Thursday 30 January 2020

Trumpets for Ears and an Oil Burning Pig

Happy New Year everyone,

Have we done that one?

Perhaps with the end of the month imminent how about The Last Post, Beating Retreat or Watch Setting by way of an opener.

Moving on from the nonsense of the hour, we shall concentrate on water.

Which is fairly easy as currently we have quite a bit. For regular takers of this guff, the hatch on the house is open five notches and Spring Bottom is in rude health. There are plenty of puddles through the wood and the water meadows have large swathes of standing water.

Here's one of the lane one morning last week.

This used to happen several times each winter, it hasn't for over five years.

At half time we can report that this has been a tremendous winter for groundwater fed rivers,

keep the rain coming.

The lark is on the thorn the snail is on the wing, the dog’s in his kennel and something’s not quite right with the world.

I may have misremembered that last bit, but the river is in the best condition it has been for some years and all bodes well for summer fishing.

We’ve been whacking through the wood of late. All that time on the sofa over the festive season has put quite a dent in the log stash. We’ve plenty stacked up about the place so we won’t run out yet but I have been gathering supplies from around the place for the splitting season in early spring. The woodland is out of bounds with the trailer due to soft ground so I have been using the pallet forks to transfer the stuff from the wood to splitting centre central behind the workshop.

It’s a steady old business and care must be taken not to overload the pallet forks as once the weight is taken, the steering can become quite light and new paths are forged through the undergrowth as we fail to make a left or right turn. It’s predominantly ash with a smattering of thorn so we will burn well next winter.

We’ve also dealt with a failed willow at the very top of this stretch that cashed in it’s chips in wind last weekend and a boisterous specimen on the bottom bends that had put on phenomenal growth in the last two years. We've also opened up thirty yards of fishing below the bottom bends that was previously fenced in when the paddock was used by my employer for raising litters of greyhound puppies. It's always held fish but the back cast is affected by fruit trees.

The valley is full of fowl, ducks and geese mostly, with a wide choice of puddles in which to dibble. The merlin is currently very active along the road although I have yet to be able to grab a photo. It’s an acrobatic low level flight along the road in front of the car that can last for a hundred yards before it dives away into the hedge. A dash cam may be the way forward.

Gravel is on the move in the river.

Which is what one would expect in the depths of a normal winter. High flow tickling up the stones and salmonids grinding out redds for spawning. Well the high flow is doing great things gravel wise and I don’t anticipate having to do much “tinning” in the coming weeks but spawning salmonids are few and far between.

Which is a worry.

After a pow wow with the EA last week, the river will be surveyed in the spring and the results compared to the last survey around ten years ago.

What has caused this drop off in spawning salmonids?

Well we had a lot of low water and some winters traditional spawning gravels were dry, but the urge for a salmonid to spawn is a strong one and alternative gravels are sought out. This stretch of the Dever is perfect for spawning, the results of the survey ten years ago will demonstrate that they were present in all age classes and in good numbers.

Another major event in the last ten years has been the implementation of The National Trout and Grayling Strategy. Many held the view that it was a far from perfect strategy, I got quite cross about it on here and in the press on several occasions arguing that “Regional” rather than “National would serve the trout and grayling of these Isles a little better.

Well, five years in and numbers of trout and grayling spawning are down in this river.

Might want to take a look at some aspects of that strategy again lads.

In aural news, I’m trialling a hearing aid. It’s quite a clever device that helps a bit, but with 80% of my hearing gone in my left ear, the best level I can expect a hearing aid to achieve is a level of 50%.

Today I called a visiting grayling angler Dom for much of the day until he politely informed me that his name was John.

Duff eyes, failed sense of smell and 1.2 ears, how did it come to this?

In further tales of physical decline. I recently entered our local shop, where I bumped into a lady of my vintage who I have known for a good many years. She is a bit of a card and once worked the till in the same shop. On one occasion I was standing in the queue while she served a well todo lady who was quite abrupt with my friend the cashier, the well todo lady was only halfway out of the door when my friend said to me rather loudly,

“And I thought I was having a bad hair day, did you see her barnet”

Which jerked the well todo lady's head around sharply while we dissolved into a fit of giggles.

