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Tales from the River Valley

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  • #16
    Part 14. AFTERMATH...and the Fellowship of Fishermen.

    Part 14. AFTERMATH...and the Fellowship of Fishermen.

    ......The long days, weeks and months following the dreadful tragedy of that summers' day, brought a shadow of sorrow into the lives of all who lived in the valley and even beyond; one which would linger in their minds, for as long as that generation remained.
    Some from the village walked down and paid their respects; there were visits from the local Constabulary, who asked questions, took notes and some photographs, but otherwise left us in peace. There was some confusion in the reporting, which was understandable, but despite that, the press accorded the matter respect; without clamour or appropriating blame, neither was there any mawkish intrusion into personal privacy or ghoulish sightseers. Rather, the people were left in quiet peace that they so much needed, and, as far as possible, we closed our door on the outside world.

    ...It was said,-though this cannot be validated-that Mr. and Mrs. Swaine had taken Michael away elsewhere to live, in the hope that, he might recover a little, in the future, and that they never saw this land again.
    Their lives had been cruelly shattered, and the heartfelt prayers of many went with them, -wherever they were.

    As far as we were concerned, there was to be no escape from that thursday; it had happened in front of us, in sight of the bridge and the sound of the river was a constant, inescapeable background reminder.
    The continuing long, hot summer days added a strange sense of mocking surrealism, as if it were some kind of black, un-real dream; but this was one from which there would be no wakening relief.
    From the first days of our living there, nearly seven years before, our Mother had harboured a haunting premonition, that one day, the river would take one of us; that had now become cold fear and dread, and was to be the cause of re-curring nightmares for decades to come.

    The almost predictable consequence was that, our fishing rods were taken away, and that it was most strictly forbidden to go anywhere near the riverbanks-for any reason.
    Protest was futile. The foodbowls and water troughs for our livestock, had to be carried up to the hand-pump, outside by the side door of the house, for cleaning and re-filling; going near the water could-and did- bring swift and severe punishment.

    As we worked in the garden or hen-house, I spoke with Kay about it-or tried to. Normally bright and cheerful, she became subdued and withdrawn, and from that day on, would never pick up her fishing rod, or go near the rivers' edge. We never fished together again..
    ..For the first time in our lives, there was division and quarrel-and this was something new; we were growing up without realizing it, and had become conscious of our own mortality.

    ...As the days of that dry summer began to shorten into Autumn, everyone longed for the cold, grey skies of rain; that somehow, the river would cleanse itself; not that there was evil there, rather, it was just human failure to foresee danger beneath its' benign surface; -but such rationale lay beyond our comprehension..


    ...And the rain was welcomed, almost with relief!
    There is a West-Country saying that, " the weather always pays its' debts!" -and it certainly did that year! It was almost a week, before the flood level had dropped enough to put even a spinner anywhere; ..and so fishermen again returned to the river and fish were caught and brought back to the house.
    Once again, the smell of home-baking and home-brewed wine, mixed with that of anglers' pipes, throughout the house; and, by-and-by, just a little of the old atmoshere returned.
    I think, looking back now, that that wonderful company of auguste men did a lot of good in many ways; their infectious spirit did much to repair the widening cracks of home life. It was good, just to meet and talk with other fishermen; Mother knew that, given half a chance, I would be off with them at a moments' notice, but had accepted that it would not happen, so it was left at that. I hoped that I would go again, but the time was not yet,-and would not be for some time yet.
    I would just have to wait.
    ( It was, in fact, to be another eight seasons, before I would fish that river alone again. Not until we had left our home in the valley, was it possible to go back, and re-discover the pools and runs I had known so well, all over again)

    I never went back upstream alone to fish above the bridge, and none of that living generation of anglers ever wanted to cast into the 'Big' pool. In years to come, when they were all departed, a new unknowing company began to cast spinner and fly across that water, the history within forgotten, or expunged from the mind.

    ..The last time that I revisited the 'Big' pool was over a decade ago; it has become totally unrecogniseable, to what it once was.
    The original riverside path from the bridge up, is now fenced off and become an impassable jungle, the only access now being a point, some way up the hill.
    From there, I looked down to where a big, green open space had been; to where Westland and Sikorski helicopters had once landed, on that exciting day when a VERY Important Person had made a visit and inspection of the training grounds; -to where soldiers had put up side-shows and stalls, with coloured bunting and flags, and where games and a big open party had been held, to mark the Coronation, and every child of the Parish had been given a Mug and The Book of Common Prayer with their own name inscribed, -a present from the Lord of the Estate, .....and to where we had sat and enjoyed picnics by the river.

    ...There is now, no open space, all being covered with gorse, saplings and trees.
    The tail-end of the pool has changed entirely and dramatically, for the big shady trees have all gone and the banks on both sides where they stood, collapsed and been washed away entirely , by many floods. The log foot-bridge has been taken down, but the water still rushes fast and deep down the left-hand bank, much as it always did; and todays' fishermen themselves, rush to get there first and cast into its' depths, none ever knowing, thinking or caring about its' secret, and, maybe it is right that they never do know.

    ..For me, there remains a lonely melancholy about the place. It feels empty now, and still has a lingering sorrow which troubles the spirit, yet having the compelling power to draw one near, just to be there.
    It is best to try and not to think too much, for it is the saddest place I know.

    ...That I ever held a fishing rod again, is down to a dear Uncle, Stepfather, the bond between us, Two large sea-trout and one very small waterside bush!

    ..........and this is how it happened..


    ...Our Uncle, Mothers' youngest brother, was fishing mad!
    He would fish for anything, anywhere at any time, not condemning any method, unless it had been tried personally and found wanting, undemanding of skill or unsporting.
    His first choice was spinning a dropping spate for sea-trout and salmon with-initially-his home-made rod and Allcocks reel, the hook-type line pick-up of which, he had greatly improved with an own design one. Most of his minnows and 'vibros' were also home-made, -and they worked! Diary entries for his first recorded season, show salmon up to 12 1/2 lbs. and many fine sea-trout up to 8 lbs., bigger than I would ever catch there.

    Decades later, I took him night-fishing for sea-trout a couple of times-and on one occasion, was fortunate to catch a beauty of just over 3 lbs.-by way of demonstration!

    It greatly appealed to his sporting instinct, but for various reasons, never took up the sport in the full sense.

    ..He worked for many years as a driver for The Western National Omnibus Company, usually on routes west of the Tamar river, which divided Cornwall from the rest of England; it was quite normal for him to put in a quick hour-or-so, on the river, before commencing his shift, smartly dressed in the Companys' uniform!
    Mode of transport, was a 1938, 125cc 'Villiers'-engined, 2-stroke motor-cycle, which had a hand-change gear and a distinctive, warm, pop-popping exhaust note. In later years, I learnt to ride-and bought it for the princely sum of 8-0s-0d. and used it for some night-time fishinf expeditions to Burrator reservoir on Dartmoor, after the railway there to Princetown closed, in March 1956.
    It was a long, long way from home on a pitch-black night, with only a 'Direct' lighting set, which gave a faint, yellowish light; but, despite its' undeniable vintage, that machine never once, let either of us down, and would never fail to take more than two prods of the starter to fire up.
    I later sold it-regrettably, with hindsight-to an enthusiast who wanted to 'restore' it. Its' registration plate alone, would be worth a small fortune today, though not as much as a friends' 350cc 'Matchless', with the mark of 'WOD 4'.


    ...There must have been a spate the previous day, for one morning, as we were at breakfast very early, Uncles' bike whizzed past the window, hurriedly parked up and he was seen rapidly disappearing down the lane to 'First' pool, threading up line as he went.
    Scarcely five minutes later, there was an excited whooping coming from the direction of the lane, whereupon, he hoved into view, running towards us with rod in one hand and net in the other-containing a magnificent sea-trout, the spinner still fast in its' mouth! "......first cast!" was all he could blurt out, "........first b****y cast!"

    .......and for the first time in a very long time, all the enthusiasm came back, -and Mother cheered the loudest!

