‘I settle down to a cup of tea first off and then proceed to commit the jottings to paper just read. The fragrant tea sends pleasantries around the palette and warms the scene before me. Refreshed I proceed to open the creel There lay in waiting my pin, fly wallet (although no flies are present) and the bamboo float tube. This gathering of tackles are pleasingly my go to companions.‘
Through molten branches and sprigs of oak I look out over the valley, the land appears warm, hospitable even, but the chill around my whiskers suggests otherwise. In these the early hours of a bright morning in February all is still and at peace. Before me are the sounds of piano keys; slow and bright they lilt gently, and every now and again touch the rise and fall of the barely there hills. Below my feet and beyond into the fallow fields a dew lays evenly wetting the new shoots that dare to push against the cold earth, glistening they reflect their triumph to the heavens.
The river that forms and sets its course through the landscape is on my right, I can see and hear hundreds of geese on the plateaux busying themselves. To the unknowing there would appear to be little reason for the congregation. The beet fields beyond provide a clue to an assembly of purpose and motivation, they are readying for flight and a long one.
East Anglia has the highest concentration of beet farming in the country and unsurprisingly the geese year on year descend to feed on the left over tops and leafy matters that remain. The geese are fortunate here as farming practise still allows the discarded residual to rest after harvesting providing time enough for the geese to have their much needed fill and fuel up in readiness; this age old reciprocity is sadly being lost to the ways of modern farming – it’s an ever closing circle – pressure to produce more and more whilst returns and costs reduce and increase incommensurately.
Beyond these scenes and heading into the beginnings of March the calling toward the known and not so will be upon the warming southerly winds, and the procession of migration incoming and outgoing will begin. North and Westward will see the geese take flight to find lands and pasture anew and from the south a new breath of life will reach the valley.
Through the seasons the water meadows and surrounding woodlands are a point of convergence. Rooks and Jackdaws amass in Autumn and Winter leaving their nesting sites for the canopies of oak to roost. In spring there are waterfowl, a large group of swans are always present, snipe and woodcock can be spotted with a keen eye and on occasion a flurry of snipe will take to the air displaying that peculiar ‘zig zagging as they ascend. Woodcock in particular have had a torrid time with over zealous guns, I always wonder if there pin feathers are plucked and kept as mementos to the deed as they were in times past. This alongside the steady decline in habitat has pressured these special birds but they hold on throughout the valleys woodland and copses – just.
Late spring sees the return of the seasons calling card – martins, swallow and swift wheel in through the valleys hamlets and parishes. Seeing their aerial antics is a spectacle especially when they feed towards dusk. I find myself sitting by the river often to see their feats in impossible trajectories and acute turns, effortlessly they rise and fall on unseen pockets of air over the water meadows. Buntings, warblers and pipits are throughout the valley and skylarks with their sonorous songs are a resolute and heartening accompaniment from February’s end into late September and if blessed sometimes further towards a years ending.
Leaving the geese behind I head toward the ‘middle plain’ where mass covers of ruminating lapwing can be seen. Curlew and redshank dot through their blue into green plumages. I stop and raise the field glasses to be with them. As well as an inspiring sight they offer a welcome display of late winter colour. Lapwing are such a beautiful bird, I can remember seeing impressive gatherings of them and with regularity along the North Norfolk coast and inland to the rivers, water meadows and fields. Today you are fortunate indeed to see large groups of 500 or more. Again it’s an indicator to the general lack in natural continuity, ourselves and our systems are beyond any natural pale and as such move us away from nature and they us. With this being said the fact I am looking out over the flood plain and can see these birds suggests all is not lost.
My creel rides the rhythm of footfall, it’s proving a conducive coupling if a little too metronomic for natural progression as I appear to be moving ahead of myself having passed two bends in the river where chub haunt the pools. Momentarily I reason why I have succumbed to the inherent rhythm? Then just before the thought passes into conclusion I turn and cross the conveniently situated planked bridge. I walk a little way and come across a reeded bank – a years growth all wizened and degenerative. To its extremity is a channel of water only about two feet in width, beyond and rising from the river is an island of gravel and grasses. I step over and look down river to the pool.
The pool is steady and contained due to dog rose and the hawthorn whose reaping fingers collect flotsam as it passes over many a season to create the most natural of dams. The pool is touched briefly along its edge by crystal cut water jetted from an aquifer that lays to the rivers centre before the rivers inconvenience.
