Even here at Drove Cottage life gets in the way of living from time to time. I’ve been dashing from the single-dad chaos of washing uniforms, school runs and standing on touch lines watching rugby matches to a hectic schedule at work thats seen me up on Exmoor, over to Brownsea Island, in the Cotswolds and causing trouble in Bath. It’s amazing sometimes that I haven’t dropped too many balls with all the juggling that’s going on but one thing it has meant is that although I’ve been writing for the chaps at www.caughtbytheriver.net and I’ve been taking plenty of photos I have been neglecting my fishing and writing here.
Well, I spent the Wednesday and Thursday this week doing long days up at Dyrham Park near Bath looking in septic tanks, basements, sheds and attics so having looked at the weather forecast I decided that a half a day off was in order. I haven’t fished with Mr Kozak for months so we managed to fix it so we would both take a run down to Wimbourne to have a look at the Dorset Stour. It hadn’t rained for most of the week and the charts on the Bearmead reserve website were showing a river that, although high, had dropped back considerably from the spikes in river height of the previous few weeks. Optimism fairly high we grabbed kit from dusty corners, pulled line from reels and wound it back on, checked fly boxes and patted pockets to make sure that all that stuff that an angler collects and convinces him or herself that is really, definitely, absolutely required is in place and we headed off into a sunny, cold November day.
Arriving in Wimborne, the first and most important ritual of any fishing trip is observed as we both peer over a bridge. Now bridge peering really should be an activity in its own right, a timeless activity, an activity of idleness and curiosity. An activity of optimism and childish glee, of expectation and anticipation. Is the water up and coloured? Clean? Are the gravels shimmering like wet autumn leaves? Can you see any fish? Are they holding the bottom like pig iron in a bath or are they magically shifting, on the fin?
Today the river was not looking particularly promising, the levels had as the website mentioned, dropped considerably, but it was a good two to three days off fining down enough to make fly fishing particularly effective. Still, the sun was making a rare appearance, the wind was kind and we were stood on a bridge looking into another world so what were we to do?
Slowly we both fished likely slack water and back eddies as we waded upstream from Julians Road Bridge. We cast into a weak autumn sun, we cast into deep shadowy corners, corners the colour of ink and we cast into the fractured reflections of autumns magical colours. Flashes of gold, orange, green and red, smashed into a thousand fragments, dancing across the rivers surface at the whim of the current.
Leaves floated around our legs as we waded, a colourful flotilla of miniature boats, pirouetting silently on their way to the sea. A million tiny viking burials of autumnal glory.
As often seems to be the way with fishing, it was these small details that stay with us. Sadly no toothy critters were in the mood to play properly today, a few mischievous grabs at the fly, a couple of green swirls on the surface, but nothing stuck. Such is the lot of a pike fly fisher…
As we climbed out of the muck and onto the road bridge at 4:00ish however I didn’t mind the lack of fish at all. As the road behind our backs thundered on, thousands of people intent on getting from A to B as quickly as possible in their metal boxes only to ultimately be transferred to smaller wooden boxes, I realised how lucky I am and how important it is for us all to pause and take a breath. To enjoy the life we have instead of constantly trying to have a different one. Ignoring the traffic noise I peered over for one last look, a quick peek at the other world and I renewed my vows, promising to pause more. Breathe more.
Seems early to be talking about winter but I was asked to write a small piece on Winter for the National Trusts website to tie in to the BBC TV series The Great British Year. The piece went live HERE but as the web editors so cruelly had their wicked way with it I thought I’d put up the whole little bit here.
Many think of winter as the bleak season, the season of head colds, drizzle and hiding indoors with the heating turned up. I asked my son what he enjoyed about winter as we came home from school in the sunlight of a warm Wiltshire autumn.
The usual topics of Christmas, presents and family came up. He waxed lyrical about the chances of a decent snowfall this year, how we would sledge on the chalk downs around our house and the shape and size of the snowman he would build. All unsurprising things for a ten year old mind, but then he slipped in a comment that made me stop for a second. One of his favourite things about winter, he said, is how the landscape changes around us, how the sunlight and shadows create different patterns on the fields than in the other seasons and how the absence of leaves on trees opens up otherwise unseen vistas. He’s right of course; I was just surprised to hear those thoughts coming from the mouth of a child with the energy of a two-year-old Springer Spaniel.
