age to attain some sort of gravitas.
Anyway, we are where are.
Friday, 3 January 2020
Unto this earth a spring is Bourne.
Hosah! Spring Bottom has a spring in it for the first time in six years.
For the decade or so that I marked the wonky touchlines about half of the seasons at the ground were terminated prematurely due to flooding from the ditch.
Football is currently still being played, although it may be a different story come March.
joining the Dever fifty yards above the stretch that I fall in and out of.
The reappearance of Spring Bottom is a tremendous thing, and bodes well for the summer season.
Hosah! Hosah! Hosah!
A motion activated camera, it also takes infra red shots at night. I can report that there are many Muntjac about at the moment, not so many Otters and a goofy Labrador who somehow seems to get in shot every time I set the thing up.
It would have been a great bit of kit to have when Lark the yellow Labrador resided at Keeper’s Cottage. Lark would often get out of the garden and join me on the river, much to the chagrin of the retired Factor of the neighbouring estate who purported to be Lark's master.
An eloquent gent, enjoying his retirement, he could often be heard loudly calling Lark home.
“LARK! LARK! LARK! F*%& You LARK! F*&% YOU”
A few photos on my Trailcam would have aided the precise location of Lark at any given point during the day.
The level of hearing loss in my west wing has been assessed as between “Severe” and “Profound” and I must be fitted with a bionic ear or possibly a hearing aid.
If our paths cross in the coming months please bear this in mind. I’m not ignoring you, just getting accustomed to a new aural condition that came somewhat out of the blue.
My left ear currently resounds to a symphony of beeps and whistles with hissing accompaniment reminiscent of my Mum making soup in her pressure cooker sometime in the early eighties.
I am informed that my right ear is all that the Doc would expect for a man of my vintage.
To remain on all things aural, why have Talksport 2 been allowed to cover Test match cricket again?
The signs were there the last time they had a go, can anybody put in a pitch?
The requirement for the hopeless presenters to repeat the mantra “live on Talksport 2” has been increased by a factor of five from their last attempt at covering cricket. I lasted an hour of today’s first day at the Test and if this is how radio is to be in Post Brexit Britain, I shall embrace my deafness and offer my Roberts Gemini Rd 18 and Roberts Sports DAB for sale somewhere, probably on the internet.
Returning to saucepans (Mother's Pressure Cooker - see above) I've put in a pitch for another TV Series
Provisionally titled "Saucepan Rescue" or possibly "Saucepans I have known" It's a Life or Death Drama (for the saucepan) that focuses on the harrowing tales of everyday people attempting to revive favourite saucepans following culinary disaster.
Here he is recovering in intensive care following defibrillation after a scrambled eggs episode.
A wedding present, he's been with us for nearly twenty eight years and has repeatedly been brought back from the brink. He is expected to feature in Series 2 should the pitch be commissioned.
We we’re the first down there that day, and touched base with a herd of fallow deer, disturbed the merlin, flushed a fox and spotted the short eared owls.
The coming months will see twitchers mass on the bank near the ford as lying water concentrates the food source for many birds on isolated islands.
The great grey shrike made merry with mice concentrated on dry ground on the common the last time we had a wet winter, and drew quite a crowd. There were several reports on bird watching websites that listed the following event - Great Grey Shrike perched in isolated black thorn disturbed by lady with Labradors.
The Shrike hung around for several months, so it can't have been that perturbed.
Which in January, is a very good thing.
An ivy covered Sycamore it’s a jump in the river with saws drawn job in order to chop the thing into lumps of a size that can be pulled out by tractor. I’ll shift a bit of silt in the coming weeks, it’s a fairly easy job when there is plenty of water. The process has taken the best part of two months for the past five years. With a reasonable head of water the work can be completed in two to three weeks.
There are plenty of trout about. 3n lumps mostly, who feed hard for twelve months of the year. A few redds are apparent, but nothing like the number pre 2105 when this stretch was stocked annually with numbers of juvenile diploid brown trout sourced from local stock.
Which is a bit of a worry, as I’d still back myself and my associates over brer beaver as to when to hold water back and when not to hold water back,
And at this point I'd like to bring up the purge on pulling out hatches and sluices in a mass of muddled thinking earlier this century. Where once a set of hatches exerted precise control over a river, the things were ripped out and we now seem to be saying lets let those furry guys have a go.
Which seems kinda nuts. If Beavers had brains as big as ours they would build hatches and sluices and kick back with nuts and cigars. If a set a of hatches has been in situ for many hundreds of years question why it there. Try and understand the influence it may have on a chalk stream valley and act accordingly. It is not always a negative impact.
