Friday 20 December 2019

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Lend me your ears.

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.

I’ve just read that last paragraph again and it sounds wrong. What I am trying to convey is that each morning on waking, I wiggle my fingers and toes, turn my head to the left and then the right before undertaking a few gentle stretches.

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.

Last night I went to Manderley again,

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.

Today it is open to the one tooth mark. If we start the season with the rack and pinion mechanism fixed at ten teeth or more we should be able to run the mill stream up to mid summer, and if we were still in the business of grinding corn, there would be bread for all.

The place may be a muddy morass, but keep the rain coming.

Popped over to the Itchen at Easton a couple of days ago where conditions are the same. The main river is is carrying more colour than the Dever and the grayling fisherman I spoke with on the far bank had experienced a blank day with little fly. He bemoaned the fact that grayling numbers seemed to be down on most rivers in the region. Numbers in the Dever are certainly much diminished from what they were five or six years ago, although several of our regular grayling anglers who have fished here for many years insist that numbers are up this winter on last winter and the winter before. One angler last week passed double figures for the day, all caught in the afternoon, when a few olives put in an appearance. Triploid trout have attained a nuisance value of “possible pain in the arse”.

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.

All the wood for a new bridge is now cut and treated and is slowly being moved into place.

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!!"

By way of balance here's one of a new board with a tale

(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.

True chalk rivers don’t flash flood, so making a case for delaying the impact of direct flow following heavy rain to prevent flooding is not quite applicable. You could make a case for delaying rainfall making an entrance to a chalk river system to allow as much water as possible. Networks of hatches and sluices were once used to push water around the valley floor and hold water back in late winter to warm grassland and provide a flush of early grazing.

In the winter of 2013/2014 when we last experienced rain during winter time, the M3 and A34 were closed and the army deployed to spend a weekend lowering one ton bags of gravel from a road bridge into the main river Itchen above Winchester.

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

Happy Christmas

Friday 13 December 2019

Kenneth Williams, Board Butter and Cheese........Pardon!


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.

Bugger my ailing ears, David Bellamy’s gone.

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.

Sitting at the centre table in a Gabardine mac talking to/at an acquaintance, was Kenneth Williams.

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.

Groundwater is on the rise as the rain continues to fall. Puddles in the wood are always a good sign although the aquifers could take a few more months of rain yet. There are still ditches in this parish without eau, and you can take it as read that there is no spring yet in the field known across the ages as Spring Bottom.

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,

but looking up not down the thing couldn’t have fallen to closer to our wood burner and accompanying log basket.

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.

Last week I went at the fifteen foot trunk with the chainsaw mill and removed some superbly seasoned maple planks that are currently being turned into cheese boards.

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.

Sales pitch:

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.

It was a cold dark night,

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”

It’s the sort of event I’ve a keen interest in, but not so much a third year Uni student fresh up from the city environment,

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.

There is a certain degree of satisfaction in turning the tree that came close to wiping out Maisie (Child A as was) and myself into cheese boards and logs.

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

Food Production, Bob Willis and Reggie the Lion


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.

The journey has since taken a little longer with each passing year, at which point I could once again effuse on smart motorways, the increased size in cars, and the need to move freight about the country on rails rather than roads, but I shall refrain because the vein on my forehead will begin to throb, my hands will form fists and I will bang my head repeatedly on the top of the table.

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.

In this valley we have had a dry few days with frost.

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.

A few brown trout have moved on to the shallows and are kicking up redds. With a good depth and rate of flow mortalities of spawning fish from avian predation should be down on the previous few seasons.

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.

The Merlin is back. I have followed it up the road twice, and Moss flushed it from a path cut through the long stuff near the top shallows, before heading off up the hill after a Hare.

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.

Chainsaws continue to buzz. Plenty of planks are now piled up for numerous projects along with these two fifteen foot runners to replace a footbridge upstream from the fishing hut. We have also felled and stacked a few more mature trees to season over the summer for planking next winter.

The task of toppling Christmas trees and burning the bits that are not required for planking always puts a smile on Lord Ludg’s face, particularly at this time of the year.

There are also a few dead trees in amongst the live ones that have been taken down.

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.

Here he is with William (Child B as was)

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.

William got in Bob’s way a few times and at one point trod on his toe (Reggie didn’t have the best peepers) Bob took it in good humour up until the toe incident.

During the game, that Notts won due in no small part to a brilliant century from England’s James Taylor, William was allowed to sit in the dressing room of whichever side was batting. He could remove Reggie’s head by way of respite from the clamouring hoards and preserve the illusion that Reggie was a bonafide lion and not a seventeen year old opening batsman in a Lion suit.

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.

You don’t have to live in the valley,

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 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.