Archive for July, 2018

With Thanks

July 6, 2018

I have enjoyed a most memorable trip to the UK and much of that wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance and good graces of a number of people and organizations. Many people gave of their time and expertise to assist me and organizations which now make accessing river beats on a day ticket basis proved to be a huge plus in arranging a wonderfully diverse angling trip.
All in all I traveled over 1800 miles, fished nine different rivers in Wales, Cornwall, Wiltshire and Devon. I was granted the best of hospitality almost everywhere I went and the cooperation of fellow anglers significantly added to the value of the trip. I am most grateful to everyone who provided me with assistance.

 

In no particular order I would like to thank:

 

The Wye Usk Foundation.

Thanks to Allyson Williams and her team at The Wye Usk Foundation. This remarkable organization makes it not only possible but very easy to arrange fishing for trout, grayling, sea trout and salmon on waters of the Wye and Usk and tributaries. You can get further details from their website and even book water in advance all on-line. This scheme allows for forward booking on beats for specific days and the website indicates availability as well as a host of other information, Newsletters, fishing reports and more..  https://www.wyeuskfoundation.org/

Link to the Fishing Passport Scheme for Wales and the Marches https://www.fishingpassport.co.uk

 

Jane and Richard at Pwllgwilym Holiday Cottages

 

Pwllgwilym Cottages

Pwllgwilym Holiday Cottages proved to be an ideal place to base myself during my time in Wales. I heartily recommend it to anyone wishing to explore this part of the world. Offering both Bed and Breakfast and Self-Catering options it is the perfect spot from which to explore Mid-Wales.
If you are not an angler there is still much to do and see and Richard runs tours exploring many the local places of interest. Wake to the sounds of Red Kites calling to their young; enjoy an amazing breakfast and true Welsh hospitality.
Link to the Pwllgwilym Cottages Web Site http://www.pwllgwilym-cottages.co.uk/

 

Paul Kenyon and Geoff Stephens of Fly Fishing Devon.

Paul Kenyon

Geoff Stephens

Paul and Geoff were generous with their time and hospitality, they know these rivers and the fish that inhabit them better than anyone and if you wish to fish this area you are well advised to be in touch with them for some hands on advice and guiding. There website also hosts a plethora of useful information on flies and fishing, Video clips of trout and sea trout, and downloadable information sheets… a great resource. Link to Fly Fishing Devon Website http://www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/

 

Peter Hayes author of “Fly Fishing Outside the Box”.

Peter Hayes

Peter was a generous host, with no real reason to be, and yet he took the time to meet up with me and arrange for me to fish parts of the Wylye as a guest . I am most appreciative of your efforts Peter, thank you. And those mayflies will be remembered always. As will the discussions on tactics, flies and more. If you have yet to read his book you really should. You can order it from Amazon on the following link. https://www.amazon.com/Fly-Fishing-Outside-Box-Emerging/dp/1904784569

The Westcountry Passport Scheme.

The Westcountry Passport Scheme offers fishing on a varietyof waters throughout the South West

The Westcountry Passport Scheme provides day ticket angling on a variety of waters in the South West. Offering visiting anglers a wide choice of water at modest expense.. This scheme operates on a token basis, with a different number of tokens required depending on the beat fished. Link to West Country Passport Scheme https://westcountryangling.com/?v=68caa8201064

 

The Dartmoor Fishery

Access to a number of sections of river, particularly the East and West Dart, Cherrybrook, Cowsick and Blackabrook streams. Permits are available from a variety of outlets including the Postbridge Post Office, Exeter Angling Centre, Arundel Arms, Two Bridges Hotel, Princetown Stoes and Post Office as well as others.

Paul and Rosie Joynson at the East Dart Hotel.

The East Dart Hotel Postbridge

The second time I have stayed at the East Dart Hotel, a wonderfully central venue to fish the Duchy of Cornwall waters on Dartmoor. I just love the remoteness of this small town and the fact that the river is but a few yards down the road. It was again a pleasure to be there. A great spot if you wish to do some angling or walking on the moor.A lovely pub and great pub grub.

 

My Family:

Of course none of this would have been possible without the assistance and hospitality of my family in both Truro and Bude. It was great catching up with you all and for once enjoying some real summer weather down there in the South of England.

 

You:

The readers and followers of this blog, who have encouraged me to write up the various goings on and adventures during my trip. It is always encouraging to receive positive feedback and I am glad that so many people took the trouble to mention that they had enjoyed the journey with me..  I hope this will encourage you to make plans for your own trip. Either in the UK or elsewhere, because even a weekend away can be good for the soul, particularly a weekend away fishing..

It is probably time to get back to more serious writing about fish and fishing, but it has been a fun journey and I have memories which will last a lifetime.

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Sex with Larger Ladies.

July 6, 2018

 

The diminutive Brown Trout of Devon and Seatrout on the Yealm River.

Having waved my rod at a number of rather pampered fish on the clear waters of the Wylye I was to head South to meet up with Geoff and Paul who specialize in guiding the waters of the Westcountry.  They have been magnanimous hosts in the past, rolling out the red carpet when I call, I have to admit that I have done nothing to dissuade their erroneous interpretation that I am a fly fishing celebrity.. Actually they rather make me feel like one, which is both pleasant and embarrassing in equal measure.