    ..He had to report for duty soon after, but said that he would be back again, later in the day.
    The afternoon was all but over, when the old bike again pop-popped past the window and parked up. As he tackled up, I asked if I may be allowed to go and watch? ....For several moments, my whole fishing future balanced on a knife-edge, before a cautious affirmative followed...


    ..It was a strange, really odd feeling, just being on the river again; almost like trespassing-or worse, but there we were, striding down the lane together, Uncle carrying the rod in determined manner.
    The water had dropped right back and was running the colour of oak varnish,-first-class order! Light was none too good, so he only made a few precise casts into some of the most-likely places; lure was a 3/4", black & silver, home-made minnow.

    The last pool on the stretch, was near the 'second' viaduct and known as the 'Log' pool. Gently curving away to the left, it was very deep under our own right-hand bank, shallowing up on the far side, to a sandy, shallow bank. In the very tail-end, the river divided temporarily into two, the main flow crossing to the left, with a sort of, slaty, rocky island in the middle.
    The only way it could be properly fished from our side, was from the head, from a rather precarious steep bank, which had been reinforced with logs-hence the name.

    Uncle fished very much in the manner of Mr. Grant, very slowly and methodically, barely turning the reel handle.
    Because of the higher bank, the rod was held almost vertically downwards, to keep the minnow running deep, .......then, without warning, all hell broke loose! ..the rod pulled around downstream hard and violently, at the same time, an enormous splash, as a very big sea-trout exploded on the surface!
    The clutch screamed like a banshee as the fish tore off down the curve of the pool; it was the most exciting fight I have evr seen from a big sea-trout, the pace was fast and furious-and couldn't last!
    For several minutes, it seemed the line must part at any moment, so fierce were the sudden rushes, many ending with a momentary whirr of tail,-the sound, not unlike Uncles' bike with the throttle closed-and a crash of water, ..and then, it was all over....or so it seemed. The fish was on its' side now, almost spent; it was a really big sea-trout; but with its' last reserves and the current in its' favour, turned again down and across, and then went under the bank on the shallow side.
    It must have touched something which annoyed it, because it quickly recovered and made a small leap,-straight across a low, overhanging branch of a waterside bush growing there!
    Although the line was not jammed, it could not be pulled free, forming a triangle between rod, bush and fish, the latter now moved a little upstream and back across into deep water.

    ..Now what? idea had come to mind. Opening the line pick-up and drawing off some slack, he carefully laid the rod down, making sure that it would pay out line freely, if needed, and strode off down the path, to where the water spilled over the slates at the tail-end. After hacking through the dense undergrowth, he gingerly picked his way across the river, it being not far off the top of his boots, and on making the other bank, worked his way upstream, to where the line was caught on the offending bush.

    The light was quite poor by this time and on hearing footsteps on the path, turned and saw that Stepfather had come down to see how we were getting on..
    Uncle had managed to free the line and called across the river, "..Pick the rod up;- there's a fish on the end!"
    Stepfather picked up the rod and wound up the slack..."...No fish on here!" he called back, but was suddenly and rudely corrected by a deep thump on the line, followed by another run!
    Uncle let out a whoop of delight and crashed back through the bushes, crossing the river at thrice the original crossing speed and in a very dangerous fashion, standing behind us in a few moments, it seemed!

    Stepfather held out the rod but Uncle indicated that he should play it,-which he did, in most expert fashion, until it was over; the fish was again on its' side, and this time, there would be no reprieve. Uncle lowered me down to the waters' edge with the net, where I am pleased to report that, the fish was confidently netted at the first attempt, passing net plus fish back up to Uncle, who then hauled me up as well!
    That fish was really unlucky. When it had jumped over the branch, the minnow had come free of its' mouth, only to firmly lodge in the root of a pectoral fin!'s probably just as well that we didn't know this at the time..

    I have seen a few sea-trout since then, but none finer than that one. Perfectly shaped and unmarked, its' silver flanks reflecting an iridescent blue and purple sheen in the last of the days' light.
    He would catch bigger than that, but none better..

    If it becomes at all possible, that at some point in our After-life, we can hold on to some moments from our human one, then this would be amongst the choicest.
    Nobody spoke. There was nothing to say. We all looked at that fish and lived the moment, trying to hold it forever; for in it, a silent bond was made between three fishers; one which cut across age and ages; a bond which was to last to the end, a true bond, one made between three fellow fishers who trusted each other, as Stepfather had been trusted with the rod and I had been trusted with the net, such as only they can understand , and perhaps share..


    ....It was very dark now; the last vestiges of light allowed us to ensure that nothing was left behind, and we set off, back up the path on the long walk home, one proudly bearing the heavy prize..
    After a while, it became dangerously dark, so it was single file, Uncle leading. The only way he could prevent himself from wandering off the track, was to gaze skywards and follow the stars and the lighter gap between the trees, when, suddenly,...pandemonium!!!
    A loud yell...some crashing around on the path...a thudding sound on the track....what on earth????

    ....Uncle was starting to laugh..."..I've just walked into some ponys' backside!" The quiet of the night valley was shattered by riotous, manic laughter-which got worse, every time one of us bumped into something, until it became almost hysterical!

    ...Mother heard us, long before we reached the door, but the whole thing was unexplainable. We couldn't even look at each other without triggering another outburst!


    ...It had been a wonderful day, ending in a happy release of tension. Supper had never tasted so good and I knew then that, even if I couldn't go fishing alone again, there would always be the companionship and sharing of the triumphs of others.

    Little Pip was asleep in his cot, 'Laddie' was in his basket in the corner and we were all sat together with Uncle by the fire.

    ...Our family was together again..


    • #17


      ..."If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
      And treat those two imposters just the same;"

      .......Rudyard Kipling.

      ...Many were the tales told during the evenings at 'Fishermans' Cottage' and many were the fishermen who told them. We became used to-even welcomed-a knock on the side door, late in the evening, when someone would walk in, place a fish or two on the table, and then sit down with us for something to eat and a drink.
      One of the most welcome was Jack Chapman, the proprietor of a 1930s, Art Deco fronted, car sales & resales showroom, quite a few miles and three villages away. Proudly bearing the cast, roman-style, serif capitals, .."This is Chapmans,' Crownhill", it stood for many years, blending in perfectly and unobtrusively with the terraced village houses and shops, and it seemed a shame when it was bulldozed a few years ago, to make way for redevelopment. A tall and imposing, two-tone brick fronted funeral parlour now stands on the site; the once-busy main road outside, now relegated for access only..

      Mr. Chapman, who insisted on being called 'Jack', was a keen fisherman with both fly-and minnow; never wore a hat and lost more than his fair share of good fish. Seldom seen without a cigarette, he often came down in the evening for an hour and would also, bring his family down for a social visit on a Sunday. He was a happy man, never happier than when fishing, who loved life and bore no grudges; I sometimes wondered, whether he and Mr. Grant were rivals in business, for they mixed well together, both on the riverbank and at the house.

      ...One night, there was a tap on the side-door (the porch door was seldom used) and despite being bidden to enter, no-one did. 'Laddie' got up and started growling, which was unusual, so Stepfather opened the door a little cautiously. Should this sound a little melodramatic, it should be remembered that we lived isolated and alone, with no immediate outside communication; it was better to err on the side of caution.

      ..A man unknown to us stood there, looking down at his feet, mumbling some words which I did not catch, ..."I have no papers,-they are yellow..." -which I think referred to indentification.

      Stepfather spoke sharply, in a firm voice, ordering him to enter and sit in a chair by the fire, for he was wet through and in very low spirit; his clothing being the regulation issue of H.M.Prisons.
      It transpired that he had escaped, but had got lost on the high moors for some days, neither having eaten or slept properly, and with all hope of leaving the area gone, had decided to give himself up. Our home in the valley just happened to be where his nocturnal wanderings had taken him.

