Wednesday 24 April 2019

Mappa Mundi, An Aged Tortoise and Entente Cordiale

By way of an amouse bouche, here's one of Micheldever Wood on Easter Sunday at 8.00am.

Stunning, quite stunning,

before Moss ran amok

And we're off.

The trout fishing season for 2019 is now underway in Bransbury. There isn't a lot of weed, the early splutters of the hawthorn hatch are underway and the water is low. There are plenty of trout about that have over wintered well and several big fish have already been caught.

We've opened earlier this year to make up for the increasingly difficult midsummer conditions. A response to a changing climate if you will.

Further evidence of the dehydration of this corner of the country came my way last week. The National Library of Scotland has made many old maps available online.

A kind gent forwarded a map of this valley in 1894.

The map was drawn in 1894, the email wasn't forwarded in 1894.

They didn't have the internet then, although some of us still don't enjoy the internet experience via the medium of cables, high speed or otherwise, an hour away from one of the biggest cities on planet earth.

The map shows an awful lot of water being moved around the valley floor and writ large across the centre is "Liable to Floods". For those who know this stretch of river you will note that the Mill Stream takes the bulk of the water with several streams spilling over into streams that feed down into what we now call "the main river" Management of the water meadow was all about turning a wheel at the Mill, flooding the meadow in late winter to stimulate grass growth for early grazing and flood prevention.

Clever stuff and a wealth of lost knowledge about how to manage water in a chalk stream valley.

Aged tortoises that live out their years in far flung corners of empire get all the heat when it comes to antiquity, but the cast iron sluice on the house that has a big part to play in the management of water valley was installed in 1847, continues to be relevant and is still in use today.

For a few years now there has not been sufficient flow to run the Mill Stream, let alone spill a surplus across the meadow via a series of hatches and ditches to the river.

I was once shown a photograph of the Mill House in the early 1900's. It is winter and a group of men are working on a ground floor bay window, the stream through the garden was of sufficient size to merit inspection with a fly. This stream is now much diminished and dries up each summer.

Look closely at the map and you will see the pub that is now a house and whose ground borders our bottom bends. I have it on authority of his late wife Renee, that Ted, a river keeper in this parish for many years from the mid nineteen hundreds, would sometimes arrive home from the Crook & Shears soaking wet having fallen off the duck board walk that traversed the decidedly spongy ground that surrounded the spring holes. Today,Ted could totter home from the pub in Renee's highest heels without fear of sinking in or getting a soaking.

Regular readers will be well versed in the saga of Spring Bottom and concerns that groundwater data collected does not reflect the mountain of anecdotal evidence for the chronic depletion of this valley's aquifers.

Further revelations from this second Mappa Mundi include: the pasture on the non fishing bank - the wood's not as old as it appears.

The absence of the flight pond and the farm buildings by the entrance to Bransbury Manor. The dairy moved across the road around the turn of the century with the one-time cart shed now converted to a holiday let, all that remains of the original farm.

The demise of the mill as a functioning producer of flour probably led to the construction of the hatch at the top of this beat. With no wheel to turn, the water could be taken away from the mill stream and its mission to turn a wheel to boost flow in what we now call the main river.

For several hundred years the mill stream carried the bulk of the valley's water. What is now the main river existed as a side stream that wandered about a bit receiving sustenance from sluice streams throughout the length of the mill stream. These small sluiced streams also served as a means of getting rid of water in times of high flow, preventing the flooding of the mill.

The industrial revolution led to a reduced reliance on water mills and with the increasing popularity of sport fishing for trout with a fly, more water was sent down the natural course of the river and away from the half mile man-made mill stream.

Paperwork from several sales of the mill illustrate that the fishery has been a significant asset of the property for some time, principally for eels and trout as a source of food. The advent of dry fly fishing for trout in the late 19th century saw the value of a yard of chalk stream bank rise rapidly beyond the value as a source of turning a mill wheel.

In a reversal of roles, the mill stream is now used to move on any surplus of water (an event that hasn't happened since 2013) with the flow of what is now the main river controlled with an eye to providing sport fishing.

In other news,

The tragic fire in Notre Dame recently brought to mind our own recent travails with the medium of fire, and at this point I'd like to show solidarity with Messieur Macron and promise that our own little shed will be rebuilt in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Vive l'entente cordiale! Vive La Difference!

With an eye to the shortages, we've purchased a wood fired oven.

We have plenty of wood and we like cooking in ovens so it seemed the natural course to take.

When the lights dim and the plugs fade on whatever date is now scheduled, we shall seek succour and sustenance from "adequate food" ranging from wood fired oven chips to wood fired reheated pie.

To counterbalance this increase in our own personal carbon footprint I'd like to point out that the smoke produced from our oven is offset by that fact that mine and madam's exhalation weakens with each passing year.

Although other gases produced may be on the rise, which I attribute entirely to an increase in pulses in our diet

We wobbled over to another water meadow this week. A trip to Salisbury for a cup of tea and a walk around the meadows where Constable picked up his brushes to paint the tallest spire in Blighty.

The Cathedral of first choice for the Russian Bear, the city is bearing up remarkably well following recent events and is a great place for a day out.

The Avon is not quite as polite as the Test or the Itchen and can rise and fall at some speed. The water meadow complex upstream of the city also stand as testament to lost knowledge as to how to manage chalk river water meadows in order to both retain and get rid of water. I believe this kind of caper is current:


I could hazard a guess at some of it, but at one time there would have been a gang of guys bumbling about the Salisbury meadows with an eye as to what to do with the water and where it should go who really knew their stuff about how their water meadow worked.


The English said...

Blimey, I knew that Ted Clere was old but I didn’t realise that he’d been a river keeper for over a century; something for you to aspire to...

Test Valley River Keeper said...

Like the Queen Mother, most riverkeepers survive beyond three figures,

Something to do with a sedentry lifestyle.

I left some tomato plants in your greenhouse. This is not a euphamism or code, I have actually left some tomato plants in your greenhouse.
I helped myself to plants various on the way out?


The English said...

Many thanks indeed for the tomatoes- much appreciated. I’ll do a full inventory of the rest of our other plants in due course. I hope you left the single asparagus spear.

The Two Terriers said...

A fine read good sir. Interesting and frightening in equal proportions. Despite someone saying' all of man's knowledge is in books' the powers that be or are trying to be continue to fail and ignore. If it wasn't 10.30pm I'd have a beer but it's time for my medication. All that knowledge superseded by a man with a clip board and fancy boots paired with technical clothing. Where's a length of bailer twine when you need it. Best wishes, John.

Test Valley River Keeper said...

Cheers John, thanks as ever for reading the rubbish that I write,