We had a dry day at the start of the week and the fishing was fantastic, a steady hatch of Olives throughout the middle of the day and fish taking them just off or just in the surface. This was followed by three days of steady rain and wind in which little fly hatched and that which did was blown off the water, another dry day towards the end of the week found the fish back on station and feeding on a steady trickle of emerging Olives. Trout Grayling and Roach were all feeding steadily, occasionally breaking off to chase each other around.
The main part of the harvest is still waiting to be completed, I have been able to purchase some wheat to feed the pheasants, but getting hold of seconds Barley to feed the Ducks onto the Flight pond is proving very difficult. Every year several hundred acres of poppies are grown around the village under licence for medical use, I may be a simple riverkeeper but aren’t the Afghans quite good at this, and shouldn’t we be encouraging them to grow poppies for a legitimate market to help a war stricken country get back on its feet.
The dew in the morning is starting to get quite heavy now, and it highlights the incredible endeavours of spiders in their attempts to catch flies. Delicate and intricate cobwebs, weighed down by the dew. I am constantly amazed by their ability to spin a single strand of up to ten yards from one tree to another overnight, the logistics involved are mind boggling, and all for nothing when my stupid spaniel bumbles his way through it on our morning feed round.
I have also had the problem of a young Cocker Spaniel escaping from a house in the village and wreaking havoc through the woods. I had just spent an hour circumnavigating the boundary with my own dogs pushing the errant pheasants back to where they should be, when a local lady approached me and asked if I had seen her dog. The wood that I had just pushed all the pheasants into bordered the bottom of her garden, and the pheasants were now hastily exiting the wood in all directions. I suggested that she might find her dog in the wood and could she please remove it, so off she went without even a word of an apology; her last dog was the same. More militant keepers than I would have shot the dog and been within their rights to do so.
This week has also seen the first appearance of the blackberry pickers, which do seem to be quite large and plentiful this year - the blackberries, not the pickers. I am also on the lookout for Mushrooms and have already picked a puffball. Living in Cheshire, mushroom picking was a furtive, secretive and lonely pastime. Particular fields of pastureland produced good crops of mushrooms. My friends and I along with several other grown ups “in the know” would rise early in the morning so no one would detect your destination, pick a few pounds of mushrooms before returning the long way round to cover your tracks. One field in particular with a pond that we used to fish produced mushrooms for June onwards. They are few and far between down here, but it is interesting how the ones that grow in the wood under the Pine trees taste different to the ones that grow in the water meadow. During our trips to France, I am constantly aware of the foraging abilities of Mr and Mrs Frenchman, low tide on the beach will find them harvesting every different type of Winkle, Cockle and more, mushroom and fungi picking is a national pastime along with the gathering of nuts and every type of berry. I once fished a river in Burgundy where the Hommes in the neighbouring swim filled the boot of their car with over a hundred pound of Bream to keep them going through the winter: Sea Bream I can understand, but the good old dustbin lid Abramis Brama ?
We have many fruit trees around the place, most of which are reasonably well laden this year. Several years ago while feeling the pinch after the birth of our second child, I got into all things home made; Alcoholic mostly. Monday and Tuesday evenings would be spent making all manner of undrinkable homemade wines the majority distinctly average fizzy reds. We still have a few bottles that are aproaching their second decade and are primed for that special occasion when the drains need unblocking. Most of the recipes for the wines I produced came from the “Daddy” of home wine production - CJ Berry; an Andover man, whose early publications recommended the use of asbestos as an agent to fine down your wine. This may have been the vital ingredient lacking from my brew, as most of them turned out to be a disaster. Not wanting to waste the alcohol I had produced I distilled the most undrinkable batches using a home made still constructed from a saucepan, old heat lamp, and a copper pipe passing through a lemonade bottle of water as a condenser. The clear liquid produced was lethal; the only compliment it ever received was from a Scotsman raised in the outer islands, who did not get out much. I moved from wine to beer and not wanting to buy my own kit, I opted instead to produce my own malt extract. Several bags of Barley were soaked in water, then spread across the garage floor and allowed to chit. This was then heated over some burning peat that I dug out from the water meadows, and the malt extracted on the stove. Hops are abundant in this part of the Dever Valley, so I chucked in a handful along with some powdered yeast and awaited results. Several weeks later I had some crystal clear light beer, with a slight spritz that tasted of the Garage floor, give me John Smiths every time!