      ..I can remember that he just sat quietly, accepting, I suppose, whatever was in store; we were forbidden to speak, or approach him.
      By pure chance, Jack Chapman happened to be on the river that night, called in and after being briefed on the situation, drove to the village to inform the Constabulary. Whilst we waited, he was given some food and drink, which was gratefully accepted.
      When the Officers arrived, he stood up and thanked us all, then cried a lot but otherwise, went peacefully out into the night with them. We didn't know who he was, or what he had done,-and never did, but from then on, our door was never again off the latch at night, although nothing like that ever happened again..Well, -not quite.


      ..A while after that, we were sat together in the quiet of a dark evening, when the was a distinct crunching on the gravelly path outside. 'Laddie' growled, and fearing a repetition of the last visitor, Stepfather got up and opened the door quick, to confront whoever might be outside,...but there was no-one,..just some ponies which had wandered down off the moor. 'Laddie' shot out like a rocket to 'see 'em off' and got a bit too close, getting a kick in the eye from one for his troubles! He came back in, looking very sorry for himself and was the subject of much sympathy, whilst Mother cleaned and bathed, what was a nasty cut. Boy! did that dog know how to milk it! For months after, long after it had healed up, he would sit and squint pathetically, whenever he wanted attention-and got it!


      ..We did however, have quite a problem with rabbits in the veg. garden for a while, in the times before the dreadful myxomatosis virtually annihilated the species.
      The problem was alleviated somewhat, when Stepfather acquired an old 0.22 calibre, Stevens rifle, but which was still quite serviceable. I can recall it as having an octagonal-shaped barrel and a single-underlever cocking action, not unlike that on a Winchester, except that the lever was "S"-shaped, with, I believe, a 'Volcanic' design breech block.
      It was only a single-shot and fired Eley 'long' rimfire ammunition, which was stocked at the Fishing tackle shop. He was-not unnaturally-a marksman with it and taught us how to shoot also-which was great fun! We would place old tins, or other targets, on the 'beach' across the river, and shoot from the path outside-without using a rest, a distance of some sixty yards.
      Kay was a 'natural' (wouldn't you just know it!) and could hit a tin almost every time! -I was rather erratic, never paying attention to correct breathing, before squeezing off.

      Quite early one morning, there was an alert from the hen-house in the garden and a fox was seen trying to get in. It was in fact, quite unusual to see one around there, for some reason.
      By the time Stepfather had got the rifle out and loaded one up, Brer Fox had loped off downriver, around the corner from the house. Stepfather walked across to the bridge centre and prepared to aim, but did not fire; the fox got as far as where the view was clear, by 'First' pool-easily ninety yards away-before he stopped and turned around.
      ...There was a light crack, a hiss and Reynard reared up, fell back...and was no more.
      It was an absolute Bully shot; by far and away the best I have seen with such a rifle, -and with open sights too!
      The rabbit problem was soon cleared up, which was a pity in one way, for fresh, casseroled rabbit with dumplings and fresh veg. was raaaaather nice!


      ...We never owned a shotgun; Stepfather never trusted such things; particularly after an incident involving one member of a well-known family of poachers.
      The chief offenders were the head of the family and his two eldest sons, who were all a constant headache to Mr. Budge, the Estate bailiff, who was now 'getting on a bit'.
      They would take anything, anywhere from anyone,-even to taking salmon and peal off the redds in winter. They didn't like us much and the feeling was mutual, for they were crafty, clever and very seldom caught. Their main target was systematic deer poaching, for which there must have been a ready market.
      Having been denied a Firearms Certificate, their usual way of taking a deer was either with a set wire or snare,-which was an abominably cruel method,-or with a shotgun ball-load.
      This was usually made by removing the shot from a heavy 12gauge cartridge, such as an Eley 'Alphamax', and re-casting it into a single slug. This produced an irregularly-shaped load, which was then wrapped in oiled muslin cloth, to give a better fit, and fired at close range from the right-hand, cylindrically-bored barrel.

      On this particular occasion, one of the family was indulging in such nefarious activities in the woods on the other side of the bridge. Unknown-and extremely fortunately for him, as it turned out-the bailiff was 'onto' him, hopefully to catch him in possesion and secure a Court conviction.
      Having stalked a small herd of deer almost down to the riverbank, a target was selected and the shotgun with its' lethal load, brought to bear; but tragically, the 'doctored' cartridge had been hastily loaded,-into the left-hand, 'choke' barrel, and, on being discharged, failed to clear the muzzle and burst the breech, blowing away about six inches of barrel, the lock and hammer,-and a good part of the mans' forearm and an eye.

      ..The poor fellow was in a dreadful state, and it was the bailiff who undoubtedly saved his life, bringing him to the house, wher he was treated as best as could be, then driving him to a hospital.

      He had suffered appallingly, eventually losing the arm-besides the eye, but eventually made a recovery and, indeed, lived to a good age afterwards. But, whether it was worth the rewards brought by back-door sales of poached venison, is a question only he could ever have answered.
      Their family became quite well disposed toward us after that, and I saw that gun a few years later. It was kept by them as a reminder, though why they should ever have wanted to, is beyond me. The top rib, still attached to the front of the barrels, now curved upwards over the empty space, where the left-hand breech and fore-end had been. The right barrel was still intact, but covered over with brown rust, giving it an almost 'Damascus' appearance.


      ...It had been a time of many new beginnings.
      Stepfather and Uncle often fished together, when possible. On 3rd. of March one year, Uncle landed a lovely salmon of 8 1/2lbs. and on the 6th., Stepfather landed the first and only salmon he was ever to catch; a bright silver 10 1/2 pounder, which Uncle netted out for him, both fish falling to 1 1/2" blue & silver minnows.
      That last salmon was one I would dearly liked to have seen caught. He only ever had the poorest of tackle, yet never complained of it and no man ever tried harder for comparitively little success, and still derived so much simple pleasure from it. very few indeed are the anglers of today-as well as then-who could play a fish for a long time, lose it and still smile genuinely, accepting the loss with equanimity.


      ...It was to be one of the best years ever, for fishing.
      The 20th. March saw Uncle hook a huge fish, his biggest yet and estimated at , at least 15 lbs. possibly more,which took him downstream, before coming unstuck.
      Many good sea-trout were landed during April, and towards the end of May, he bought his one-and-only, new rod; 7' 6" long and named "The Staytrue"
      Within two hours of using it for the first time, he had caught his best peal for the year; 26" long, with a girth of 13" and weighing 6 1/4lbs, hooked in dirty water on a 1 1/2" black & silver minnow.

      I saw none of these fish caught, but they are written down and recorded in our diary and worthy of mention here.


      ...Although things remained difficult, Mother had now got used to the idea of my accompanying other anglers occasionally. When we were well out of sight, some of them would let me fish a pool through first, which was really good of them, although they knew that I was unlicenced! Oddly, I never actually landed anything of any consequence during that time, but it was on one of these trips, that I hooked what was certainly, the best sea-trout I have ever contacted-even to this day.

      The date was the 4th.June and it was a hot, 'sticky' day, after two days of heavy rain. The torrent of dark, peaty water was easing off a little, toward mid-morning, but frankly, still too high and fast for fishing.
      An old Scots gentleman was down that morning and welcomed my company, as his own knowledge of that part of the river was none too great.
      He was a retired Glasgow 'Polis man' and often regaled us with hair-raising stories of trying to maintain order on Sauchiehall Street on a saturday night, where Officers of the Law were picked for their physical size and always patrolled in fours!

      He liked 'our' river a lot, because it reminded him of where he had fished as a boy, on the Endrick; and told stories of fine trout taken from Loch Katrine, on triangular-shaped, trolled lures, made locally and known as 'Leven Tallies',-one of which resides yet in my box of memories..

      ....We had arrived at the pool below the Rock; normally, it would be too 'thin' for spinning, but today, it was barrelling through at a rate of knots! In the very tail-end, just before it rushed down over the rocks, there was a relatively calm part on the far side, running over a sand-bar, -ideal for a travelling fish to rest up for a few moments...
      Old John gave me the rod,-and the pool-and sat down on a fallen log, to enjoy the day, and a smoke. I put on a blue & silver spoon, adding a lot of extra lead to the trace, and started to cast.
      The only possible way to fish, was to fire it straight up the pool, hold the rod high overhead and bring it back down, keeping it moving just faster than the flow over the submerged sand-bar.
      ..His reel was rather special, not one which I had seen before. It was Italian-made and named 'The Alcedo', which I believe, means 'kingfisher'; of good workmanship and materials, it ran very smoothly and had some nice little refinements; Easy to use-except that it was left-hand wind!

