The river Culm was raging today. An express train of uninviting slate grey water with a heavy cargo of flotsam of all kinds. All fish life had their heads down and were wearing tin helmets. The coarse fishing season is waving a white flag to nature’s relentless ravaging.
On the plus side there was a huge hatch of these guys and the bankside flora was brim full of springtime optimism- just waiting to burst into life. Roll on the Trout season. #fishing #traditionalangling #springiscoming #westcountryriverstrust
Alice could fly. She must be able to. Hadn’t her dad told her many times that she could. Sat with her on his lap on the heath in front of the priory all those years ago. “Little Wonder” he used to call her. Picnics in the park…happy bloody families. Climbing the dilapidated stairs past the piles of rotting debris, beer cans and pigeon shit she reached the folly. Stepping gingerly over the decaying floorboards she made it to the opening; which once had been polished oak door frames that held stained glass panels of the view beyond. She stepped onto the remnants of the balcony. The view to anyone else would be beautiful. One hundred and eighty degrees of panoramic splendour. The heath, the Priory lake where they all used to swim until…
Squinting into the distance beyond the small minded town that she reluctantly called home she could just make out the shimmer of the Atlantic Ocean. Breathing in deeply she could smell it’s saline energy. She smiled- memories. Happy bloody families. The past; the rusting past. If only…
But it was too late. The years of sentimentality were now but shadows chasing around in her distorted mind.
Climbing on to the aged railings, she regained her balance and breathed in deeply again. Arms stretched out wide, she smiled- a smile she hadn’t used in an age. In the distance she could hear the gulls- they were calling her to the sea.
She must fly…
People tell me to write. So I am making myself do twenty minutes a day.
Making myself- being lethargic by nature- apart from my mind which is a constant whirlwind of nonsense. Lethargic- even this is being written on my phone- too lazy to get out of bed.
It’s 9:52 and I’m on my third cup of coffee already. My thumbs are caffeine loaded, primed for silently tapping out on the dimly lit keyboard. This skill I have just learned- Lily and Sam always laugh at me typing with one finger- like a heron stabbing at his lunch in a pond. Now my thumbs dance as if shadow boxing before a game of thumb wars.
Storm Dennis has arrived, battering the house, he has managed to get in by spewing his rain shower sideways. A great tactic as it finds the cracks in the silicone used to surround the poorly fitted windows. Inside the kitchen the windowsill is being subjected to water torture. Drip drip drip. Thankfully I spotted- or heard the evidence earlier whilst making coffee number one and put up the flood prevention measure ie a bath towel. Job done for now. In the spring I’ll fix the leak- if I can be bothered- see: lethargy lurks already.
Outside the wind and rain are both relentless in their attack. The shed will be getting damp. One of last years storms (no idea which one or what name he or she had- but probably female as it was relentless!) ripped off most of the felt; which reminds me- I must fix that- lethargy.
The garden is under threat. The pond is full to the brim, the sticklebacks will be hiding in the depths from the blitz like bombardment from the heavens. If the lawn could speak it would shout “Help me, I can’t take anymore, I’m drowning!” The trampoline is bouncing, the safety net billowing like a sail. It’s as if the ghosts of all storms past are having a jumping party.
Inside, we are snug. Sheltered by central heating, and a warm bed. Rae has nearly finished her book . I am sure she has slowed down her reading speed to put off getting up. Sherlock is still snoozing at the foot of the bed- occasionally opening one eye to glance at the river of rain running down the window panes. I’m sure he is thinking “I need a wee- but my bladder can wait a bit longer.”
He turns full circle on the bed and resumes his favourite position, curled up in a foetal position with his nose touching his arse.
That’s it- twenty minutes are up. Not a second more. No time left to spell check or punctuate. So all you grammar fiends can have a (soggy) field day. Time for coffee number four- if I can be bothered. Lethargy!
Keep it simple. Just a rod, a reel and some bread and worms for bait and a small measure of expectancy that hangs like your breath in the air.
There is a strangely perverse pleasure to be had by spending a few hours on the riverbank in Winter. The coldness of the silt filled river seeps through thermal clothing and into your bones. All can seem desolate, almost lifeless. But look around and through that grey shroud that spans the landscape and there is much to enjoy. An old dog fox looking more bedraggled than me skulking along the hedgerow; hoping for a meagre morsel. Maybe he could smell my pasty. Sandpipers, both common and green, a snipe and having just checked in the Collins bird book, a rare sighting of a red throated diver.
There are a thousand excuses for an angler not to catch a fish; but not one for not being there.
“Has everyone got everything?” I asked as we left Room 1251 of the Hilton at Niagara Falls. I was the last to leave the plush luxury and the fantastic high rise view of the falls. “Yes.” was the united shout; we were moving on. Tomorrow we would be Toronto bound. Lights out, doors closed…if only I’d taken one more look around, like I normally do- just one more damn look.
