Tuesday 17 March 2009
Another fine week and spring has definitely sprung. Daffodils out, tulips up and fish up on the surface and looking for food. A regular and accomplished Grayling Fisherman filling his boots late in the week with fat fish on a dry fly in the middle of the day. The river continues to clear, revealing abundant weed growth and sparkly gravel. Most mornings we have had slight frosts, dissipating with the rising sun to a flag-cracking day, the warmth in the sun putting a skip in the step of most in the parish. Hares have gone bonkers in the field behind, skitting around and squaring up. Cock Pheasants, assured by the click of a closing gun cabinet fight in the road for the plainest hen, oblivious to oncoming traffic. A couple of fine roe bucks parade regularly, with magnificent trophy heads, while passing migrants add to the exotic mix of fauna in the valley. This time last year, the Osprey turned up. No sign of him this year, although the Otter continues to pester.
One sure sign of the end of winter is the arrival in the skies overhead of The Blue Baron of Popham. An acrobatic blue bi-plane, occasionally accompanied by his sidekick in a scarlet equivalent - Red Rita; looping the loop and dicing with danger they practice their performance in the sky. Now and again engines stall; intentionally or not, I do not know. The failing engine drawing eyes to the sky, and fingers to be crossed.
Aerial action is a feature of the river valley. The Army Air Corps learn their stuff at Middle Wallop; the Chinooks come from Odium to train hereabouts. Each year there is an air show at Middle Wallop preceded by several weeks of practice. All seem to use the river as a means of navigation. Ten years or more ago, posters proclaimed the “last fly past of the Scout helicopter” a defunct machine that was deservedly put into retirement. The last flight of The Scout went on for months in this valley as wave upon wave came over the hill in preparation for their final hurrah.
A lot of army owned training ground surrounds this stretch of river. Occasionally we fall asleep to the sound of machine gun fire, and it is not unusual to find spent flash flares on the bed of the river. Chinooks regularly dangle swaying Landrovers and large boxes over our heads accompanied by distant “kabooms” from nearby Salisbury Plain. The first British Apache helicopter was hesitantly tested over the river along with a brief experiment into the world of airships. The sun bleached dirigible flying past on the slightest wind, and then struggling to make its way home into the wing. Hedge hopping Hercules have frightened the living daylights out of me, and cocky Chinook pilots on a shooting day have cleared a drive of Partridge.
A friend of my employer who lived in a nearby village and was a Helicopter pilot occasionally plopped his helicopter into the water meadows if the nearby airfield was fully booked. On one occasion he took me up and allowed me to wiggle the Cyclic. I asked him how he knew where everyone else was, half expecting there to be some computerised air traffic control system. “Oh you just have to keep a look out” came the reply. I handed over control and requested a return to earth