Wednesday 10 January 2024

Mine Shafts, Floods and The Harwood Arms

Happy New Year everybody, 

Covid for Christmas, which is not what we asked for and resulted in a funny forty eight hours of sleep, sweating and unusual dreams, before the immune system kicked in and conquered all. 

Spent the run up to New Year in Cornwall on the beach with Madam and Moss in some spectacular storms. Porthtowan was the place, plenty of people with dogs about. Not so many surfers, but then the waves were enormous, and the wind so strong that we thought twice about walking along the cliffs. 

There was also the thought that Moss and windy cliffs could be a disastrous combination. He doesn’t listen at the best of times and we were minded that our cries warning him of a cliff edge or a mine shaft may be carried away on the wind. 

Back in Bransbury now and with the place still unsold, currently working towards what increasingly appears to be another summer of trout fishing at Bransbury. 

Mostly maintenance stuff at the moment. 

The chainsaw has remained in the workshop for much of the time, only putting in an appearance in emergencies such as the two small ash trees that cashed in their chips during recent winds, falling into a decidedly swollen river. There are bankside willows that need some attention, but any activity near the river turns the bank to a muddy mess, creating further work for later in the winter, so I’m standing back for the time being and being very careful where I take the tractor. 

Fences, gates and any other outside wood have been treated when the weather allows, I also have two small bridges in the workshop that are drying out before treatment and attention. All the hedges are now cut, every tool in the workshop is pin sharp and the fisherman’s wash room has been decorated. Its just the trees that need some attention, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. 

We have had a tremendous amount of early winter rain and the river is in great condition. Ranunculus is already pushing through sparkling silt free gravels. Currently the river’s catchment area is completely saturated and thankfully we have a relatively dry period forecast. 

Last week storm some such name or other dumped several inches of rain in the valley in the space of twenty four hours. The river rose remarkably quickly and coloured up in a matter of hours as a result of the principle contribution to its flow coming from direct run off of rain rather than groundwater, behaviour not seen in these parts for some years. 

The field known across the ages as “Spring Bottom” has a spring in it and ditches are flowing well. I have seen groundwater levels higher here, 1998/99 and 2013/2014 spring immediately to mind, but we have a lot of winter left to go for further aquifer recharge which bodes well for summer trout fishing. 

The road into Bransbury is also carrying a lot of water. Again I have seen this several times. 

In early March 1999, I made my way slowly along the road in welly deep water and disturbed half a dozen grayling swimming along the road, probably gone spoony and looking for somewhere to spawn. In 2013/14 this part of the road was flooded for several months and this may well be the case again this winter. In 2013/14 the flooding upstream on the water meadow and in the village was considerable. Currently there is no flooding on the fields and meadows upstream around the village, all ditches are doing what they were designed to do having been maintained regularly in recent times. 

The reason the river is flowing down the road in Bransbury is because a small carrier stream on the main river Test has been “let go” – “Rewilded” if you will. 

There is a lengthy section where it emerges from under the Highway to the Sun, that is unmanaged and has become overgrown and is unable to take the water it used to. (There was a lot more water about back in the day when it would have been maintained to preserve grazing in the substantial meadow upstream) 

Currently the water backs up, breaks out across its bank, makes its way around the electricity substation, that never thought water would be coming its way, 

before making its way across the meadow to run down fifty yards of Bransbury lane before entering the Dever via a ditch by the road bridge. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of water and a flooded meadow at this time of year is my kind of thing. 

But rather than abandon any management programme for the errant carrier, manage it in such a way that biodiversity is maximised and most of the water ends up at its original intended destination.

Snowdrops are out and the daffodils are thinking about doing something. Down in Cornwall camellia were in flower as was a large hebe in the small garden of our surf shack overlooking the bay. The current cold snap and first dusting of snow should restore some order to what has so far been a confusing winter for some of the flora and fauna in these parts. A lot of geese have turned up, along with a few snipe, which usually means its very cold somewhere else. We’ve another Muntjac taken up residence in the garden and the fallow deer were up on the fields between Bransbury and Newton Stacey, presumably because there’s a lot of standing water about on the common where they normally like to hang out.

Off up to the smoke this weekend to see Child B for lunch, who is somehow turning 29 next week. 