      After only about five minutes of repetetive casting, there was one almighty thump, and, simultaneously, a monster of a sea-trout-quite literally- came straight out of the water, not ten yards away, landing tail first with an enormous splash!
      Old John was on his feet in an instant, to assist if necessary, but there was not a lot he could do. I held that fish in the pool for some minutes, and at one point, even had it below my feet, invisible in the turgid brown rush, the swivel and extra lead clear of the water, but that one was just too hot to hold and it went out and down into the rough water, before turning broadside on, giving us both a glorious memory of what might have been, before the hook-hold gave and the spoon came flying back at me...

      ..I have thought about that fish a few times since, for even if I had landed it, I could have never admitted to it, for I was both unlicenced and disobeying the strictest orders about going near the river. But watching that one clear the water, certainly speeded up the adrenalin!


      ...Not long after that, I was 'net-bearer' to Philip Sealey. On this occasion, we had gone upstream, avoiding the area of 'Big' pool altogether and right up to above where I had caught my first peal, to a place where some newly-erected high-tension cables crossed the valley, high overhead. Today, it is but a featureless, straight run through, changed beyond all recognition, but then, it was a large, 'double' pool, two great round-ish areas of water connected by some rapids.

      I cannot recall what method he was using, but on that day, he hooked the fish of his life! An absolute leviathan of a salmon, which he played with great care and dexterity for what must have been, well over an hour, during which time, it moved up-and down several times between the two pools and made violent commotions when it thrashed around on top.

      He knew what he had on and played that fish like a master, never putting on any undue pressure and trying to maintain the upper hand.

      ...What happened that day, I do not know, but there was a sickening, splintering crack as the rod gave out, the shock of which, parted the line and company with the fish....

      ...The disappointment was so great, that for a time, it must have been mentally unacceptable; He threw his broken rod into the water, sat down on the bank and unashamedly wept!
      I stayed back, well out of the way, until composure was regained and (thankfully) the rod retrieved, which was later repaired.
      ...I have never seen this, before or since, but in no wise, belittle or ridicule the man, for it must have been heart-breakingly unbelieveable, to have experienced that moment..

      ......such is fishing.


      • #18
        Part 16. WHEN Mrs. MAPP CAME TO TEA !

        Part 16. WHEN Mrs. MAPP CAME TO TEA !

        .....Mrs Mapp should have been declared a National Treasure.
        ..Imagine, if you can, Joan Hicksons' 'Miss Marple' meets Joyce Grenfell; and, imagine, if you will, an elegant lady of a certain age...respectable..well educated and of impeccable taste.
        Dependable...Made in Great Britain and 100% unsinkable; yet, always approachable,..with a refined, gentle smile..that certain reserve...a soft, pleasant voice which was never raised above barely a whisper, Dear!...soooo genteel!
        ...There really was, no-one quaite like Mrs. Mapp!

        ..Mr. Mapp was both a leading light and eventually, the Hon. Secretary of a fishing club on another water, but had a fondness for the valley and that part of the river in particular, often visiting in the afternoon, when conditions were to his liking, to fish both above-and below the bridge.
        ..In this day and age, he would be made a figure of fun; not a tall man, but always immaculately attired in his soft tweed hat, collar, tie and 'plus-fours'. Formerly of good military background and much decorated, his rather brusque manner and quirky, idiosyncratic ways did not endear him to many.
        He took his fishing very seriously indeed and never suffered fools gladly; a perfect study of concentration, fishing every careful cast right through, he was apt to give very short shrift in sharp, clipped tones, to anyone considered to be 'spoiling' a pool by clumsy casting, unecessary wading, or generally lacking in etiquette.

        ...Although Mr. Mapp was not always a popular figure with everyone, I liked him, and had a great respect for his undoubted angling ability; and, underneath that gruff, terrier-like exterior, beat a generous heart. One minute, he would be threatening all sorts, the next-when he discovered that I was trying to learn to make flies-pressing great quantities of teal feathers and other materials in my direction, which were clearly not just unwanted surplus items, but had been bought as gifts. And if you really wanted to learn something about fishing, his patience was endless.
        ...He was often prematurely judged harshly-mostly by those who never bothered to get to know him.


        ...Not given to excess and unecessary extravagance, they ran a modest car, a 'chummy' Austin, with enamelled spoked wheels and running boards, so whilst Mr. Mapp fished, Mrs. Mapp stayed dutifully in the car with her needlework, and, after the long wire exterior aerial had been plugged in, and the loose coils thrown high up into a tree, would listen to either an educative talk, or an afternoon concert broadcast by the B.B.C. 'Third' programme, on the radio set.

        ...Sometimes, we would walk up to the car and engage in a conversation of sorts, and, no matter how excrutiatingly tiresome we undoubtedly must have been, all our questions were met with equally kind and constructive answers, given as attentively as possible.

        ..Mother was acutely aware of Mrs. Mapp sitting alone in the car for hours, outside the gate and finally one afternoon, decided that she would enquire, as to whether Mrs. Mapp might consider joining her for a while in the parlour for conversation and afternoon tea?

        ....The preparations had been most thorough. Special tiny tea cakes baked; delicate, triangular sandwiches cut-the sort that you made two bites of, for appearance' sake, the best pieces of china set out.....all was ready. Mother removed her apron and approached the little car...

        .........".....Oh, my Dear!.......I couldn't possibly intrude.....Oh, how kind!.........well...if you are quaite sure...that would be very kind of thoughtful..."

        ..I had been banished outside to 'see to' the the fowls for a while, being already in disgrace.
        That morning, whilst we were all outside, the whole valley was suddenly filled with a rapidly swelling noise, which grew in seconds to an ear-splitting crescendo, like a thousand pipe-organs all playing the same bass chord, the very air itself was shaking with deafening sound!
        ..In terror, we looked at each other, then there! above the steep railway embankment, above the trees on the sky-line, there in the blue, a full squadron of twelve Avro Lancasters from R.A.F. St. Mawgan, roared low in formation over the tree tops, forty-eight Merlin engines bellowing in unison, the morning sunlight glinting sharply off perspex cabins and gun turrets!
        It was a sight the World can never see again, and terrifying at low level!

        ...Goggle-eyed and pointing sky-wards, I walked backwards and fell-muddy boots and all-right into a full load of clean washing, being rinsed in the big tin bath outside!!!
        ---never mind the four-engined bombers, the entire load of washing had my muddy boots in it, was quite ruined and had to be done all over again!!


        ...I was sitting with Kay on the porch steps, when we became aware of a man standing outside the gate; a man, whose appearance, neither of us had ever seen before.. He did not enter the gate, but just stood there, beckoning for our attention; so we got up and walked over.

        ..He was a tall man and, despite being a warm day, was perfectly dressed in a dark suit and wore a coloured tie and a pure white shirt.
        I can see his face now most clearly, for it was dark skinned with a black beard, white teeth and dark eyes which seemed to sparkle, his head covered with a dazzling blue turban and his hand held a large, leather suitcase..

        ..Mother had excused herself from Mrs. Mapp on hearing the stranger and had come outside, whereupon the man opened the suitcase upon the ground, to display all manner of household small wares. His speech was difficult to comprehend, but it was clear that the goods were being offered for sale.
        On receiving a head-shake in reply, he opened the suitcase further, to reveal an array of silks and squares in fabulous colours!
        ..I think that Mother either tried to get rid of him, or else felt sorry for him and bought a piece, which was a beautiful headscarf which produced many deep bows with fingertips gently touching, and, after closing his heavy case, picked it up and walked back up the hill.