This jetted spring swells upward through the substrate of chalk and stones upon the riffle to be released briefly as a gin clear source that quickly becomes fathomless in the pools colour wash of deep water. I watch the many micro worlds of swirling boils that evolve briefly enough to touch the pools calm waters only to be moved on as minor disturbances. This never ending cycle holds my gaze and thoughts; In the summer months this pool is full with schools of roach and dace, predatory trout hold station along the many riffles before, after and within the beds of silkweed. Now in winter it takes on an all together different complexion with chub and the larger roach holding within its depths, my first cast then will be here.
I settle down to a cup of tea first off and then proceed to commit the jottings to paper just read. The fragrant tea sends pleasantries around the palette and warms the scene before me. Refreshed I proceed to open the creel There lay in waiting my pin, fly wallet (although no flies are present) and the bamboo float tube. This gathering of tackles are pleasingly my go to companions.
I am sure originally there erstwhile makers would never envisage this grouping today, but it works for me. I know there is always just the right float, weight and hook to satisfy and facilitate all running or still water encounters. The perfunctory ‘let’s go through the tackles’ scenario the day before or worse the morning of never occurs. I am a creature of familiarity when it comes to tackles. I enjoy the old friend status achieved by the many years of service they have provided. Like many fishers I have over years amassed far too much in the way of them tackles that is; rods, reels of both varieties along with countless others and I have begun to question their necessity being that I now use two or three canes and the same number in pins, I cannot remember the last time I used a fixed spool such is my affection for the pin.
Threading the line I spy a moorhen collecting the remains of last years reed, a nest in the making – last spring a pair decided that a lofty view of the river would be their new home and they proceeded to build upon a split bow of an arching willow. They must have been a good 5 feet from the water. They successfully reared two get up and go juveniles – the elevated status they sort payed dividends.
The float today is an old favourite a peculiarly bent quill with leaning intentions, however it sits just right when cocked. I turn the cane and cast with a simple flick of the wrist and all settles accordingly and with a gratifying measure upon landing. I usually have a dip of the float straight away, and although experience tells me this is not necessarily the way of things to follow I still none the less become instantly optimistic, which for a fisher is the most pleasant of feelings. True to form I have instant interest under the quill that registers as a curtsy before dipping away from view. The resulting lift into the disappearance suggests a roach. In the net he shows all in winters finery; the very best in vivid colour. I take his picture and slip him back.
One of many pleasures to be found in angling are the unhurried qualities it offers; it has not always been this way for me however – without experience there is nothing to compare, but today I can – not for me are the constant and self inflicted urgencies for the most or biggest a conclusion formulated after many years of doing just that – my history is full of entries chasing big carp from the 70’s to the beginnings of a new century. Overtime this pursuit gathered momentum in a wholly wrong direction. I had lost my way from the path that had first appeared and opened the door to awe and inspiration that the king of fishes held for me. The endeavour and enjoyment became one of blinkered and excruciating focus, from doubles to twenties to thirties and so forth the fish I had been mesmerised by had become a weight, a statistic in my diary along with the obligatory, how, when and where – the magic had left the scene, the result? I too was not far behind in its leaving.
Beside this acquiesced pool those days of torment seem a lifetime away. I’m happy enough to while away time gazing at the quill that composes itself in the gentle movement of water music. I am looking upon its bright orange tip. What a responsibility has the humble float in holding station and being a register of possible dreams.
My thoughts of roach however have ebbed somewhat and dispersed in the rivers flow. A voice beckons me to wander, I follow. Crossing the river by jumping the two raised gravel beds with a hop, skip and a final jump I make my way to what is at this time of year a place frequented often; a languid pond richly coloured by iron ore, interceded with stricken branches and a ring of bright trumpets that beckon the few who may pass. It’s a place I walk often with my two collies, and what would take me an hours walk normally may frequently become half an hour again or more. I’m always arrested by its charms. When walking the river with an angle on my mind I am aware that I will have to pass through its tangle of sticks to access the river that lay in waiting beyond. It’s a short cut by way of wood and low lying water but as I have said it can all to often lead me to forgetting time altogether.
To Be Continued.
Writing & Images – Pallenpool, North Norfolk February 2022