Anyway, on this occasion that I entered the shop, she was attending in a customer role. I asked as to how she was, and she said “fine” (which she isn't) then countered with

“Ain’t you looking old, Chris”

We exchanged further pleasantries before I approached the counter, where another lady I have known for over thirty years was in attendance,

“Yes, you are looking old Chris”

I thanked them both for their comments and left with my purchases passing two other ladies, who I didn’t know, but declined to enter into the open season on commenting on my appearance but remained bemused by the manner of the local characters who seemed so frank in their day to day communication.

This weekend I was returning from my allotment, because yes, with the shortages predicted, we have taken on land. Climbing the hill towards home I came across the sister of the first lady who had pointed out my poor condition. Winding the window down to say hello, her first words were-

“Blimey Chris, you’re looking old”

I laughed and explained that her sister held the same opinion.

Two hours later, I bumped into the third sister, whose opening gambit was, yes you guessed it,

“Ooh Chris, you’re looking old”

I was quite pleased with my carriage, gait and general appearance at the time of each of these encounters, but a penny did drop. There are two brothers who I haven’t bumped into for a while. I may touch base with them in the coming weeks just to gauge their reaction to my shopkeeper like magical sudden appearance, and to see if the ageing process is mentioned at any point.

My suspicions are that a plot has been hatched to have a bit of fun with Chris from Bransbury.

I've got your number, I've got your number, vengeance will be mine.

Just read that bit back and I sound a bit paranoid,

It may well be the grey hair or possibly the chest that slipped a bit, but we are where we are,

In other news Madam has once again been called to the bar to don the wig and gown.

Jury service in Winchester to be precise.

In an effort to reduce carbon footprints the court have introduced a ruling that all jurors must arrive by public transport if they are to claim travel expenses. Our nearest bus service to Winchester is three miles away with a stop in the middle of nowhere. Park and Ride counts as public transport.

The park and ride is on the other side of Winchester to here.

Daily parking charges in Winchester are quite toppy at twelve pounds a day (It’s like they don’t want us to visit), so Madam currently drives a few miles past Winchester, catches an oil burning pig of a bus at the Park & Ride for a trip back into town.

Her carbon footprints are double what they would be if she drove into town and parked in the multi storey car park a few minutes walk from the seat of criminal justice.

What times we live in,

Friday 17 January 2020

Kersplosh, Pike and the Sun King


A welcome sound at this time of the year and my haven’t we had a lovely lot of rain.

We’ve a river high on vodka redbull at the moment - bursting with energy and unhappy with the confines of its usual environs.

It has broken the bank in a few places, but nothing like the water we had at the turn of the century and in 2013/14, both of which were described as “once in a hundred years floods”

In 2014 the sleepers on this bridge bobbed up and floated downstream.

On release from their bearings, oak sleepers sit very low in the water.

This photo suggests the river was at least six inches higher in the 2014 floods.

We’ve water in the wood, but only puddles.

A hundred years ago this part of the wood was pasture and part of a managed water meadow. When in flood part of the Dever flows through this section of the wood.

Like I said, it's just puddles at the moment.

Here’s the spring that dried up in April of this year. Brim full of vim, it bubbles away furiously which is a very pleasing thing. It may even have recovered a degree of vigour that will see Pike once again use the ditch to spawn in the spring. Lack of water has seen it remain free of passionate pike for the past six years.

As I write it is raining hard and I have tweaked open the hatch on the house to notch number five. A happy event that I am now marking with a glass of Aldi Cotes du Rhone Villages, which is really rather good.

We’ve experienced some strong wind. Not from our push to eat more life lengthening pulses this decade, but genuine hoolies sweeping in from the west.

A few trees have cashed in their chips.

A couple of ill ash trees threw themselves to the ground and an aged hawthorn leaned over a little too far.

The main trunk of the thorn has been retained for seasoning and processing via the medium of chainsaw mill, the smaller limbs have been introduced to the log pile.

Thorn’s a beautiful wood to burn, and must be saved for special occasions. An incredibly hard wood as orange as tango, if seasoned sufficiently it will burn like coal in the wood burner.

It came to light during our skirmishes with ash and thorn that Lord Ludgershall had been burning some of this high end wood mid week.

On the same night, he and Lady Ludgershall had also feasted on Lamb shank cooked in red wine for many hours.

Lamb Shank and thorn on the fire on a Thursday is the stuff that sparked revolution on the other side of La Manche

and at this point I’d like to propose that Lord Ludg is elevated to Sun King

and Ludgershall Towers is renamed Versailles.

