Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Living the dream

The build up to the big day is like no other - well, maybe Christmas, for I have the same feelings and likings at both times of the year. The Glorious Sixteenth is such a day in the traditional anglers year. Plans laid down, tackle accumulated, cakes made and my dreams will hopefully become reality.

As regular readers will know, my season starts as it always has done. Same place, same friends, same old, same old - I wouldn't have it any other way. My pal Demus said many years ago on opening day "we are living the dream, enjoy it, for it may not last". I know what he meant, we were living the dream and thankfully we still are, but as always on opening day I think of those who are no longer with us and who enjoyed these days so much. Never forgotten.

Whisky toasts are made at midnight, the magnificent rocket is launched to many an ooh and aahh and we laugh like naughty school the dream.

The tools of our trade are quill floats and all home made affairs. Each one has a story and as each season passes more stories get added. Our bait is simple. Like our floats, our group grows older each year, but our love of these most special times grows ever bigger in our fisherman hearts. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The path east....

It's been a bit of a slog over the last few weeks. I was carving a really good groove with my walking and then disaster struck as I put my back out - the quack noticed my embarrassment as I was told another "person of your age" did the same picking up a sandwich and I have since heard an acquaintance did it playing chess. Life in the fast lane eh? I didn't have time to fib massively and say something manly like it was changing a tractor engine, building a garden shack or lifting sacks of cement - I meekly mentioned to the quack I was giving very important cuddles to one of my terriers. Oh dear.

No walking, drugged up to the gunwales and no alcohol for over three weeks with a recovery in six weeks meant taking it easy. This is hard when you have found something that makes you feel so alive and is physical requiring footfalls over rough terrain. 

After three weeks I just had to get out, so pain killers taken, walking pole in hand I tentatively set out for a short dawn walk east.

It was one of those mornings that makes you think it really was worth the effort creeping out into the mist and hush......I puffed like a grampus going up the slope, eventually above the mist and into glorious stillness. My favourite sunrise over Eggardon was the perfect tonic coupled with a cacophony of bird song.

The short walk turned into a six mile one just to satisfy my addiction - it worked, although a dull ache proved I had been pushing things. It was worth it. The views up top felt like I was on top of the world and other than a few roe deer there were no other stirrings - even the dawn chorus seemed quieter.

My route left a pioneering trail in the morning dew and on returning home I realised I was not the only one walking that route. The cocktail of fox, deer and badger piss on my trousers was just too much - a small price to pay I guess!       

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The mighty radish

I dread to think how many posts I have done over the years about my radish obsession - apologies, here we go again!

Like the turning of the seasons, the comings and goings of birds my radish season is something I eagerly await. Succession sowing means they come thick and fast now. I'll keep going until very late in the summer and, luckily for me, I'm the only one at Straker Towers who likes them! 

Monday, 12 June 2017

No nesting here!

This tree caught me out for a while. Always a landmark on my journey heading towards Cranborne Chase, it never appeared to move in the wind - any wind. Even in the most violent of gales its branches would remain still.

I parked up by it a few years ago for a closer inspection and all was revealed - almost hoodwinked, just like a Tory Party manifesto.

Thursday, 8 June 2017


Worthy of three pictures to show the detail - I was both delighted and saddened to find this after the blustery winds and rain of the last few days. A work of art. Lichen, moss, sheep wool and dog fur. A wren perhaps? Looks cosy in there, wouldn't mind a snooze in there myself.......wonder where all the previous occupants are now? 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Rogers & Strong

To say I was chuffed to bits with these two beauties is an understatement. Found whilst walking ankle deep in a Purbeck Stream after trout they will soon be cleaned and displayed in the shed.

I don't know a great deal about either - Rogers of Bristol (the larger of the two) is from the old brewery of Old Market in the city. Strong's of Romsey and Wareham is equally intriguing. I know of the old brewery in Romsey but did not realise they had a brewery in Wareham - more research required.