I get Beavers, like I get Otters. They have their place in the aquatic environment. But let's not sign the entire aquatic environment over to everything that’s’ two foot long, cute and furry. Man has an important part to play, over and above undertaking a watching brief, and was once quite good at managing water in a chalk valley. And there was an awful lot more e water to manage back then.
Friday, 20 December 2019
The left one if possible
and I promise to give it back when my own left ear is back in mid season form and brim full of vim, vigour and not snot.
Half blind without my glasses, half deaf with only one ear working and a failed sense of smell that doesn't pick up when a lazy feline has taken its ease on the dog bed (apologise to visitors who had to take coffee in our kitchen one day this week, particularly the one with the highly refined professional nose, the house doesn't always smell like that) the wheels do seem to be coming off thick and fast as we progress through life. I now make a point of checking other faculties most mornings before I rise from the bed just to make sure something else hasn’t gone in the night.
Anyway, I’ve not hurt myself with my chainsaw yet, but then with all the rain we've had I haven’t picked it up much this week. It really is having a tremendous effect on this valley and the groundwater level continues to rise. The Dever remains within its banks but the sight of substantial puddles on the meadows serves as a fabulous filip after previous dry winters, as do creases in the main river flow (see top picture). It’s conditions such as these that cause the chalk streams to have an extra sparkle when spring kicks in. Some parts remain a bit too mushy for vehicular access and wellies that work are a must for heading on up the river, but this is all that conditions should be and the more water that soaks down into the ground between now and March the better this chalk stream’s condition will be throughout next summer.
No I didn't, and this may be another sign of failing faculties.
Last night, in heavy rain I went over the road and opened the hatch on the house one notch to get rid of water.
It had remained firmly shut since July 2014.
It's an old piece of equipment formed from iron at a works in Andover in the 1840's (The hatch on the house, not my good self)
but it still works (The hatch on the house not my good self).
It has 34 teeth (The hatch on the house.....Ok, Ok I'll end it there)
The hatch on the house has 34 teeth pinned to its spine of oak. It was installed to control the speed of the spinning mill wheel and divert any excess water that would make the the mill spin above the speed required.
The place may be a muddy morass, but keep the rain coming.
Sterile fish they don’t suffer the hardship of going off the feed at spawning time and will happily snatch a carefully presented pink nymph on ultra fine tackle intended for a one pound grayling. Some of the sterile lumps that have rocked up this year are pushing five pounds and look a little out of place in a river the size of the Dever.
I’m holding off felling any more Christmas trees for stacking and seasoning as there is a chance several mature specimens could wobble over in wet water meadows early next year.
I'll just break off there to deal with some parish messages.
It has been pointed out on at least two occasions that in my pitch for shifting some cheese boards with a tale, I only featured cheeses from France and this was not in the spirit of "Getting Brexit Done!!"
(Beech tree known locally as Ophelia - fell into the river on a windless night in high summer)
with some 36 month old Davidstow Cheddar and a knife forged in Nirosta, which I believe is a region of Sheffield.
It's just cheese folks, lighten up.
The benefits of delaying rainfall making an entrance to a river system is oft promoted in recent times.
There are several examples of ditches being partially blocked to hold water back and prevent incidents of high levels of direct flow following heavy rain causing flash flooding. Pickering Beck in North Yorkshire is often cited as an example of a such a scheme introduced. The small town of Pickering now suffers fewer incidents of flooding following heavy rain on the moors north of the town as a result.
At which point Beaver enthusiasts will be experiencing ants in their pants,
but I’d back myself and those employed in the same field, against a bunch of beavers to make a better job of such a project and its subsequent management.
It was the weir that Wickes built (It’s on here somewhere) and the plan was to prevent water levels in Winchester rising by holding water back on a meadow system between the M3 and the Easton road. I popped over to take some photos and bumped into a keeper friend of mine who was also taking in the scene. He remarked that he was sure there was once a set of hatches on the main river and also on the carrier at that point to perform that very task.
I replied that there probably was until those guys over there in the fine fleece jackets and cutting edge walking shoes advised that they should be removed as they didn’t sit well with the current purge on perched streams.
There is a wealth of lost knowledge when it comes to moving water around these chalk valleys, which is never more apparent than when it rains a lot in winter.
Not all sets of hatches will have a positive impact on the today's chalk streams. It is important to examine the impact of each hatch or sluice, weigh up the the pros and cons of each “in stream” installation, question why the thing was installed all those years ago, and decide whether it can be used in a positive or negative effect with regard to today's chalk stream management.
Reading some of this guff back it is clear that a plethora of grammatical errors infect the written piece.
Which is an occupational hazard of the online offload (there's no clever sub editors here), as much of the mid summer guff was chucked up in a state of high bate in high heat and to a back ground of indifference by authorities charged with protecting this unique aquatic environment
Apologies again for getting cross.
