March 16th marked a couple of milestones for my good self.
I attained increased venerability by passing the great age of 54 and further venerability by passing thirty years of falling in and out of the Dever at Bransbury.
Good grief! how did that happen?
The fact I began falling in and out of chalkstreams even further back in 1986 makes my old knees ache even more.
There now follows an in depth analysis of my thirty years at Bransbury, the good bits the bad bits and the indifferent bits, a warts n’all expose of life in the Dever valley if you will,
Only there won’t,
because I’m supposed to be writing that somewhere else via a different medium while I can still remember stuff, but I may need a bit of a hoof up the @rse.
Anyway, thirty years.
Here’s one of Madam and myself with Child A who was born on the first day of my second June weed cut at Bransbury.
She’s named Maisie because there was a good hatch of Mayfly on the day. Child B was born eighteen months later and had a lucky escape as Madam went into labour at the end of a long shoot lunch in January and I made a lengthy case for naming William - Aconite or Wolf’s bane, on the grounds that more doors would be eased open later in life than the other option on the table at the time – Snowdrop.
Madam and myself consider ourselves very lucky to have had our time at Bransbury. She has worked at the local primary school for much of that time and is now entering the phase of Mums turning up at school who she once taught in class. I was put forward for the position by Brian Parker who was the head keeper at Bossington at the time and a good friend of my employer and her family who had a rod at Bossington.
At which point I realise I need to go back a bit further to establish my connection with Brian (you’ve not done this for a while have you?– ed)
I left Cheshire in 1986 to pursue a career in fishery management.
The three year HND course at Sparsholt (which is now a degree course) required one year of work experience before acceptance onto the course. I and many others undertook this work experience on twelve miles of the Test at Leckford where we still have many friends. Current Riverkeepers on the estate Rob Goldsworthy and Neil Lucas took up their full time positions during my year of work experience, following the sudden demise of Kim Debenham and the exit of Mike Perry brother of John who I would later work with at the Houghton Club. Paul Giles current green keeper on the Leckford Golf Course started around the same time. Handbag (Andrew) helped Peter Crouch on the shoot, before exiting stage left to play with oil rigs, pork products and many other things before returning to work on the river following "Young" David's retirement.
Young David (David Fakes) was a much respected riverkeeper and is a very clever fella with wood. He built most of the huts on the estate, with a minimum number of nails. His Dad (Old David) was also a riverkeeper and lived to a great age, mostly on a diet of moorhen, homegrown tobacco and the occasional pint.
I worked on both the farm and the river at Leckford throughout my three years at Sparsholt was employed part time on the river in return for continued free accommodation in Charity Farm House, the upstairs of which was split into student bedsits with the long suffering Mrs Duncan living downstairs.
Madam moved in with me at Charity Farm House during my second year at Sparsholt after her three month sojourn in Canada. We’d known each other since secondary school but didn’t get together until late on in the sixth form.
On completing my studies I was put up for a job at The Houghton Fishing Club which lasted six weeks.
It was a funny period at “The Club”, Mick Lunn was about to retire, Ray Hill was taking over, there seemed to be a considerable amount of rancour about the place and Madam and myself didn’t qualify for the tied cottage made available to the previous keeper because we were not married (This was 1990????).
Philip Gaye, one of Mick Lunn’s friends who owned Franklyns fish farm in Arlesford whispered “sotto voce” that he needed a hatchery manager at his site on the river Chess at Chesham.
Hands various were shook, and we left the Test Valley for fifteen months where I managed a hatchery importing 1.2 million rainbow trout eggs from Willie Baird in Ireland. Picking a couple of hundred thousand up every eight weeks from Luton airport packed in ice, before hatching them out in vertical incubators and growing them on to 2oz. They were then transported to Franklyns where they were grown up to 15oz before being returned to Chesham for packaging, processing and directed towards their point of sale in Waitrose.
It was ok for a while, but fish farm work is not very stimulating. At the time the hatchery was supplied by a million gallons a day of spring water that just poured out of the ground (it doesn’t now, give “over abstraction of the River Chess” a google) At the time bottled water was just beginning to boom and somehow it was established that the water bubbling out of the ground at Chesham had pretty much the same chemical analysis as Perrier (Don’t think that all Highland Spring water necessarily comes from the Highlands it just needs to be the right numbers on particular water parameters) The site was subsequently sold to the leading bottled water company of the day and I was charged with off loading a substantial amount of hatchery equipment, which is where Brian Parker and Guy Robinson come in.
Guy was head keeper at Leckford, (His son Daniel, who Madam occasionally baby sat during our days at Charity Fram House, is now head green keeper on the estate golf course) Guy and Brian are good mates and they both produced fish for restocking on their respective estates. Alerted to some bargain hatchery equipment, principally super discounted hatchery troughs and vertical incubators, they arrived with a trailer and Brian let me know there was a job going at Bransbury.
He’d been there there the previous Sunday with his young family (two sons both now employed as riverkeepers, Brian and Guy are now retired) to have lunch with my future employer who informed Brian that my predecessor was on his way out and had he any idea of anyone who may be suitable.
The interview went well and thirty years later here we are still, making preparation for the next thirty.
You can take it as read that it is a special bit of river that has changed a lot in thirty years, principally with regard to a declining quantity of water and increasing phosphate levels, but also in many other ways,
but I’ll leave that for another day.
I feel very fortunate to have employers that I can genuinely call good friends who have been very kind, generous and understanding throughout our time here.
It’s all about the fishing (It pays my wages, the shooting was for skips and giggles) many rods have fished here for decades, aeons even, and they too have become old friends who it is always good to welcome back, be it in the summer or the winter. My employer and myself often comment that we are lucky to have such nice people plod the banks from day to day (she may express it a little more eloquently), it’s not always the way on other stretches of the river.
Reading this back, I’m welling up, so I’ll stop there,
Only to say It’s been a tremendous thirty years, a fun place to work, a great place to call home and a great place to raise a family, Thanks to everyone who has done anything to make that happen.
More river stuff to follow, unless I finally get on with that other stuff I’m supposed to be chucking up.