I wrote this as part of a series of nature notes in a magazine and thought it might be of interest to members.
The Upper Wylye beats are probably my favourite beats on the river. They are not the easiest but they have a feeling about them which I don’t quite find on other beats. Not that any of the other beats are not as pleasant but there is something about the Upper Wylye which sets it apart as far as I am concerned. From the moment I park in the Village Hall car park the river captures me.
Once parked I have to decide whether to straightaway adorn myself with all the paraphernalia of fly fishing– waders, jacket, putting the rod up - or just go for a walk along the river. After many years of tuition I am now fluent in crow and often have a conversation with them when they are around, especially in autumn. They are much wiser about the state of the river than I, a mere human intruder in their natural world, can possibly ever be. They open up the secrets of the river to me, they tell me what is going on in their world. They advise me to take my time – don’t rush, accept the river as it is, just observe and listen to what the river is telling me.
Fishing is timeless. The river has been flowing past here for thousands of years, since before Christ was born, before the Romans came and no doubt will continue to do so for hundreds more years. It passes by, silently, hypnotic in its glide with a slight ripple here, another there, over stones and gravel that have seen fishermen cast flies since the art was created in Mesopotamia over two thousand years ago. It has seen generations tending cattle, tending sheep, all in the same fields that are tended today. People crossed the river over the bridge which has been in the same place for generations, just above the mill.
One of the pleasures for me was when my teenage granddaughter expressed an interest in fly-fishing. The enjoyment of introducing her to our art was delightful. We didn't catch anything, but that was by the by, it wasn't the point. That she saw trout in the river, skittling away when they caught a glimpse of our shadow on the water, felt the experience of the cast, that was enough for me. At least I may have someone to pass my fishing gear on to - that will be enduring enough.
So off I set along the path by the bridge, leaving all my fishing gear in the car. I walked alongside the river taking time to watch and enjoy nature’s presence. It was early morning. I was walking alongside the river and although the sky was blue and the sun was just up there was a slight chill in the autumn air. I was glad of my long sleeved pullover. Patches of mist hung over the river, motionless. The bank was a riot of plants, brambles, wild mint, nettles, rushes, broad leafed grasses as well as small bushes every now and again, leaves touched with dew. The opposite bank was the wood, oak, birch, sycamore. I was watching for trout, listening for their rise - that "pluck" sound as they take a surface fly, though as it was late in the season I wasn't expecting to hear or see very many. Then out of the corner of my eye I caught a glint between two clumps of nettles, just caught the sunlight. It was a single thread of a spider's web, dewdrops glinting in the sun, stretched between two tall clumps of nettles. What natural engineering it was - to the spider it must have been the equivalent of stringing a rope between two skyscrapers. It was the alarm thread, joined on to the spider's web so she could hide under the nettle leaves and then race out when a fly got caught in the web itself. I stopped, waited and watched to see what happened. There were no flies around so after about fifteen minutes I gave up and went on my way.
Slowly, quietly, walking one step at a time before I stopped a few yards further along the riverbank and sat in the damp dewy grass. That wonderful scent in the quiet early morning, the clean, pure air, almost as if I could taste it. I drank in the feeling of the river. It is quite flat here and the water flows by with hardly a ripple, the silent eternity of a clear English chalk stream. Traditionally, chalk stream rivers are referred to as “gin” clear or “crystal” clear but why do we need such analogies? These words overemphasise and dilute the unique clarity of the English chalk stream. It enough simply to say “clear, beautifully clear”. The riverbed is a mixture of gravel and stones, flint and chalk, with clumps of bright green water-weed clinging on and waving in the flow. But just upstream of the bridge is the human intrusion of a bright red brick, so out of place, discarded probably years ago in the relative microsecond of geological time. The green river plants waved in the current, side to side. I watched them, moving my gaze from clump to clump, scanning the riverbed between the weeds until I saw him. So perfectly blended in to the riverbed, there he was, swimming against the current, with a lazy flick of his tail, moving a few inches this way then back. He was feeding and moving to take the morsels of food that came to him in the flow of the river. I reckon he was about a pound and a half and twelve or so inches long, a perfect wild chalk stream brown trout. I dared hardly breathe, I slowly got to my feet, all the while watching him, he hardly moved so I decided to leave him to his peace.
Last year a walker would have passed through wooden kissing gates, worn by passing hands, gates which blended in to the landscape, able to tell tales of the hands which had opened and closed them, the passers-by with their dogs, the anglers with tales of blank days, of lost catches, or of fine Wylye trout in their baskets. On my first walk this year it was a shock to find that these items of country craftsmanship had been replaced by bright galvanised metal bridle gates. Yes, they are utilitarian, but they seem so out of place. No doubt nature will mellow them as she always does so I mentally cast their presence into irrelevance.
Time spent just walking along the river is well spent, I count it inclusive in Dame Juliana Berner’s remark that “time spent fishing is not counted as part of our allotted span.”