Thanks as ever for reading the rubbish that I write and for all those who get in touch, happy to hear from anyone, agreeable or disagreeable, on the this blog or by direct message
Happy Christmas and look forward to touching base in decade number three of the twenty first century
In your face millennium bug.
Oh yes, at this time of year we are duty bound to close the show with this
Friday, 13 December 2019
A word that has been worn out in this house since we returned from Toronto.
Turns out my ear drum went pop during the flight.
I then picked up an ear infection with an ear eczema chaser.
Judith Chalmers never mentioned this kind of thing when promoting the case for whizzing around the world back in the Eighties.
My west ear doesn’t work at the moment, so like referendums, elections and the general doings of everyday life, I am subconsciously influenced by mutterings from east of here.
A consultant has been consulted and the combination of the ear infection and ear perforation has done something to my middle or inner ear.
In future conversation could all "Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf".
A scan is booked for the new year and fingers are crossed that any action required is not booked for the Ides of March.
During my A Levels I travelled by train to Sheffield with three pals to take in one of his lectures.
An entertaining speaker, the three hours he drew the spotlight bounced along tremendously.
In an unexpected twist to the end of our day, the train home was delayed. We subsequently sought out the station café for succour.
The cafe was very much "of a piece" for the era, and most tables were taken, but only one sound could be heard.
For fifteen minutes (more than Parkinson got) we all sat silently sipping tea, pretending not to listen to the monologue delivered by Kenneth who barely drew breathe.
He was everything you would expect, and want Kenneth Williams to be.
Two great orators in one day, and to cap it all the nice lady who checked our tickets on the late train home looked a bit like Tessa Wyatt.
Been engaged with the forces of crack willow for much of the week.
Principally an errant salix that had sent limbs crashing to all four points of the compass. It is now pollarded back to its base, and room for half a dozen hard woods has been created.
We also coppiced an old Hazel that had fallen over to one side a few years back. Still very much alive it also freed up space for a similar number of trees to be planted in March.
I believe the Victorians were keen on planting Hazel.
Some of the hazel in the belt alongside the track at the back are definitely lined up in rows and are now a substantial size. Management of the Hazel would have been far more intensive than today. Nuts would have been harvested as a plentiful source of protein. Spars and strong straight sticks had many uses and then there’s the charcoal.
Charcoal burners turned up each summer on the estate on the middle river where I first fell into this business.
They would spend weeks in various belts of hazel around the place slowly cooking hazel in a mobile kiln.
I think they were a family, they all looked similar, but more often and not they were covered in charcoal dust. They camped in the woods for several weeks, coppicing and stacking green hazel while the previous years hazel simmered away in the kiln.
Immersing ourselves further in the drive for sustainability. Regular readers of this guff will remember that five years ago a substantial field maple fell on the roof of our home (It’s on here somewhere)
Disaster, disaster one may think,
For the Time and Motion department, and their obsession with the number of times a piece of wood is picked up, moved and put down on its journey from the outside world to our wood burner, things could not have gone better.
We just made do with a garden full of stacked logs for the summer.
The main trunk proved problematic.
A couple of tonnes of field maple, it lay on a steep bank and was unstable, it slipped eighteen inches down the bank during my opening gambit to chop the thing up.
On such occasions I find the best policy is to walk away, do something else and forget about the problem.
Which I did, after driving a few stakes into the bank to prevent the thing making further passage down the bank.
We like cheese,
but not enough to merit the number of boards that could be produced from this substantial piece of field maple.
If anybody would like cheese board of irregular shape formed from the field maple that nearly did for Maisie (Child A as was) and myself, don’t be stranger.
Ten pounds plus a couple of guineas for postage should cover it.
Yes the jewellery crafted from the cannons of the Armada, and Ok the handkerchiefs torn from the shroud of Turin,
but what’s not to like about a cheese board with a tale behind it?
There now follows an account of the chain of events that led to the production of these unique and historical cheese boards.
Well three thirty in the afternoon actually on a Friday in early 2014.
There was a high wind blowing from the south and the rain that had fallen incessantly throughout that winter continued to pound the windscreen of our car. I’d just collected Maisie (Child A as was) from the station, as she was home for the weekend from University. With wipers set to frantic we made our way slowly down the lane alongside the river. The last balsam poplar left standing on the place appeared to be undertaking its final death throes in the middle of the meadow.
I remarked to Maisie (Child A as was)
“I reckon when we get home, if you take your bag up to your bedroom and look out of the window you’ll catch that big balsam poplar falling over”
but she agreed grudgingly to humour me.