“I’ve lost Lala?” Lily cried. “Has anyone seen him?” The panic in her voice was echoed by the look on Rae and my face. Not Lala! We were back at the home of Roger and Beverly when the bombshell was dropped. This was our base for our epic three week trip, which had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. Roger immediately phoned the hotel. Details were passed over to the Household team- including emailed pictures of Lala. It was just a matter of time. “He’ll turn up, he alway’s does” I said, probably more in hope than certainty. But in truth he alway’s survived the “gone missing” episodes that have happened over the years, including being left at friends houses or in cars and nearly being sold in a charity shop where Lily had left him. He’s survived trips around Europe in our camper, aeroplane flights, surf trips, sleepovers… He always comes home to be hugged in a strangle hold by a teary-eyed but relieved Lily.
Lala has been Lily’s constant companion since she was tiny. A much loved lion, now devoid of mane and also his tail ( due to an unfortunate incident with our overzealous dog- one of Lala’s near miss experiences.) His body really nothing more than a holey half stuffed remnant of a King of the Jungle, held together by the stitch work that is Lily’s love.
We went through all our baggage a dozen times, searched Roger’s car god knows how many time, looked everywhere in the house over and over again, but all to no avail. He had to be in the hotel room.
Lily sobbed- we all sobbed, then Lily sobbed again; inconsolably.
I don’t think that Rae nor I hardly slept at all that night, I flitted in and out of consciousness between bouts of extreme guilt and bad dreams and more guilt. In the morning we were all subdued, the normal happy breakfast meal consumed in silence. It was like death had occurred in the family. Lily, bless her said that she felt that she had ruined everyone’s holiday, which was so far from the truth, but then that is the way she is- caring. Sam and I searched Roger’s car again (five times.) And another house and bags search was conducted. No Lala. Another phone call was made to the hotel, and as we feared, he hadn’t been found.
Over the following couple of weeks, our trip kept Lily and the rest of us busy. canoeing across lakes, the CN tower, hiking, Sauble Beach on Lake Huron. Fabulous times were had. But in those quiet moments between, Lily could be found crying- grieving even. Grieving for the comfort that was always there- until now.
As I write this it is now November and the guilty feeling is still with me. Last Christmas I found a pristine Lala on the internet and bought him; just to show Lily what Lala looked like when she first had him. She now takes him to bed at night- with Colin the dog, but he is no substitute.
I still make phone calls to The Hilton Niagara Falls and am redirected to the household department. They look, which takes a couple of minutes and I hold my breath and cross my fingers in hope. But to no avail.
“Don’t give up on him yet, Lily” I say to her and she nods, bravely.
But I think we all know.
Just one more look around that room- just one.
The last photo of Lily and Lala, on the way to Canada for their great adventure.
Christmas is coming and the only thing that any of us really would like is a return of Lily’s bedraggled lovely Lala.
“Why do people call you Rev?” I am occasionally asked. Have I (unbeknown to all,) become a man of the cloth, a minister for the all seeing , all hearing fictional character from the heavens above? Well no. Of course not. Anyone who might admit to knowing me- grudgingly or otherwise will no doubt tell you, that such an occurrance would be more incredible than a miracle being performed by the mythical son of the said forementioned fictional being from above. Some would have you believe that I would fry if I stepped over the threshold of a religious building. This I have proved to be totally untrue; having sat in the holy temple of football, namely the Bet 365 Stadium, home of Stoke City FC and survived.
No. The answer is much more simple (and plausible.) Let me explain.
I am a terrible surfer. Fact. I could put it down to my dodgy, crumbling knees or from far too many years of playing football and playing too many games of drunken leapfrog. Or for climbing in and out of a van far to many times a day. (At this point if my children read this they would like to point out that I wrote “far to”- and laugh.) It’s a family thing – like saying do do, as in you do do silly things.
So being a terrible surfer, and don’t even get me on paddleboarding; that’s a whole different balancing act! I spend a lot of time in the water spotting waves for other people. I’m fine with this.
“But what has this got to do with being called Rev’,” I hear you cry. And so to the crux. Picture this. I stand waist high in the cold swell of the Atlantic Ocean somewhere on the North Cornwall or Devon coast. Arms outstretched, welcoming the oncoming sets of waves towards the frongs of fellow surfers. Occasionally shouting advice such as “You missed that one” (always popular.) Or. “Look out this one is a big fu… Whereupon you can find me washed up on the beach with a face full of sand and a seaweed wig.