        .....We never forgot that Indian man-as we called him-for there was something rather stoic and determined about his manner. He must have trudged many a long mile, carrying that case, just on the off-chance of making a meagre sale, and always, perfectly dressed and mannered.
        Enterprise was very much open to all then, and there were some that knew, big oaks only ever grew from little acorns..


        .....Stepfather and little Pip were walking back across the bridge. He was starting to grow up now; always a happy little boy, who loved animals and often pleaded to be allowed to go to the farm, where he was never happier. He had a natural affinity and empathy with the farm, never showing the slightest fear about the bigger animals and cared much for their welfare, the occasional natural loss of a lamb or piglet bringing floods of tears!
        Mixing as he did with the farm labourers, it was only natural, that he should absorb the vernacular and phraseology of those about him, who, after all, saw no reason to moderate their speech, just on account of one small boy.
        ...During that morning, there had been the loss of a piglet, which had had intestinal problems and, despite the best efforts of those there, had unfortunately expired..


        ......As we all entered the parlour, it was clear that Mrs. Mapp had greatly enjoyed her afternoon tea and the exchanging of pleasantries, although the sandwiches and cakes seemed scarcely to have been touched...
        ..There were the usual formal exchanges, after which, we all sat down.

        ...Mrs. Mapps' dulcet tones broke the silence, greeting Pip warmly and enquiring as to how matters were on the farm?
        ..Pip, who was never given to uttering a word more than necessary to visitors, stared somewhat awkwardly at his feet, shuffled about and muttered something like "...i wanted to come home!..."

        .."Oh? and, ah, ...why was that?" ..Pip continued looking down. "...pig died!" was all he said.

        ...Mrs Mapps' tones grew even more hushed. "...Oh! ...Oh, my dear....the poor thing! very sad...." ..then, probing with gently enquiring tone, "...and, ah, was the matter with it?"

        ..Without looking up, and as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, he said, "...couldn't sh*t!"

        .....As if in great pain, Mother closed her eyes tightly and turned away, doubtlessly wishing to be instantly transported to the far side of the universe.

        ....Mrs. Mapp never so much as blinked. Not for a moment was there any outward emotion betrayed. Maintaining that gentle, sympathetic smile, and regally raising her hand, turned slowly in Mothers' direction and quietly said, "That's quaite all right, my Dear!"

        ...With impeccable timing and welcome relief, Mr. Mapp returned from his fishing, to be greeted with many enquiries as to how he had got on... Tea was then rejoined and after, they returned to their car and drove off.

        ...Mrs Mapp became quite a regular visitor after that, but the pig was never mentioned again..


        • #19
          Part 17. The LADIES of the STREAM & TRIAL by FIRE and WATER...

          Part 17. The LADIES of the STREAM & TRIAL by FIRE and WATER...

          .....Whether it was because of our geographical position in the valley floor, or just 'one of those years' is difficult to judge; but the year of 1954 was one in which there seemed to be every possible extreme of nature thrown at us, causing such anxiety and fear, that for a while there was debate, as to whether we should not try and seek a new life elsewhere..
          ..The following events are all recorded and dated for that year.

          .....Following Christmas and New Year 1953, there was an unusually mild spell of weather, which remained almost to the end of February.
          There had been several spates, which kept the river at very good height, and by the time that the new season opened on 14th. Feb., there were already some fresh sea trout, as well as salmon, in the river.
          Uncles' first outing on the 16th. produced two sea trout and following a flood on the 19th., followed it up with another brace!
          Then, on St. Davids' day, Winter showed its' true colours, and we struggled to keep warm against the driven heavy snow and biting easterlies.
          The 3rd. saw the river two feet over summer level and running that peculiar 'snowy-green' colour. The sky was black, lowering and full of snow, yet, Uncle took a salmon of 27" long, with almost the first cast of the day, in conditions which froze the line to the rod-rings, had three peal the next day and a cock salmon of some 12lbs. on the 14th., which gave a blistering account of itself!

          8th.-10th. of April produced some of the sharpest frosts of the Winter, completely destroying all our early crops, which was hard to bear, and following more heavy snow, the steep hills into the valley became impassable, except on foot. For a while, we were marooned, not for either the first-or last time.
          This was followed by exceptionally mild conditions, accompanied by unusually strong winds. Within two days, all traces of Winter had gone, our ruined early crops being the only reminder..

          ..For the rest of Spring and early Summer, the weather returned to the seasonal norm., some good spates seeing some good catches of sea trout-some skilled anglers taking three, even four fish, in a single morning-but no further salmon caught.
          I accompanied as many of the fishermen as possible; most were glad to have someone carry the net, gaff or fish for them, though there were one-or two, who resented being watched, even from a distance..

          ...There were several lady fly-fishers, who were regularly seen on the river, both above-and below the bridge; at least four who I can think of. One, was an exceptionally accomplished night-fly expert, with at least one, six-pounder to her credit; she would never cast a long line-not that that was possible anyway-but always had absolute control on the line & fly, and attributed her success to knowing exactly where the fly was and how it was fishing, in most cases, out-catching her contemporaries by quite a margin!
          Another, had quite an intelligent mongrel dog, which would watch the fly intently and, on the occasion of a fish being hooked, was apt to swim out and pick up, as gently as a good cocker with a downed pheasant! Watching 'Mollie' bring a fish in was pure entertainment and, incredibly, the swimming dog never appeared to put the fish 'down'!

          ..I cannot recall very much about the third, except for her once catching a sea trout of 5 1/2lbs. and, on another occasion, a salmon of 15lbs., both on an 8ft. fly-rod, which her husband had made in 1950, the same rod eventually being left to me. He was a gifted rod-maker, who always dated and signed his work and made many rods for fellow Club members for the princely sum of 1 per foot length. Of rather exceptional, self-taught casting ability, he once out-distanced the best that Hardy Bros. could make, with one of his own rods, being complimented on it after the tournament, by their Chief Director, no less.

          There was also one, who was a dry-fly specialist, who I came to know very well, for an all-too brief few weeks, that summer, a relative of the Estates' Land Agent who worked in their Offices, who only fished very early in the morning, long before breakfast and who would ride down through the steep woods to the river, on a docile chestnut hack, which was named 'Lucky'.

          ...Although half-a generation apart, there was a fishing rapport between us from day one, and after only a short while, we had struck up a most improbable kind of friendship, often openly discussing many matters, as if it had always been so.
          By that time, I had been allowed to fish for trout again, but only if accompanied by a 'responsible' person, and, the pedigree of my new companion being thoroughly approved of, we often fished together from daybreak 'til breakfast.
          There were some, Jack Chapman in particular, who were very good indeed with the dry-fly and it seems odd now, to equate my friends' tiny, frail figure and terribly pale features with casting of such apparantly effortless artistry and elan, that I was thoroughly ashamed at my own rather clumsy efforts, and could scarcely remember anything that Tom had so patiently tried to teach, a few years earlier; the lesson being that the dr-fly must be cast as slowly as possible, and not, as fast.


          ...Those early mornings were to be some of the best and most enjoyable of all, and, we fished a lot further down-river than ever I admitted to; sometimes riding right down to the bottom of the Estate waters, two-up on 'Lucky' and then fishing back up, 'turn-about'.
          It was a wonderful period of perfect fishing harmony, one which I wished it could have gone on forever; usually arranging to meet by a pool at 5am. or earlier, and we became so adept at provoking a sea trout to rise, one at the edge of a shoal would be 'marked' and then 'picked off'. On bright mornings, my nymph held sway, but on cloudy days, her dry-fly always had the edge and reigned supreme! ( Exactly ten years later, I would have my best peal summer ever, using the same, early-morning, upstream nymph technique)
          There were goodly numbers of peal up then and it would be unusual, not to catch at least one, and, shamed by example, I began to return 'takeable' fish for the first time.

          ...With the shortening of the days, our fishing time became less and less; my most agreeable companion had always been unfairly dogged by ill-health and, at that time, it was thought that that early-morning, clean valley air would improve matters.
          ...It was not to be, and rests needed to be taken more frequently, until-inevitably-horse and rider trotted no longer down through the woods to the river.
          ...But within a few, soft-focus frames in the archive of memory, a very special dry-fly artiste still casts her 'blue-winged olive' upstream; whose span was to be scarcely thirty years of age, but who fished that last summer with quiet fortitude and stoicism, as perennial as the river itself..