I set to the sink preparing vegetables for tea while Maisie (Child A as was) climbed the stairs, put down her bags in her room and looked out of her window. Within thirty seconds there was a report of krakatoan proprotions and the field maple that stood in our garden, the opposite direction from which Maisie (Child A as was) was instructed to look, toppled onto the roof of our home. The roof above William’s (Child B as was) neighbouring bedroom was demolished.
Down at the sink with the vegetables, the room shook, the clock fell off the wall and the uniformity of my cut carrots went seriously awry.
The balsam poplar stood for another couple of weeks before cashing in its’ chips. The field maple remained on our roof for a week or so until the insurance assessor visited. Other visitors to this fabled tree that is now producing cheese boards for sale included: King Arthur, Elvis Presley and several Cornish Pixies. The Loch Ness Monster even put in an appearance in the small pond into which part of the tree fell.
The provenance and celebrity attachments of these boards are established (cheese not included)
If you would like a message inscribed on your cheese board, please state clearly in your order.
If you do not require a message, your board will be inscribed “In your face field maple, vengeance is mine!” with a small sinister laughing face and chainsaw emoji alongside.
We also stock a wide range of bread boards, large coasters, substantial table mats, ping pong bats, paddles, boogie boards and irregular shelving, a bit like Ikea really, only its real wood.
There is a limit to the number of products that this historical tree can produce. It’s an orange sticker Lidl like WIGIG, get it while you can (won’t be ready for Christmas)
To quote Hughie Green I mean that most sincerely folks!
But I do have a lot of maple cheese boards in irregular shapes and sizes.
Sealed with high end "board butter" they were formed by my own fat hands from a tree that nearly did for myself and Maisie (Child A as was).
I feel it is only right that this house attempts to profit from a near death experience, albeit five years after the event.
I seem to have worn out my open bracket close bracket buttons during the chucking up of this guff.
Friday, 6 December 2019
A common greeting in the flat hills of my homeland where I attended school and almost grew up.
We visited recently to touch base with parents. It’s a journey that thirty years ago, once took nine and a half hours in an 850cc Mini van that was ill equipped to cope with any motorways on offer, last month we made landfall at Toronto in two hours less.
The sweet spot of 2012 saw us complete the journey in just under three hours.
It is a familiar route that passes over several rivers. Many of which we have seen in flood and pushing out across the fields. All bar one on this trip were behaving themselves and restraining their movements to between two banks.
Which is great as it serves as a full stop to the summer and nature knows where it is, although our garden currently plays host to a delphinium in full bloom which is a little surreal.
Cold weather somewhere else has caused a reasonable head of geese to take up residence on the water meadow upstream from here. Mostly canada geese with the odd greylag, they will hang around here for most of the winter.
A few anglers have bothered the grayling. The average bag between four and eight fish in a day, with most fish caught in the faster water.
One tree was spared the process of planking or introduction to the medium of fire and was dragged up the road to The Swan, where it now stands sentinel in the pub garden.
This week this house acquired an extra parcel of land. An allotment to be precise. It will serve several purposes. Shortages of items various are predicted. Following a self imposed exile in a cave clad only in loin cloth and beard, there is a requirement to gently reintroduce myself to society. It’s a mile up the road and I have to justify the purchase of the electric bike and I like vegetables.
I’ve always had a vegetable patch in our garden but the mother of all Sycamore trees is sucking all the nutrients and water away, and each year yields from my small square of earth are diminished. In another exciting development, a “Vegetable of the Month” feature is being mooted for this house next year. Watch this space.
Poor old Bob Willis, only he wasn’t old.
Ok he completed the three score years and ten, but that’s not much these days.
Didn’t see him play live, but remember 1981 and his 8 wickets at Headingley. The distinctive run up and when he walked out to bat without his bat.
Bob’s the one holding the microphone. William’s the one dressed up as Reggie the Lion, the Hampshire CC mascot.
They are carrying out the toss at the Rose Bowl prior to the Pro 40 clash between Hampshire and Notts. William was a late call up, but the role came with a dozen free tickets for family and friends so he was pushed forward.
Both Hants and Notts sides were required to sign non disclosure agreements to that effect.
The Wheelabrator proposal remains afoot.
The deadline for venting spleen in the consultation process is 12th December.
There now follows a short appeal:
If you have formed any sort of attachment to this river valley please take the time to parlay a few words into a strong message of objection and and send it to the email address below.
it doesn’t matter if you visit once a year or once a week,
Every objection improves the case for preventing this industrial behemoth putting in an appearance in this unique and fragile chalk valley.
Please visit www.bintheincinerator.co.uk for more information on how this valley could be impacted upon if this proposal is approved.
We are advised not to use the proforma on the Wheelabrator website, but to send comments directly to
December 12th is the final day for comments to be received.
Thats December 12th - next Thursday.