All trains are off with replacement bus services invoked. We’ll stump up the ULEZ as our oil burning pig of a car is considered a health hazard, despite it attracting an annual car tax of just £30 for its friendliness to the environment– work that one out. 

We will then park for four or five hours having purchased a solid gold pay and display ticket virtually by phone. I assume it’s solid gold judging by the price of the thing, but having purchased it virtually we will never know, could be bitcoin for all we know.

An exceptional lunch will be taken at The Harwood Arms, where wine, food and company will provide succour to a mind swirl of questions, such as:

Why is it so difficult to get into what some would have as the greatest city in the world? 
Why is our car so efficient, cheap to run, cost £30 to tax, yet still be considered undesirable in the ULEZ zone?
Where is my solid gold parking ticket and why do I just receive a message (possibly a scam) assuring me that I have made such a purchase from a man called Ringo?

How is it that Child B is now 29 and it is the year 2024?

Wasn't he at school only a few years ago?

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Brain Fog, Risk Assessment and Brucie's GP

Crikes this one took a bit to get going, bit out of practice. 

Back in the day I could chuck this guff up in a matter of minutes (the clear evidence of rushed work is on here somewhere) follow it up with 850 words for the ST, a couple of football/cricket reports and update relevant websites regarding weekend sporting results before answering emails and responding to keyboard warriors and trolls various. 

Bit of a brain fog at the moment that I’ll attribute directly to the scientifically proved manopause. 

Oh yes, the river. 

Brim full of water, still within it’s banks but chugging along like a good un. I’ve bankside willows to attend to that must wait for drier conditions, the banks are super soft and I could currently do a lot of damage trundling about in the tractor. Hauling a few felled limbs from the river could quite easily result in the clever Kubota attaining “feature status” for a few weeks stuck in the meadows. 

At which point I’d like to mention that I currently spend a lot of time on my own about the place. I am quite aware that if anything went wrong while in the river on my own with a chainsaw or trundling along in the tractor on a soft riverbank, I’d be in a bit of a fix. 

The RNLI don’t operate this far up river and if my phone got wet or went down I’d be in a bit of a pickle. It may be an age thing but I have become increasingly aware of my capabilities and where once I would have climbed a tree in shorts and flip flops to nip off a limb of willow holding a chainsaw in one hand, I now proceed with caution.

We’ve had a few frosts and the beech and oak trees cling on to their final few leaves. Milder days have seen a few olives emerge with the odd grayling and triploid brown demonstrating interest. Trout are kicking up redds relatively untroubled by avian predators, the higher water carrying a little colour affords a relative degree of protection from “Jack Ern’s” indiscriminate stabbings. 

We continue to play host to a plethora of survey wallahs clad in the highest level of viz with regard to all manner of projects whose inception is planned for the next couple of years. This little lane could become quite crowded in the second half of this decade with machines of all shapes and sizes on manoeuvres. 

There is also river restoration work planned for the stretch up stream from here owned by the MOD. 

Back in the day the meadow and river was used regularly as a training ground associated with the now defunct Barton Stacey Camp. At some point it seems soldier boys got to drive some diggers and there are some very long deep stretches up stream of here. Folk in the finest fleece jackets and cutting edge walking shoes are keen for such stretches to be filled with many tonnes of gravel, raising the river bed before the addition of a few wiggles to flick the water about. 

Here at Bransbury the bottom and middle bends, which are the only deeper stretches would be a prime candidate for some, to receive the gift of gravel. My late employer and myself, always resisted the calls to do so citing the deeper stretches added some interest to the angling experience. We are being encouraged to maximise biodiversity and the deeper holes played host to fish and invertebrates that didn’t appreciate the faster flowing water: Roach, Perch, Pike, Chub and Eels to name a few, plus the odd leviathanic trout. 

Chalk stream management in the latter part of the last century had been accused of being too “Troutcentric” – if it wasn’t a trout, it was coming out! 

Aren’t we being similarly “troutcentric” if we remove any naturally occurring deeper stretches. 

Gravels laid down here, when Tyrannasaurus walked the wood, naturally lie at different levels, deposited by a much bigger and powerful braided stream. There are patches of alluvial gravel in this part of the valley that sit several feet above the current river level, there are parts of the valley where I can push a twelve foot punt pole down and not find gravel, there are also some serious deposits of sticky claggy light grey clay with overlying peat, 

that is for another day, this is all about the gravel. 