Rogers and Strong has a good feel about it - much like Flanders and Swann, Monk and Canatella and Flanagan and Allen don't you think? Yet again I will get my coat.

Friday, 19 May 2017

The path west...

To get my fix and have the all round feeling of being alive I have been setting out early. I leave between 04:00 and 04:30 - I have been up and off, treading the route which gives me not only the feeling of great accomplishment when I return to a still sleeping house, but keeps me in everyones good books. With a young family my indulgence has no impact on anyone. Only me.

My route is a familiar one - I have no specific location to head for but it usually is to one of two places. The dark and sunken lanes to the west or the ridge to the east. Both are as good as each other and offer a different vista so I just go where my boots take me.

I do prefer the route westwards. The birdsong is louder here and in the deep lanes, made famous by Geoffrey Household in his superb book Rogue Male, it's easy for my mind to wander. All my best plans and lists are made in these early dawn moments and usually they are coupled by some of my most memorable wildlife spots. It's that moment at the edge of night and day when nocturnals, like Household's hero, are returning back to their hole.

Parts of this route were undoubtedly carved by Household himself. The Monarchs Way passes the rear of our house and our hero, when on the run, may have passed here when returning from Eggardon to the deep and hollow lanes west.  

The loudest bird at this hour is most definitely the blackbird, its song reverberates in deep lanes thirty feet below where he sings - there is not an ounce of melancholy in these lanes with such a tuneful and melodic soundtrack, it puts an extra spring in my step.

I time my arrival at a high point as the first proper light arrives, a swig from my water flask, maybe an apple and I continue....just giving myself enough time to still get home before anyone else is about and the joy of sipping my first mug of tea watching the final moments of the day waking up whilst most of the town still sleeps.  

Monday, 15 May 2017

Market Finds No 24

You will return one more to the bank of lake and river- who can resist a market find such as this? Less than the price of a Dorset pint and this reel, I would imagine, has a tale or two to tell. A bit of TLC in the Straker Tackle Shed and it will be purring once more!  

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

West Bay then and now

West Bay - John Piper
It pleases me to report that not a lot has changed at West Bay, the Briport Harbour where our beloved River Brit flows into the sea, since John Piper took the above picture. It's hard to pin a date on it, but I would think it was around the time he was photographing for the Shell Guide series of books - circa 1950's perhaps?

West Bay - Today

Friday, 5 May 2017

Meet on the ledge

I was excited and dreading these few days away on the South Downs in equal measures. Excited as it was going to be my first long distance walk totally self sufficient and carrying my gear for all eventualities and sleeping out wild as I walked west to east.

The dreading part, I guess, was because there was going to be absolutely no possibility of pulling out - I had a place to be. A place to navigate to and I had to be there for a certain time.

I had made a pact. For the last twelve months I had known I would be here as it was arranged, agreed on, hands shaken, embraced and promise made. If you do that you can't go back. Especially if it's your closest friend and as the plan is made he looks at you, deep into your eyes and says "promise me you will be there son, I will be and you will know that I am there too" - I agreed. My dearest friend passed away in the dark days of January and it has been difficult for everyone - hard to move on and shake the sadness. I found a note that had been written to me, again it pressed the point in the loveliest manner that I had to be at our meeting point. It closed with see you there.

For the first time in months my mood had lightened as I climbed the first killer incline of the day - it was as if every weight had been lifted from me and I was soaring like the skylarks around me. I cried, screamed and laughed at the same time - it was as if I had found something, found the activity that helps me to move on. Not only in walking terms but in my life. The lines you carve walking are good for you. You hear, notice, plan and think - you also remember and that was what this pilgrimage was all about.

My destination was nearly two days walk away, so I had plenty of time to think and remember times past - I was not alone as I know I had a shadow, a presence alongside me which was not only keeping me company but gently motivating me to keep going, keep plodding - you will understand it told me, you will see what all this is about and it will make your life better both now and in the future.