One of the advantages of my job is that I get to see almost every property across South West England during every season. And, like the parent who doesn’t recognise the daily changes in their offspring, my slight distance from the day-to-day running of a property lets me see things with a fresh set of eyes every time I visit. I get a sense of discovery and excitement as the character of the properties shifts subtly with the changing seasons; views, colours and smells all vary hugely throughout the year.
Nice as spring, summer and autumn are, for me, winter is the best season to be outdoors. A season of contrast seemingly made for black and white photographs; the bleached bones of the earth on view, all ploughed soils and bare-branched woodlands. Foggy drizzle can blanket the earth in its embrace like a soggy duvet, muting all sounds, or powerful storm clouds can race over, swirling high, menacingly dark castles in the sky.
No, for me, winter is a true season. You could sometimes forgive summer, spring and autumn for being one and the same, just with minor differences in temperature and foliage colour. Winter stands apart from the others, proud and defiant, raw in its unique naked glory. Just remember the wellies and waterproofs and the lions roar is lessened, the anger tempered. There’s no such thing as bad weather, as they say in Canada.
My personal winter highlight is standing at the top of Lewesdon Hill in West Dorset, looking out across a patchwork quilt of tiny fields and small farmhouses. A sleepy green and brown earthbound sea, the skyline cut by the silhouette of Pilsdon Pen to the southwest. It’s a view written about by William Crowe in his poem of 1788, now only visible during the winter months when the bare branches of the beech woodland allows whispers of his memories to filter through the woody skeletal fingers on the weak winter sunlight.
“From this proud eminence on all sides round
The unbroken prospect opens to my view,
On all sides large; save only where the head
Of Pillesdon rises, Pillesdon’s lofty Pen:
So called (still rendering to his ancient name
Observance due) that rival height south-west,
Which, like a rampire, bounds the vale beneath.”
Lewesdon Hill, William Crowe.
A house is not a home until love dwells within the old saying goes. I’m going to counter that and say that in truth:
A house is not a home until books dwell within.
Drove Cottage is fast becoming everything I hoped it would, but the arrival of all my books this week has been a piece of the jigsaw that I didn’t even realise I was missing.
With the nights drawing in, temperatures going decidedly south and the world outside my window taking on the brown blanket of autumn it has become time to think about fires, stews, soups and sitting in silence reading old books. Books that in reality I almost know off by heart. Books that are more about holding them than they are reading them, old friends with worn dustjackets and peeling spines.
In other news, life bumbles along here. It’s actually quite nice to have a period of no drama. No head injuries, divorces or heartbreak. The lovely chaps at www.caughtbytheriver.net continue to publish bits of my writing and I have a set of photos up on the stairs in Salisbury Waterstones until the end of October.
On top of that, it’s pike season now! Opened my account on the Stour this week with a nice fish of 12lb and one of around five. Not a bad opening account.
The weather’s changed here at Drove Cottage.
A couple of days ago I was out for an evening walk with some friends, walking along the banks of a crystal clear chalk river. We sat on an ancient stone bridge, perched on the lichen grey stones either side of a small track, chewing the fat and setting the world to rights as the sun slowly sank behind a gently rustling ash tree. The air smelt of warmth, dryness and summer; a faint tang of dust and ripe corn on the ever present breeze in this valley. On evenings like this summer feels like it will last forever, time stretches out ahead of us, possibility and opportunity the only sides of the coin.
All things eventually end though and sooner or later summer will give in to the earthy smells and chilly mornings of autumn. As if to give us a taste of things to come summer disappeared on a 45 degree angled bank of cloud that slipped silently in as we walked back up towards the cottage from the river. A meteorologists wet dream, a sensory geography lesson. The warm evening replaced by a jumper inducing chill and a smell of rain on dry earth. Mackerel sky, not long dry.
I’ve no doubt that summer will be back, our British climate is nothing if not changeable, but for now the forecast doesn’t look great for a few days and as a result the chalk hillsides are busy with activity. Across the valley as I type I can see men and machines trying to get the ripe crop in before the rain, Britain model scale machines, sending up plumes of dust as they work fastidiously up and down the over-large Wiltshire fields. Up close they lose their model scale and become behemoths of grey, green and yellow. Steel Dinosaurs, munching their way through the landscape, scooping up everything in their path and spewing out the waste behind with a roar of engines and a smell of diesel and dust.
Look for the ridiculous in everything and you will find it