          .....Early Autumn saw many sudden downpours and spates. There had not been much appeciable rain for weeks, so when there was a flood, quite a few anglers were out-and about, though catches are recorded as being below expectations.
          Early one afternoon, a sudden sharp storm started and a ground-strike by lightning, hit a tree, quite a way over the other side of the river, causing a fire in the woodland there, which was quite dry. A series of watchtowers had been erected high up on th valley side, but by the time it had been reported and a Forestry Commission fire appliance sent to the scene, the blaze had taken a firm hold and had spread out of control for the resources to deal with it.
          ...By mid-evening, the smell of smoke was very strong and the sky over the far side glowed livid, flickering orange and by nightfall, it was out of control completely and heading towards the river.
          Mr Wale, the F.C. Chief officer called and briefed us on the situation, advising us that we should prepare to leave, so we got dressed, went downstairs and waited...

          ...By the early hours, Mr. Wale again called, but this time with the good news, that the blaze had been brought under some kind of control, with the enlisted aid of the Military. It had been a rather alarming experience, for at one point, the radiating heat from the blaze could be felt from the house.
          We lay in bed and looked out of the window, to a still-glowing sky, and the powerful stench of charred wood seemed to last for weeks. It was the one-and only time that I have seen something of a forest fire and have no desire to see another-from any distance.
          ..After that, the F.C. erected small wooden stands at intervals along the valley, in which were placed fire-beaters, but who would have used them and what use they might have been against a real fire, is a matter for conjecture...


          ...It was at the end of Autumn, that there was a storm in the valley, that was to be terrifyingly different fromanything previously experienced.
          It started after lunch, and was reaaly rapid in the build-up, without any of the pre-storm weather symptoms such as stiflingly hot air and strong winds. Unusually, the air which had been quite-but not overly-warm, suddenly went very cold. I was outside at the time, near the stable, when the air fairly crackled with static and a ground-strike, not a hundred yards distant, somewhere near the open ground by 'Big' pool, split open a tree with explosive force, causing it to burn.
          I wasted no time in returning to the house and there we remained for the rest of the night. So frequent became the lightning, that it was dangerous, even to venture outside of the door and the air made the skin feel 'prickly', so intensely was it charged. Considering it now, there must have been at least two local storms, discharging at very low level, for at one point the thunder was just one continuous artillery roar, combining with the deafening noise of large hailstones on the roof.

          ..At some point during this, a most incredible phenomenon occured which, thankfully, I have never seen since. There was one particularly violent strike, which caused the whole house to shake and the ears to ring; one of the small panes in the window shattered and a large-ish tin box was thrown from a shelf, bringing it crashing to the floor; simultaneously-and these are the only words with which to graphically describe it- a kind of 'sphere', rather bigger than a tennis ball, of dazzlingly intense, mauve-ish white light, appeared to float across the room, about walking pace, fading in a few seconds to leave an acrid, singeing smell, which was neither imagined, nor caused by the stove.
          ..I have been informed that, this is called 'ball lightning', occasionally seen near the epicentre of a low-level electrical storm, the the true nature of it is not really understood.
          Whatever, it was really upsetting and we spent the remainder of the night downstairs in chairs, not daring to go up until daybreak.

          ...The rain was of monsoon proportions, its' constant drumming outside, blending with almost continuous thunder, making an incessant cacophony of noise!


          ...The storm lasted for a good part of the night and the heavy rain never stopped, merely easing off a little as dawn broke. The sight which met our eyes from the garden, instantly dispelled all tiredness...
          ....The river was just one seething, yellow foaming mass, already up and over the end of the garden and rising rapidly....
          It was a case of never mind the rain, all hands to the pumps; they didn't like it, but all our livestock was man-handled and quickly moved to emergency quarters in the stable, some fifteen feet higher than the garden and it was fortunate that prompt action was taken, for in no time, the whole of the garden, right up to the bottom of the stone steps, was soon under water...which was still rising...
          ...By mid-morning, it was half-way up the steps. The sound of the upstream rapids had gone, for there were no rapids now, just a great, yellow-brown column of high-speed water, which made an awful noise as it tore down through the valley and tried to get under the bridge. At this point, the Military closed the road both ways, for there was a real threat, that the bridge itself might be swept away.

          ...The entire ground, the huge open area behind the 'Big' pool was now one vast lake and we watched from the path in disbelief, as bushes logs, great uprooted trees-and some unfortunate animals-were all swept down that brown gorge of a river. Never had a flood so high been known,...and it was still rising...
          ...When it was barely one foot from the edge of the path, we were given orders to stand by to evacuate, so as much clothing and bedding was hastily packed; and we watched...and waited.

          ....and then, just as the waters had risen, so they began to recede. The critical point had been reached and so the crisis passed.
          At its' zenith, the water was above the arch apex of the bridge and much of the valley had been under water, the trees standing like stalks in a huge brown sea. No one had known anything like it; even the terrible floods of the previous year, when Lynmouth in North Devon was devastated and so many poor souls fearfully swept away in the night, even that did not come close, did not come anything near to bringing floods like the one we were witnessing. None of us were hurt and all our stock had been saved, but it had been a close thing.

          ...When the river eventually dropped back, the devastation was not as bad as first feared. The garden was a total mess of course, but that could be cleared up. The main concern was for the animals quarters and a lot of hard work had to be done, before they could be moved back. Not all went back, in fact; our large white sow "Sukie" actually preferred her new quarters, the loft area above, now the domicile of turkeys and other poultry!

          It was recorded, that on the 24th. October, the river was at a "dangerous" level! A few days later, some people were actually fishing it; Uncle had two peal on a 'vibro', but the cold and miserable rain returned and persisted all day; by mid-afternoon, the river was again rising..
          Despite that, there was a gentleman, whose name has not been set down, patiently fishing the 'Bend' pool and mananged to hook a massive 'greenback' salmon, which he played very well for about ten minutes, before the fish managed to throw the hook by rolling-or rubbing- it on the bottom and catching it in a sunken snag. This was in the run-out, in clear view of two witnesses, and would seem to suggest some kind of intelligence.


          ....One way or another, it had been quite a year; we had experienced what we hoped was, the worst that nature could throw at us-and survived, for which we were very grateful; but there had been losses too, which were felt more deeply, the which I suppose, is all part of life and growing up.
          ..The close of that year would be the end of an era; the World was changing now, and awakening from the post-war depression; moving into a more modern age and we were moving along with it. Everywhere, people were being filled with a new kind of optimism; in the market town and in the village, you could sense the change; there seemed to be a sense of purpose for everything now, and an increase of pace.
          ...Christmastide, the best time of the year was nearing and visits to the crowded marketplace were filled with wonder!

          ...That Christmas was to be the best one we ever had..


          • #20
            Part 18. A CHRISTMAS PAST -and the Stars looked down...

            Part 18. A CHRISTMAS PAST -and the Stars looked down...

            ..."And is it true? And is it true,
            This most tremendous tale of all,
            Seen in a stained glass windows' hue,
            -a Baby in an ox s' stall?..."

            .....Sir John Betjeman

            ..........It was easy to believe in Christmas.
            Many of the idyllic, traditional, country Christmas card scenes were just outside our window, in front and all around us. It seemed to snow a lot more in winter then; quite often, we would look out of the morning window, to gaze upon a true winter wonderland, the bridge, the sandy beach, every twig and branch on every tree was white topped, the river below, black by contrast, silent and sleeping. Sometimes, the roads each side became impassable to traffic; the worst, in 1947, when we were cut off for six weeks in the new year, yet the record book shows that it only actually snowed twice, on Christmas Day itself.