There is plenty of faster, shallower water at Bransbury that the river’s salmonids revel in, trout fishing may be the principle provider of income here, but a decade or so ago we had a burgeoning roach fishery here (until Tarka took hold) and some reasonable water for pike fishing with a spinner or fly (again……. well you can the fill the rest in yourself) Roach and Pike anglers who become stakeholders in the chalkstream habitat. 

In the current climate monitoring by trusts, associations, private individuals et al proves more effective at holding the feet to the fire of those that would do this precious habitat harm than that of the agencies charged with task by government of protecting the chalk stream habitat . The greater the number of stakeholders with an interest in the protection of chalk streams the better, all the deep bits don’t need to be filled in. 

I think that’s it, some sort of order seems to have been restored.

Seasons greetings everyone, here’s to a happy and peaceful 2024 and to channel the late great Bruce Forsyth (whose GP taught me to Spey Cast on the Carron, proper chap by the way Bruce and his GP Dr Loxton was a great guy and talented salmon angler) 

Keeeeeep Fishing!

Tuesday 7 November 2023


Still here, and as requests are being made for annual reports on the year just passed, I thought I should have a go at chucking up some guff by way of muscle memory and cranial stimulation. 

The river and house remain on the market and while there has been some interest throughout the summer, so far no takers. 

2023 was a Curate's egg of a trout fishing season on this stretch of the Dever. 

A super start with hawthorn and mayfly all that they should be. July and August were a little tricky, but then they always are, but September was particularly disappointing. Fishing here often picks up towards the end of the summer with some of the bigger fish put on the bank during the final few weeks of the season, but this year Salmo Trutta remained soporific throughout September. A dearth of late season fly may have been the cause but it was a similar story throughout the valley. 

The tale in The Times this morning of a chap who dipped his toe into the Kennet and contracted Sepsis with the accompanying lengthy stay in hospital was a bit of a worry. 

Unsurprisingly, the spot where he took the waters was downstream from a water treatment plant. While water levels remained good throughout the summer, it was a surprise to see such a proliferation of blanket weed in this stretch of the Dever from June onwards. It’s a sure sign of increased nitrates and phosphates, and I’m looking at you Southern Water and the efficiency of your Poo Poo plant a mile up stream from here. 

Public campaigns to call out the Weasels at Water Companies are both necessary and welcome. This house has been calling them out for some years. I first wrote about raw sewage being dumped into Plunket Greene’s Bright Waters fifteen or so years ago. It’s on here somewhere. I also wrote an article for the Shooting Times highlighting the river’s plight with an accompanying photo of a sign placed on several bridges warning the local populace of the dangers of allowing their pets to enter the temporarily fetid ditch. 

The editor of the ST at the time was a little disbelieving and it took a few emails to convince him that the article was based on fact and not the verbal ire of a disgruntled fisherman who hadn't caught anything that day.

Well done everybody for shouting about this matter and calling the water companies out for what they are and the impact they are having on precious aquatic environments in these Isles. 

Water quality done, I’ll move on to water quantity, and at the moment the Dever retains a good level, water is rising in spring ditches and it has been an encouraging start to the winter for rain in these parts, keep it coming. 

In other news the Suzuki Jimny blew up and now sits to the right of Odin in Jimny Valhalla. It was fourteen years old and had seen some service, only not the sort undertaken by a garage mechanic. An oil burning pig of a white van now sits in its place, which has proved to be very useful. 

Moss is still with us and we have also had the company of a semi tame Muntjac who has spent much of the summer alternating between looking in through the patios doors and standing on our small patch of grass staring at us while wine is taken on board early of a summer evening.

Out of the trout season I now seem to spend a lot of time on my own. I have started winter work with the chainsaw already up and buzzing, although Lord Ludg has gone wobbly with Parkinsons and can no longer be trusted with sharp saws.  The English has broken his leg following an incident somewhere in Oxfordshire. 

Madam’s departure just over a year ago has left quite a hole around here, a fact not lost on many of our anglers who have fished here for decades, just hope we get to do it all again next year. 

In travel news, it has been quite difficult to get away. 

We were due to fly to Nice at Easter, but on rising at 4.00 am to head to the airport we received a text from BA informing us that our flights had been cancelled. They had however offered us an alternative passage, albeit from a different airport two days later. The trip had already been curtailed to three nights as I had to be back to meet a potential buyer of this place, no other flights were available, so we cancelled the trip and went back to bed. 