And all the while I am offering this advice I am resplendent in my non flattering black wetsuit, which is stretched tightly (too tight some would say) over my white rash vest. This creates the illusion of me wearing a clergyman’s dog collar. “You look like a vicar” one of my friends said. “We’ll call you Rev’.” And so the legend of the Very Reverend Whitewater came to pass.
Far more believable than any celestial being. Especially if you want to catch a good wave.
Footnote: I’ve since learned that Body boarding is so much easier and you have less distance to fall- as you start off lying down anyway. So if you see me stood in the water with my golden board made by (blatant plug) Morey (tastefully named the Holy Grail,) give me a wave. And yes people, the pun was intended.
Hence the naming of this blog page “Rev’s View” and also my instagram hashtag revspaperview, which weirdly is my view on the stories in the newspaper.
Amen to that.
With a few hours to spare on my day off before I had to take Lily to the fracture clinic to have her wrist replastered having broken it whilst doing the hurdles at school, I decided a short fishing trip was in order. Having hurriedly thrown a couple of made up rods, net and a bag of bits I headed for my local tackle shop for a pint of maggots- and came out with much more! Back in the van I suddenly found myself in a bit of a quandary. Where to go?
Lily was in Exeter on a school trip and I had to pick her up at two pm prompt in the city centre. My usual spots on the Culm were quickly dismissed; due to the time it would take to battle through the hordes of sweaty shoppers. As the van rattled down the dual carriageway, I made up my mind for the tenth(or eleventh) time and decided on a spot that I have driven past, or rather over, when heading to north Devon on a surfing trip. The confluence of the rivers Exe and Creedy just outside of Exeter- perfect to cut off and nip back into town. I hadn’t fished there for over twenty years; so a quick reconnaissance trip would be the perfect solution.
Crossing over the bridges as slowly as I dare without stirring the angst of the drivers behind, I glanced over at the rivers. On the plus side there wasn’t the usual field of heifers that seem to wait for me where ever I fish. The rivers though were both very low. Not surprising with the lack of rainfall (not complaining, folks.) Even from my moving vantage point I could see that the Bankside vegetation was very tall and very dense. Luckily I chose a long sleeve shirt!
I parked up the van in the lay-by next to a couple of rusting vans which didn’t appear to have moved in a long time- therefore my van didn’t look to conspicuous. As I unpack my few items of tackle I couldn’t help but notice how hot the day had become.
So there you go- I’ve got my excuses for blanking out of the way early! Very hot day, very short session, very low river, very tall and foreboding vegetation, and a very crap angler to boot!
The rivers could not be more dissimilar if they tried. On the left we have the Exe, a river that seems to be in a hurry to enter the sea. In comparison the Creedy seems to be in no hurry at all. A wide slow paced and deep affair that seems resigned to it’s fate, save for it’s brief “last huzzah” in the shape of a lovely weir and a very enticing looking pool below it, which is sadly out of bounds to us anglers.
Firstly I tracked the Exe downstream, with the return journey being the upstream ramble along the Creedy. From the road bridge the Exe was a collection of shallow rapids interspersed with a few deeper glides; some flowing deliciously under the roots of the willow and ash trees that sporadically inhabit it’s banks. Peering through the holes in the jungle, disturbing the myriad of resident damsel flies (I spotted Emeralds, Southern, Blue tails and Azures,) I spotted a shoal of small chub chasing each other for no apparent reason apart from to entertain me, and more excitingly a large grayling at the tail of one pool rising freely to take what appeared to be caddis flies. It’s huge dorsal fin being the give away sign. No signs of any larger fish, the hopes of a fleeting glimpse of the few resident barbel were extinguished by the high noon sun and the heat (have I mentioned the heat?) The confluence of the rivers was not reachable. I could hear the rapids in the distance calli, but there was no way I was going to burrow through about twenty yards of impenetrable head high nettles, teasels and pollen heavy grass- especially as I hadn’t taken my daily hay fever tablet and I was an extremely hot and sweaty, nettle weary wreck already. It was here that I remembered that I had a flask of iced water in my bag. Better late than never.
Fully replenished, I set about the return leg up the Creedy. the shallows below the weir pool and the pool itself were inaccessible without a scythe or industrial strimmer, but just above the weir there was a small trampled path which led to a large sycamore tree, its branches providing a shady natural umbrella to the slowly flowing waters beneath. I peered into the darkness for several minutes whilst offering a few tempting maggots and corn to any residents but to no avail. Moving upstream I came across a huge flattened out area, about the size of a bivvie, along with a broken v shaped stick rod rest. A positive sign albeit that the swim had obviously been created by a carp angler. Directly opposite was a row of trees and some lilies with deep slow flowing water beneath their branches. Ideal habitat for the carp which inhabit this stretch which apparently get hammered for the first few weeks of the season. Time for cast I thought- I’d been here for over two hours and I hadn’t yet wet a line.