            ...Preparations for the big day began quite a few weeks beforehand, when, by an alternating arrangement with a neighbouring farm, a pig would be slaughtered and divided, half each. We liked to believe that ours had the superior taste, because our animals always had the best feed and were better cared for.
            ...Stepfather came into his own then. He was a Master-Butcher by trade, before the War, and all kinds of delicious salami and sausage would be made; hams and other meats would be oak-smoked and hung up on the pantry ceiling for 'curing'; the smells would be mouth-watering and nothing at all was ever wasted.
            Just off the lane, up the hill, was once a large wood of giant, sweet-chestnut trees, and at the appropriate seasonal time, enough chestnuts to feed an army could easily be gathered, for roasting on the grate-bars of the fire, or skewered on the prongs of the toasting fork, peeled and dipped in salt whilst still hot!
            Today, no trace of the wood remains, all being clean-felled for timber and quick profit.

            Mothers' baking went into overdrive at this time; there was always something 'on the go' every day, and a cake, such as never seen all year was especially baked, to be later covered with marzipan, icing and almonds. Somewhere amongst the cake were a few, foil-wrapped sixpences, and for the lucky finder,-a new silver shilling! The pudding was the piece de resistance and was always steamed very slowly in muslin cloth, overnight on Christmas Eve.

            ...The main course was always one of our own birds. These would all be prepared two nights beforehand and it was very much teamwork, always at night and in the back part of the stable, illuminated by a 'Tilley' storm-lamp. The birds would be taken one at a time, from the upstairs loft, very quietly whilst they roosted, so as not to disturb the others and cause alarm, and never knew anything about it.
            Everyone who had ordered a bird would be calling the next day, so the three of us, Stepfather, Grandfather and yours truly, worked until very late, preparing them all; refridgerators and freezers just didn't exist, as far as we were concerned; there was nothing to power them with anyway. That stable was a hive of activity and you can probably work out, who was on feather-plucking! This was actually quite an art, speed being of the essence. The secret was to work from the back in small pinches, getting one done inside three minutes, whilst still warm; otherwise, the skin would tear, which spoilt the appearance and reduced the profit. Singeing off could be done after, as a batch, over a tin-lid of burning methylated spirits.

            It was finger-numbing work, but on this occasion, there would be a small barrel of home-brewed scrumpy and green ginger wine on hand for (frequent) refreshment. After a couple of hours out there, the work didn't seem so bad and the atmosphere became very Christmassy and jolly!
            The end of the night would see us knee-deep in feathers, which had to be 'sacked up', and after all was cleared up and washed down, there would be hot supper with blackberry & elder wine, no matter how late the hour. We brewed a lot of wine then and that was one of the best, especially when hot-mulled with spices!
            It was made in one of two, huge, glass carboys we had come by, kept in the store cupboard under the stairs, and, being near one end of the 'Range', could get rather warm inside.
            One night, we were all rudely awakened by a deep, booming explosion from below, which caused our 'Laddie' to bolt upstairs in abject terror! On investigation, the whole the entire cupboard interior and all of its' contents, were now coloured a dense, purple-ish black! That one got a bit too lively...


            ...The morning of Christmas Eve was always an early start. Many would be calling during the day to collect their orders and we had to distribute our own Christmas boxes. People in the valley and village never gave presents in todays' lavish sense, where the price ticket seems paramount, rather, all shared their own produce, or whatever they could. We took a lot to the station, to go by train-and there were Christmas boxes for the jovial Statiomaster and his little staff of Signalman and Porter, also.
            We loved the railway and were very much 'Railway Children'-as in Miss E. Nesbitts' celebrated book. It not only gave us reliable communication and brought the goods, it was our guardian and timekeeper also; two parallel steel threads which bound together many families and communities throughout the countryside. Dependable and solid, it brought stability and linked the people together, -until that dreadful day, when it was finally-and short sightedly-closed; torn up, -and a century old way of life torn up and irretrieveably ended with it; .....and the motor car was king..

            ...It was almost traditional to have a riverwalk downstream on Christmas Eve; we never went upstream again after Mary and Kevin were lost in 'Big' pool. The water was quiet now. The trees that lined its' banks, stripped of their leaves, stark and bare, and in their winter sleep. If the water was clear and not too high, big salmon could be seen, paired up and awaiting their time. Soon, in the darkness and on the redds, some life would be ending and new life beginning again but not usually until after Christmas.

            ...Christmas! It was Christmas Eve and as the light faded, it turned really cold that year. All those Christmasses were special, but this one would be best remembered. Most local people then, went to the Evening Service at St Marys' and it started to snow as we walked up the hill; the stars had gone and a bitter north-easterly would blow straight off the top of the high moors. St. Marys' had an old, but brilliantly efficient coke-fired heater and Edmund Lister, the incumbent vicar, was fly enough to know that, stoking it right up meant packing 'em in, home central-heating being an unimagineable luxury, far off somewhere in the dim-distant future. The Rev. Lister was one of the 'old school' and droned on quite a bit, until everyone got fidgety, but the carol singing was great and enjoyed by all! Some of the other Parishes, further up the valley, sometimes had a 'Christingle' service, which was a bit different, but ours stuck to tradition, evrything being decorated with holly, ivy and yew, the huge tree in front, left of the Altar, all but touching the ceiling!


            ..When everybody came out, it was snowing heavily, the whole world turned white and silent. About twenty of us walked together for part of the way home; then somebody had the idea of going down to the station and giving an impromptu carol concert to any passengers, who might be on the last 'down' train of the night.
            .....It was about as close to the imagined, traditional Dickension ideal, as was possible to get; a big crowd, all stood on the snowy platform, some with storm-lanterns, or standing under the stations' gas-lights, singing at the tops of their voices! -as the say 'down yer' -" 'til the welkin ring!"
            ..It seemed that it went on for a long time and nobody wanted to go home. The train duly arrived, paused for a few minutes -and departed, Driver, Fireman, guard and passengers, all joining in!

            ...The lamps were turned out and the station was closed up for Christmas; all then went their separate ways home, chilled feet crunching the frozen snow. The sky had cleared and it was bright enough to see the way home, without needing the lantern; the coldest Christmas Eve I ever remember; the brilliant myriad of stars and marbled clouds looked down on the eerily silent, freezing moorland and the glowing white valley, and it was good to be indoors!

            ".....And is it true? For if it is,
            No loving fingers tying strings
            Around the tissued fripperies,
            The sweet and silly Christmas things...." J.B.

            ...Christmas Day or not, the livestock still needed feeding and they had a bit extra today-as did we all! Presents were simple but treasured and kept for years after; usually books, or games, things to do or make. A huge fire blazed in the 'best room' grate all day-and more carols would be sung! Our one luxury and source of entertainment, was Mothers' upright, rosewood piano. She was a very gifted pianist and could play many Schumann and Chopin pieces. My favourites were the Chopin 'Nocturnes'-particularly the hauntingly beautiful No. 10, which, I have to say, was much requested.
            ...Stepfather could play a little-after a fashion, but limited somewhat to military marches- played with gusto-and plenty of heavy left hand, which was frowned upon, but I thought it sounded rather good!

            ....And at supper-time, late on Christmas Night, we gave grateful thanks, that we had survived the year, were warm, cosy and well-fed, when there were so many elsewhere who were not.
            ...Boxing Day was almost back to work, and what was normal, everyday life; but it had been a wonderful-if cold- Christmas, the best one ever, and the good feelings stayed for many weeks afterwards, and helped us through more difficult times.

            ...THE 'MAGIC' DAY

            ...Of all the fishing days, one, in late Spring 1955, stands out head & shoul;ders above the rest. There were days when the water was right, the weather was right and there were good runs of fish; but on that day, all came together like no other in memory. About twenty years later, there would be a similar one on a memorable 4th. December, but this ws without doubt, the best fishing day of all; we called it 'The Magic Day'.

            .....After a very wet period of rain and heavy showers, lasting about a week, there was an overnight downpour which lifted the river right up and held the height for almost two days.
            Saturday morning dawned cloudy, but very warm; the river had been running over the beach, but was now dropping very slowly and turning a very dark, peaty colour-what was locally named, 'a tarny colour'.
            There were a great number of fishermen down that day; they knew that it could well be a good day to fish-and they would not be disappointed! Everyone we knew in fact, was down, and a few more besides, who we didn't; our house was like a crowded village Pub at times, and it was a job to keep up with writing everything down in the fishing diary.