A magical night under the stars is something I am used to at remote ancient pools whilst fishing, but up here looking to the North Downs it sparkled. At times it felt like I was the only man alive.......the last man standing.

I reached Chanctonbury Ring knowing little of its history. My friend had camped here in 2007 and we talked often about the power this place seems to have. Also, the vista is special, you can see it from some way away and it sort of pounces on you as you get close.

This was indeed our meeting place.

I arrived early, for it was here where I was to camp, but carried on and decided to come back later in the day. It was busy and even with many day walkers about when I walked up onto and into the ring it felt like a veil came down over the place - I didn't feel uneasy but there was a feeling I was being watched. I noticed straight away that no birds sang here, they did in the neighbouring trees, but not here. I continued to the River Adur and thought no more of it.

I returned later in the day, water replenished and feeling weary as now the wind had got much colder and the rain was heavy at times. As I returned to Chanctonbury I was pleased to see it virtually deserted. I walked around and found the place which I thought would not only give me the best view of sunrise but also give me the clearest view of the path ahead as it curled eastwards. A slight dip on the ring was adequate for my back-packers tent and offered slight comfort from the ever increasing wind.

As the day shortened to evening I brewed some tea, said some words to the trees and decided to see what the night would bring. The evening reminded me very much of my worst weather experience fishing at the Wizard's Cauldron a deeply haunted place that I have written about here before.

The noise of the wind was incredible with driving rain of such force I was glad of my shelter, sleeping bag and hip flask. At 2am the wind and rain suddenly stopped - a Tawny Owl hooted in the tree just behind my tent - this was followed by a shriek heading from the trees out of the ring into open land and away from the ring. The wind and rain started up again, I sipped from my flask, looked at pictures of my friend and I knew he was here - I felt I was being protected. 

They say the veil is at its thinnest on this night as it is on all hallows' eve and midsummer's eve, but not once did I feel concerned, just aware that I was not alone - being watched and now possibly protected.

Dawn came and the weather departed. Still alone I walked the ring, spoke to my friend, the trees and welcomed in the first day of May. I felt all was well and getting better - a promise kept, a meeting had taken place and a journey of discovery was ahead of me.

The Chancontbury Morris Men arrived as they have always done on this morning. A quite delightful and moving experience to welcome this most special day. As they departed I lifted my pack to my back and left this place..........knowing in some ways that I may not ever return for I have my memories and I had kept my promise.   

My good friend Demus picked me up and took me for breakfast which was a most pleasurable end to my trip - he then told me a story I had not known. I have the book by Robert Macfarlane (The Old Ways), but it is still some way down in my reading pile. Demus told me if I had read his chapter on Chanctonbury Ring I may not have seen my journey through to its end. I'll let you discover that story for yourself, but my friend was both shocked and amazed to see what I had found at sunrise on May Day.

The stone you see below, complete with perfect hole, was left just outside my tent. It was not there as I arrived, it appeared during the night. Such a stone is known to bring you luck and protection. In Sussex they are known as Hag Stones, Witches Amulets, Fairy Stones or Odin Stones. The stone is exactly the sort as found at the ring, but rare with natural hole.

I was glad I had made my journey to this place and whatever happened that night I know it was meant to be.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Escape from Alcatraz?

We have been on RED ALERT here at Straker Towers - I noticed a chirping behind the fishing shed and soon realised a Blackbird had made an impressive nest in a quiet and cosy space. Three to four young were about to leave the nest and the Corvids were circling. These opportunists would pick off the young at any given moment so a barricade was put up at the one end.

This did not stop them on their first forays out of the nest - a terrible commotion as Border Terriers aka the border patrol were watching the Ravens, Rooks and Crows decided enough was enough - this is our manor so enter at your peril. There is a slightly charged atmosphere.

No casualties as yet, I hope. But of course the two BT's are now aware of the comings and goings behind the shed and are patrolling here as well - it's hard work keeping the peace. Especially as Mr & Mrs Blackbird appear to be thinking about brood number two already. I'll keep you posted.