Up a few hours later for breakfast to find that a fox had killed all the chickens and Moss was on three legs with what looked like an injured shoulder. It was quite a day, but hey, these things are sent to try us. 

No summer holiday, but we have just returned from a fantastic six day trip to Barcelona. 

We’d visited for the day when fishing the Ebro about fifteen years ago and always said we would like to come back, can’t think why it took us so long. 

We had a sixth floor Air BNB with roof terrace two minutes walk from the Dressandes metro station at the bottom of La Rambla, which proved to be a perfect base for exploring the Catalonian capital. 

Up the cable cars to the castle first to take in the view and marvel at the sheer size of the city. Olympic museum, Picasso Museum some other funky art museum whose name I forget (We had purchased five day “Barcelona cards which afforded free access to many attractions and also travel on the tube.) 

Lots of Guadi, who crops up all over the place, including Sagrada Familia a Leviathan that looms and manages to be both bonkers, breathtaking and also bizzare. 

Walked on the beach and briefly braved the sea (we had very good weather, above twenty degrees for much of our stay) 

Shopping was good (apparently) and food was excellent with some top tapas and super steak. 

I think I’ll leave it there. 

Brief break has restored no end of vim and vigor and I’ll try and get back to updating this a little more regularly, as there doesn’t seem to be any taker popping up for these parts anytime soon.

Tuesday 21 March 2023

Press on Regardless?

Hello, Hello, 

Apologies again for being away so long, not much has changed other than the demise of Dickie Davies, who we bumped into on many occasions, and a brief bought of covid 19 (Apparently it is still a thing) 

Rain today was very welcome as the river had dropped at a remarkable rate following an arid February, but weed is growing and all looks promising for the coming trout season. 

It is now apparent that the locale will be under new ownership sometime later this year. What this means for madam and myself is still a little unclear. We have both recently turned 55 which a plethora of junk mail, both actual and ethereal, inform us is a bit of a thing when it comes to stages of life. 

We’ve a three bed ex council house a little way up the valley all bought and paid for which we could live in if necessary, but are exploring the possibility of purchasing a “chez nook” somewhere else. 

I have worked for my deceased employer and her family for thirty one years and it has been a blast. Madam and myself both consider ourselves immensely fortunate to have lived, worked and raised a family in this parish, and if we do have to move on, it will be quite a wrench, with so many memories, friends and fishers.

New owners may require my services on the river or they may not, they may be happy for me to continue to chuck up guff such as this, or they may not want their river up and out there on the internet. 

We don’t know, 

But for a while until we know which land lies where, I’m going to muffle the oars and switch to radio silence. 

Feel free to stay in contact directly, deep cover, by email with further questions if necessary.  

I’m just a little concerned that any potential new owner could stumble across this guff and mark me out as a troublemaker/troubled/ addled or possibly just a loon who shouldn’t be allowed near sharp tools.

Of course six months down the line, it may be "press on regardless, Chris" from new owners and we can all sit down once again in a circle on the same familiar patch of grass and lace daisies into one another's hair, in which case see you back here later this year. 

Time will tell.

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Scientific Discovery, MOTs and Surveys

Hello and Happy New Year, 

Oh, we’ve done that one.

No matter there is much to discuss, not least my latest condition. 

On me everyone, 

I have now attained a vintage that triggers a summons for both a health and financial MOT. 

While it’s best we move on from the fiscal visions of Mad Lizzie and the Uxbridge Berlusconi and the impact of their machinations on my pension pot. The health side went surprisingly well with normal cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and pucka prostate, blood pressure and heart rate. 

Ok I am carrying a little extra timber and yes the psoriasis, but inexplicably I have grown a centimetre in height since my last health check in 1992 (Clearly aged 24 I was still growing). 

Following further questioning, there was much admiration for my consumption of fruit and vegetables and fifteen thousand steps each day, countered with mild consternation over my determined and sustained consumption of red wine. All information was entered into the clever computer and we waited for my “body age” and percentage risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke and possibility of making it through the day. 

Turns out my body is 55 years old, which I knew anyway, and my chance of suffering heart failure or a stroke in the next few years is less than 5%. 

I'll take that.