How a rod that was hurriedly disassembled after a last moonlight cast on the Culm back in June can suddenly have a twisted line between rod ringsI shall never know. All I did was put the hook in it’s keeper ring and separate the two sections and securred them with a couple of stolen glittery hair bands from Lily. But after my cast plopped beside the tempting tree and the worms were allowed to do their thing, I realised what had happened. “Sod it” I thought and took a chance. I needn’t have worried, and anyway it gave a couple of damselflies something to laugh about. Feeling slightly better for finally having a cast I wound in and progressed up river. I must have passed a half dozen more bivvie sized pitches, having a cast here and there but to be honest I was just happy checking out a different stretch of water.
Eventually I arrived at the road bridge, the last swim available. Here I trotted baits downstream and each cast bought a fish. Mainly huge minnows which happily devoured a couple of bronze maggots on a size 16 hook. Pausing for a drink I glanced down at the water by my feet; it was teeming with minnows and small chublets. I spent the last half hour feeding a steady stream of maggots to the hordes. Great fun to watch the small fish battling with each other for the wriggly spoils. After a while the small chub started muscling in and the minnows disappeared. At this point it was time to go and meet Lily.
I headed back to the van where I met a fellow angler who informed me of the number of small barbel being caught on the Creedy and the large grayling and roach on the Exe. The field between two rivers and the best of both worlds for an angler like me.
Defied Storm Gareth on my last trip to the Culm this season. Managed to hook and land two substantial branches as they hurtled downstream. One of which put up a superb barbel like fight all the way to the net. Just a tad disappointing; even though it was a personal best branch. Testament to the vintage Dawson’s of Bromley 600 rod and Speedia centrepin reel. The river was still rising as I packed up in the late evening gloom. As I was leaving I saw the comical sight of a very noisy and angry heron trying to negotiate a safe passage across the wind ripped sky. It’s ungainly flightpath took it back across the river, just as a huge roach- the biggest I’ve seen in years, rolled on the surface. It’s these signs of hope that keeps me coming back to this enchanting stretch of river. #culmfisher #traditionalangling #vintagefishing #fishing
I know it’s all my fault. Laziness is not a disease; just a state of mind and as minds go mine is pretty static- unless it’s full of thoughts which are absolutely useless to me or anyone…
I go back to the end of last season- March 14th. I finished work and threw the creel and a couple of rods into the van and headed for the Hele stretch of the Culm. The weather was warm and a few chub even allowed themselves to be fooled by my lurching float and graced my net. No problem so far. The long walk back to the van was periodically broken with stops to note some likely gudgeon swims on the leat and to watch a couple of crows give a buzzard a hard time on their way back to their evening roost. The pasty I had bought to fortify me was waiting on the passenger seat and it was this that I concentrated on whilst stowing away the tackle before sliding the door shut. I shall never forget the sickening snapping sound as the door smashed it’s way through the tip ring and the middle section ferrule of my Dawson’s “Sabina” rod. I once heard a similar sound when playing football for a local team. The visitors were short of a goalie and so their fifty year plus linesman took his place between the sticks. After ten minutes he was in a collision with one of our forwards and a resounding “snap” echoed around the Otter valley. To see the chap calmy smoking a cigarette with his femur sticking out of his skin and happily telling everyone that “it was his own bloody stupid fault,” whilst waiting for the ambulance…i digress.
Staring at my beloved but now shattered Sabina, I was distraught, distraught to the point of losing my appetite. the pasty remained unopened and showed it’s displeasure by sliding around on the seat beside me, the plastic packaging making a hissing noise as if mocking me in my misfortune.
June 16th.. First day back on the river. The close season spent being driven mad by bass ignoring my lures and mullet, well, mullet just doing what they do- infuriate.
The Culm was bright and clear, the bankside full of colour, oh, and nettles filled with venom. I wandered happily along, armed with my other Sabina, Allcocks centrepin, and a pot of worms. The day was good, the fish were few, but natures distractions reminded me of why I go fishing in the first place. Solace.
As the crows headed back to the woods to roost, I had to have my last cast. The swim looked so inviting. A deep run between two weed beds, an ideal place to send a worm for a swim. A gentle flick of the wrist was all that was required. The cast was made, but instead of the “plopping” sound of quill hitting water, I heard nothing. All I could see was my float hanging from a willow branch and the worm dangling tantalisingly a couple of inches above the water.
The river here was quite narrow, infact I could have reached my float with my cane landing net handle and thus release it from it’s woody lair. But no; in my haste I simply pulled hard, the line tightened and I heard the snap as my float and baited hook flew past my face into the field behind…followed by the top four inches of the rod.
I need add no further.