            ...Until about mid-morning, nothing was reported seen or caught, and then it happened.....A big run of peal must have been going through, because everyone started to hook, lose or land them; beautiful, magnificent, silver sea trout; two-three-four-even five pounders-and bigger! -all brilliantly fresh, and dynamite to hold!
            Stepfather, who was working in the garden, could stand it no longer, took hid old rod from the stable and headed downriver, with both Kay and yours truly, going along to watch. It was the last time I recall Kay ever coming fishing with us.


            .....At the front end of the 'Rock' pool, is a long, straight-ish glide of fairly constant width, but at the very head of that, is a sheer rock-face on the other bank, with a deep gully beneath it.
            Stepfather cocked the reel pick-up arm open and flicked the blue & silver minnow square across, landing inches short of the rocky wall. He had barely started to wind, when there was an almighty swirl on the water surface and the reel clutch gave out with a screech....and the fish was gone! That was the first cast. The second was almost a repeat, but a little lower downstream. The minnow had travelled but a few feet, when again, the water erupted and a fish was on........and off! This was really exciting stuff and we looked at each other in wonder! -what would the next cast bring?

            ....The minnow flew out, landed as before and was almost half-way home and...bang! -again a sea trout was on, cartwheeling about everywhere with a great commotion.......and off!
            ..This was just not happening,-was it? -It got even better! Three more casts were made and, incredibly, three more sea trout were on...and gone! They were so fresh-run, just snapping at the minnow and 'coming short', but I cannot ever remember so many in one place; six in six casts was scarcely believeable!

            ...He just had to have a 'Woodbine' cigarette to calm down, so we went downstream a little way, to the front end of the pool proper, -where Mr. Grant had hooked his monster salmon-and I took the rod. It was awkward to use, being an adapted fly-rod, -and the reel was left hand wind. Never mind; my first cast was aimed at spot beneath a small overhanging tree on the opposite bank, upstream. It fell a little short, so I started to wind quickly back for a fresh cast. A big, lazy undrwater flash and a thump, which quite literally, pulled the reel handle from my fingers, told me -too late- to pay more attention..


            ...Elsewhere on the river, others too, were enjoying great sport.
            Mr. Mapp had done well and was in an extremely good mood-almost benevolent towards other anglers! -and the many entries in our records book at the house, make wonderful reading now. Even His Lordships' guests caught one-or two!

            ...As the afternoon drew to an end, Uncle was on the water, using a 1 1/2", blue & silver 'Vibro' and took three in under three-quarters-of-an-hour, the best, over four pounds! Stepfather had two on the bank and Jack Chapman was losing them for pastime! The river was full of fish that day and the air was electric with excitement! Every cast was expected to be met with a savage take, and made with heart in mouth! Every pool, every lie, every stone was covered with trembling hands. Many cigarettes and pipes were smoked to calm nerves, and tea was constantly being served at the house!

            ...Uncle had had enough, so he cut off his 'Vibro' and gave it to Jack, telling him to put that on, as would surely have more luck with it. Jack tied it on and had fished for only seconds, before he was into a real beauty, which tore off across and upstream at a spanking pace, made a crashing leap and landed on his taut line,..breaking it! It just wasn't his day,-but he would have others..

            ...Grandfather had stayed on the beach below the bridge all afternoon, casting his worm across and down,-and had been rewarded with eight fish at regular intervals! It was his best-ever day by miles, and would never be equalled.
            ...At tea-time, his stout sea-rod was actually bent, as a really heavy fish thrashed it out on top. Looking back now, I dearly wish that he had given ground and conceded some line; that was one real cracker of a sea trout-possibly a salmon even-certainly a fish of double figures and several people were watching the action from the bridge!
            Mrs. Mapp, who had taken a little walk was also watching the enthralling battle unfold, from the bridge parapet; there was a huge boil of white spray on the surface, followed by a sharp, echoing report like a gunshot, as the line had had enough...and parted..
            ......The stunned silence was broken, as Mrs. Mapp clasped her hands together and said in a hushed whisper, as only she could, "...Well! ...That was the one that got away!" -which just about captured the moment perfectly......

            ......And so, with the river running at its' very best, and the grandest company of fishermen all together, we will leave the last word with that gracious lady, and depart now from the valley, leaving it in peace, and return to the present day, for I fear, dear Reader, that you have been wearied long enough.
            ...Though we had but nothing-in todays' material terms-it was the greatest priviledge to have seen those days and to have met so many fine people, whose memory I have set before you.
            .......And all those, whose lives touched ours in those times, have now taken their place in history, for you to read about; and there were others too, who are not mentioned here, who meant so well and so much......


            • #21
              Epilogue The PERSISTENCE of MEMORY

              Epilogue The PERSISTENCE of MEMORY

              ....."When I consider the Stars of the Heavens,
              and the multitude thereof,
              What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?"

              ........The little Rudge rod from Hubert Damerells' shop is still in use, though not as much now; it has been broken and mended twice, and still serves today. Its' best fish was a six pound salmon, taken one June, on a size 14 'March brown' on a 6x cast, whilst trout fishing.
              Its' owner has learnt many lessons-and has some more to learn yet. It used to be taken for granted, that the fishing in that river valley would always be there, today, tomorrow or whenever needed, and could not be imagined otherwise. Such vain arrogance could not go unpunished and indeed, the day came, when it had to be left, and others would come and take it, who cared little or nothing for it, or that rich, fertile garden and woodland; for the grand Estate was broken up and sold off, and its' tenant community made way, moved out by the highest bidder.


              .....Those days from six decades past, should really be forgotten now, having no place in todays' harsh World, and the ghosts of those times allowed to rest in peace; but they will not rest yet, for the nagging ties of memory persist, and refuse to leave.
              ....On clear nights, on another river now, when the stars are at their very best and the sea trout are quiet, cold, ethereal mist, fills the air with many old voices and faces. Then does Time itself stand still and has no meaning.......And sometimes then, just for a few moments, thoughts slip back to the house by the bridge, lift the heavy iron latch on the side door and feel that flood of warmth from within;....and then remember; just how nice it was, to sink into a fireside chair, hear nothing but the voice of the river and the hissing 'Tilley' lamp close the eyes and know then, just at that moment, there was nothing else that really mattered.........very all.


              The Gallery

              Side door 1949

              Uncle, at the top of the rocks.

              1949. My Family, I am seated on ground.

              A VERY Important Visitor!


              • #22
                I have just enjoyed a most wonderful journey .... to quote an over used but wholly appropriate phase here ...AWESOME!! Your writing is beautiful....just beautiful. Onwards for more...Scalpsie


                • #23
                  Just wonderful


                  • #24
                    I consider this to have been written with great sensitivity and depth of feeling which for me bounded off the page. Very sad,poignant and emotional ... very beautiful descriptive account of sucha harrowing and life influencing event. Must re-read. Thank you for sharing such a personal event.


                    • #25
                      I have to say that i cant think of anything ive read before that made me feel as happy and as sad all rolled in to one. I was there in that valley in my mind and i have to say i was dissapointed when i had to leave at the end. I would love to have read more.


                      • #26
                        BUMP (for the new members). Worth a reread even if you've looked at it before...


                        • #27
                          This is a fantastic read, I thanked you many years ago David (Watermole), and I thank you again 😉


                          • #28
                            I remember reading this with tears rolling down my face "back in the day" on the old forum......still a fantastic read. Thank you Watermole.
                            The gods do not deduct from man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing. ~Babylonian Proverb


                            • #29
                              Just a little thank you to Watermole ,he sold me his superb allcocks salmonfly reel ,this now does me for my8/9 shooting heads and does a marvelous job .
                              My son has said to make sure I pass it on to him .
                              ACW = Andy .C . Wren
                              Claret, not just a good dubbing colour


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