Lamb Shank on a Thursday indeed, it truly is a golden age to be a pensioner.

To quell any seeds of revolution and with a nod to Charles II we shall return to the trees.

This beech provided us with a challenge.

Regular readers of this guff will remember that it laid down its head on a windless morning in the middle of summer (it’s on here somewhere)

The main trunks of the tree, for it had three, were left to lie in the dry Mill Stream.

I’d intended to pull the things out bit by bit with the tractor into the paddock filled with fruit trees, but with the high water and soft ground we (yes Louis XIV, we) would have created a right old mess,

and at this point I am reminded of the utterings of a venerable keeper (newly retired) further down the river who insisted that you knew the winter had been wet enough for the impending summer season if you struggled to get about the meadows in a 4x4.

For the past six Springs I could have tottered about the meadows in Madam’s highest heels should I have so wished without any fear of getting stuck.

Anyway, the Beech tree had to be approached from a different direction.

The road to be precise.

Me in the water in waders, The Sun King on the tractor racing up the road with each severed limb.

We didn’t have a “Two feckers winging it with tractors and saws sign” so the Flooding sign had to suffice.

It seemed to slow people down. We didn’t have any high viz jackets or much of a plan if I’m honest, but it went quite well. The English breezed by at one point with a small dog and seemed fairly confident that this time we knew what we were doing.

It goes without saying that the Beech trunks have entered Tree Valhalla where they will be enjoy several years of seasoning before reforming as wooden goods various.

The smaller limbs have gone the way of Dante and after a similar period of seasoning will be introduced to the inferno, because Beech burns beautifully. A fact that Maisie and Callum will confirm as they have a garden full of beech logs from a large specimen that cashed in its chips at the bottom of their garden.

We’ve also tackled a cherry that was getting a little too wild and imposing on the vista from my employer’s bedroom and en suite window.

Brimful of brambles, it was quite a task as the brambles were reluctant to release their fruity bounty. My employers throne room is now the most plush high seat in Hampshire with a clear line of fire of a couple of hundred yards. There are also over thirty five species of tree visible from the loo (it was a wet morning so we counted them) which is quite a claim.

This weekend we travel to London to visit William and Rosie. I don’t know how this happened, but William is now twenty five years old (Maisie will be twenty seven this year apparently)

Once again, I don’t know how this happened.

Apparently I am now older than I thought I was.

I have checked back on here and all the years are there since I first started chucking up this guff. I think that some time in my twenties or thirties I missed out a few years, or possibly added a few years on to my true age to attain some sort of gravitas.

Anyway, we are where are.

Friday 3 January 2020

Talksport 2 and a Series of Beeps and Whistles

Happy New Year Everybody bring on 2020.

Unto this earth a spring is Bourne.

Hosah! Spring Bottom has a spring in it for the first time in six years.

And this is where the water leaves the fabled field via the hedge bordering the road between Barton Stacey and the A30

This is where the Spring Bottom spewing pass next to the football pitch that I was once charged with looking after (Hants FA Groundsman of the year 2011 – remember)

For the decade or so that I marked the wonky touchlines about half of the seasons at the ground were terminated prematurely due to flooding from the ditch.

Football is currently still being played, although it may be a different story come March.

Spring Bottom's bounty then wiggles its way out of Barton Stacey and makes passage down the side of this water meadow ( A favoured destination for horny Pike in spring) for Bransbury,

joining the Dever fifty yards above the stretch that I fall in and out of.

There are small patches of standing water on the water meadow, but then it is a water meadow. The Dever at Bransbury remains fairly well behaved and remains between the two banks, On “hatchwatch” the gate is currently open two notches.

The reappearance of Spring Bottom is a tremendous thing, and bodes well for the summer season.

Hosah! Hosah! Hosah!

For Christmas, I received the gift of trail cam.

A motion activated camera, it also takes infra red shots at night. I can report that there are many Muntjac about at the moment, not so many Otters and a goofy Labrador who somehow seems to get in shot every time I set the thing up.

It would have been a great bit of kit to have when Lark the yellow Labrador resided at Keeper’s Cottage. Lark would often get out of the garden and join me on the river, much to the chagrin of the retired Factor of the neighbouring estate who purported to be Lark's master.