Ok I could have the body age of a 45 year old if a smaller figure had been entered in the “number of glasses of red wine drunk each week” column, but statistics prove that I may well have been a centimetre shorter back then aged 45 and anyway, Madam is not drawn to a young, earnest and stumpy cove.

As I explained to the excellent nurse, and at this point Basketball people you may wish to take note, 

It is clear that science now teaches us that drinking red wine makes you grow taller. 

In other medical news, during the recent cold snap I slipped over on the ice and fractured my wrist.

I was informed by the lady tending to my injury that this is a more common occurrence with the elderly, so maybe I’m not 55 after all, or perhaps my left wrist is older than the rest of my body or possibly, in the manner of a new born giraffe, I am a little more ungainly now that I have achieved my full height. 

Whatever, after four weeks the splint is now off. 

For the record the incident happened at 11.30am well before any wine had been taken. I’d stopped on the road next to the ditch that carries water from the field known across the ages as “Spring Bottom” through the village and down into the Dever. It passes under the road via a trio of pipes that can often become blocked causing water to back up in the ditch. I often stop and check for blockages. On this occasion I stepped out of the jeep and went base over apex on the thick ice on the road. 

While we’re on Spring Bottom and its related ditch, the water level has fallen markedly through the past few weeks and Spring Bottom currently sits sans spring. We’re ready for some more rain now please. 

The river is running clear and weed is starting to grow. Ranunculus will always be stimulated by good winter flow and all of the unsightly gunk that built up in river during the low flow of last summer has been swept away. 

We have been subject to two surveys of late. 

One by wallahs from the Wessex Chalkstream Trust who are carrying out some restoration work on a stretch upstream and wanted to make an assessment of the Dever’s natural profile. 

The gravel drew rave reviews

The second by the weasels from the water company, who plan to put a pipe from a waterworks on the lower Test to a waterworks on the upper river in order to “relieve pressure on the aquifers” 

A Damascene moment perhaps with regard to a more sustainable provision of the old eau to society, although it seems a little out of character when they have been more than comfortable with their increasing over abstractions in recent decades, and is it finally a tacit admission that water is running short in these parts. 

If water entering the upper reaches of The Test system is increasingly of a "recycled" nature the river"s water quality will fall and the characteristic of the river will change.  No water treatment works can match a chalk aquifer for producing clean, clear and chemical free water. 

Grayling fishing has been disappointing. 

Despite the implementation of the flawed “Trout and Grayling Strategy” in 2015, numbers of grayling in this stretch have fallen off a cliff. 

Where a competent angler may have expected to catch 15 to 20 grayling in a day fishing here twenty years ago, today’s expected bag is below half a dozen. The grayling is very much the junior partner in this strategy, despite the number of anglers targeting them increasing over the years. Each grayling angler is a stakeholder in the health of a chalk stream and a supporter when it comes to protecting these precious rivers. I have not seen grayling spawning in numbers for a while. I put a video on the the “tube they call you” back in the day, of many adult grayling oblivious to my presence getting jiggy on the shallow in front of the Fishing Hut. Twenty years ago it was common place to find several seriously senior grayling dead on the weed rack in front of the Mill House in spring, exhausted by the process of spawning. I haven’t picked one off the rack for some years. The Dever doesn’t get bothered by Graculus in the way that the middle Test does and I know this type of thing can go in cycles, particularly with a true wild fish, but the lady of the stream’s plight needs a little more looking into than is currently being undertaken.

Looking ahead to the summer, we do seem to have a full book of rods ready to arrive to bother trout, with few free days available.

Which is a good thing. 

While out doing the left foot right foot thing in sustained efforts to prolong life. Madam, Moss and myself took in a dozen heron on the meadow upstream. 

Tightly formed up, although not in a Red Arrows kind of way, I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one spot. Away from the river but close to a spring ditch, they appeared to be holding parliament in the manner of the mad March hare. There’s a heap of greylag geese turned up as well and I’m sure that following the cold snap if I’d run Moss down the middle of the meadow there would have been a few snipe about. 

I think that’s all, 

Still in limbo here, working towards the impending trout season, but beyond that, who knows? 

Difficult to get away with no trips booked, which is a bit strange after Madam and myself had taken to gadding about and living for pleasure alone since the kids left home (it's on here somewhere).

Plans are slowly forming, but we are both very aware that in many respects there is a clock ticking with an increasingly voluble tick and a tock.