An eloquent gent, enjoying his retirement, he could often be heard loudly calling Lark home.


A few photos on my Trailcam would have aided the precise location of Lark at any given point during the day.

While we’re on hearing.

The level of hearing loss in my west wing has been assessed as between “Severe” and “Profound” and I must be fitted with a bionic ear or possibly a hearing aid.

If our paths cross in the coming months please bear this in mind. I’m not ignoring you, just getting accustomed to a new aural condition that came somewhat out of the blue.

My left ear currently resounds to a symphony of beeps and whistles with hissing accompaniment reminiscent of my Mum making soup in her pressure cooker sometime in the early eighties.

I am informed that my right ear is all that the Doc would expect for a man of my vintage.

To remain on all things aural, why have Talksport 2 been allowed to cover Test match cricket again?

The signs were there the last time they had a go, can anybody put in a pitch?

The requirement for the hopeless presenters to repeat the mantra “live on Talksport 2” has been increased by a factor of five from their last attempt at covering cricket. I lasted an hour of today’s first day at the Test and if this is how radio is to be in Post Brexit Britain, I shall embrace my deafness and offer my Roberts Gemini Rd 18 and Roberts Sports DAB for sale somewhere, probably on the internet.

Returning to saucepans (Mother's Pressure Cooker - see above) I've put in a pitch for another TV Series

Provisionally titled "Saucepan Rescue" or possibly "Saucepans I have known" It's a Life or Death Drama (for the saucepan) that focuses on the harrowing tales of everyday people attempting to revive favourite saucepans following culinary disaster.

This little fella featured in the pilot.

Here he is recovering in intensive care following defibrillation after a scrambled eggs episode.

A wedding present, he's been with us for nearly twenty eight years and has repeatedly been brought back from the brink. He is expected to feature in Series 2 should the pitch be commissioned.

The first day of the decade saw us once again march on Bransbury Common.

We we’re the first down there that day, and touched base with a herd of fallow deer, disturbed the merlin, flushed a fox and spotted the short eared owls.

It is a magical place at any time of the year and we are incredibly privileged to have the place on our doorstep.

The coming months will see twitchers mass on the bank near the ford as lying water concentrates the food source for many birds on isolated islands.

The great grey shrike made merry with mice concentrated on dry ground on the common the last time we had a wet winter, and drew quite a crowd. There were several reports on bird watching websites that listed the following event - Great Grey Shrike perched in isolated black thorn disturbed by lady with Labradors.

The Shrike hung around for several months, so it can't have been that perturbed.

Post breakfast, we had the place to ourselves, although our plan of crossing the ford and to continue a circular route had to be altered as the water was too deep for our wellies.

Which in January, is a very good thing.

A tree toppled into the Mill Stream between Christmas and New Year.

An ivy covered Sycamore it’s a jump in the river with saws drawn job in order to chop the thing into lumps of a size that can be pulled out by tractor. I’ll shift a bit of silt in the coming weeks, it’s a fairly easy job when there is plenty of water. The process has taken the best part of two months for the past five years. With a reasonable head of water the work can be completed in two to three weeks.

There are plenty of trout about. 3n lumps mostly, who feed hard for twelve months of the year. A few redds are apparent, but nothing like the number pre 2105 when this stretch was stocked annually with numbers of juvenile diploid brown trout sourced from local stock.

Beavers are currently receiving a favourable press.

Which is a bit of a worry, as I’d still back myself and my associates over brer beaver as to when to hold water back and when not to hold water back,

And at this point I'd like to bring up the purge on pulling out hatches and sluices in a mass of muddled thinking earlier this century. Where once a set of hatches exerted precise control over a river, the things were ripped out and we now seem to be saying lets let those furry guys have a go.

Which seems kinda nuts. If Beavers had brains as big as ours they would build hatches and sluices and kick back with nuts and cigars. If a set a of hatches has been in situ for many hundreds of years question why it there. Try and understand the influence it may have on a chalk stream valley and act accordingly. It is not always a negative impact.

I get Beavers, like I get Otters. They have their place in the aquatic environment. But let's not sign the entire aquatic environment over to everything that’s’ two foot long, cute and furry. Man has an important part to play, over and above undertaking a watching brief, and was once quite good at managing water in a chalk valley. And there was an awful lot more e water to manage back then.