Again, that camaraderie amongst fly fishers comes to the fore, and I can’t tell you how often I have cracked an invitation to fish from the most general inquiry. To be fair, I would like to think that I offer the same and have hosted great anglers and casters in my humble accommodations more than once. It is simply something that fly anglers tend to do and it is a most welcome and joyous celebration of our “oneness”.

For the record, Paul Kenyon and Geoff Stephens run Fly Fish Devon, and offer both tuition and guiding on the rivers of the Westcountry. They are very knowledgeable, particularly with reference to the streams on which they guide and you should look them up if you are in the area or wishing to get some instruction. Fishing these small rivers has a style all of its own and you can learn a lot from these guys.. The link to their website is http://www.flyfishingdevon.co.uk/

So off I set, wending my way down South, the roadways getting larger and larger and then of course smaller and smaller again . Perhaps one can measure the hospitality of people in inverse relationship to the width of their roadways?  Certainly, in my recent experience, the narrower the roads the nicer the people; maybe there is a PhD thesis in there somewhere?

So it was that I booked into the East Dart Hotel in Postbridge, a place pretty much in the middle of nowhere and a hotel in which I had previously stayed, hosted by Rosie and Paul Joynson. Now I really like this hotel, not so much because it is particularly smart, but because it is unpretentious. There were no origami towel rabbits, but there was decent pub grub, a more than adequate breakfast , which I hasten to add I ate with both gusto and a clear conscience. There being no polyvinyl chloride aftermath. The turtles were singing a sigh of relief and I was rapidly climbing the tower of moral superiority after stuffing myself with poached eggs, beans, bacon and sausages.

The Clapper Bridge on the East Dart at Postbridge.

I do have to mention though that I was very keen to give Rosie a “comma” as a present on my departure. The notice in my room read: Well I shall show you.

My mates know me as something of a grammar Nazi pedant when it comes to English, not that I don’t make my own fair share of mistakes. But I was sooooo very tempted to go downstairs and ask Rosie for a towel, suggesting that I had, as instructed, used the one provided to dry my dog..

You will have to forgive me, these things both amuse and annoy me, but I did laugh.

The waters of the East and West Dart were desperately low, and Paul and Geoff advised that I try to fish a bit lower down should I wish to wet a line. I had thought not to , but then watching from the bridge I noticed good numbers of fish , small maybe, but active and interesting to see.

How Small a Trout can you catch without being disappointed? Small brown trout feeding on the East Dart

There was one particularly good fish hiding under some overhanging grass just upstream of the bridge, venturing out from its hidey-hole every now and then to intercept an insect.

As it happens I came across the only two other anglers I met during my stay, relative novices and with apologies I suggested that I may be able to assist them. The first order of business being for one of them to target this large (relatively for this water) trout under the bridge.

Both anglers were called Mark, and that made it easy for me, because I am hopeless with names. So hopeless that I am not entirely sure they weren’t both called “Paul”.. but they were the same, that I remember.

So Mark #1 had a go at the fish below the bridge, spooking it, missing a few tiddlers and then remarkably , and briefly hooking it. I spent perhaps half an hour giving them some advice, which seemed well appreciated, one doesn’t with to foist one’s views on other anglers. And they set off for a night out on the stream. They had apparently stashed their camping gear earlier on in the day.

What a lovely way to fish.

I couldn’t resist and coughed up twelve pounds for a permit to fish what I knew would be for a few hours over tiny fish,  but it was worth it. To date I hadn’t blanked on any river during my stay and wanted to tick off the East Dart, even with a pretty small tick.

I drove a little downstream on the East Dart and fished for perhaps two hours in fading light. The fish were obliging if small and I had a wonderful time. It was quite tricky angling because the water was so low that many plants had grown up in midstream, representing hazards when casting.

John Gierach writes about it this way: “Your stature as an fly fisherman isn’t determined by how big a trout you can catch, but by how small a trout you can catch without being disappointed. “

Apparently then my stature as a fly fisherman grew in leaps and bounds on the East Dart.

East Dart Brown Trout

The next day I was to meet up with Paul Kenyon to fish a section of the Upper Yealm, word was that the water was very low but there were some seatrout in the river.

I met up with Paul after a tortuous and Sat Nav directed drive down the smallest and most serpentine lanes, with the phone declaring at some point that “You have reached your destination” when I knew I had not. But in the end I drove into the pub car park just as Geoff arrived in his Jimny and we were good to go and have a look at the river.

These fish bear spectacular markings

Paul is a real gentleman and despite my protestations refused to carry a rod, (it must be that imaginary and cultivated celebrity status that I have been trying to maintain).

First order of business wasn’t to fish, but to see if we could spot some of the really solid Sea Trout which were languishing in the river waiting for a flood and the opportunity to head further upstream to spawn.

I thought Paul was joking when we started a Monty Pythonesque, slow walk from the middle of the field. The river wasn’t even in sight at that point, but the Sea Trout are so spooky that one has to proceed with extreme caution.

In the end we spotted a few, fascinating things they are, and tricky to see, they barely move, trying to hang on to reserves of energy that they will need to reach the spawning grounds when the rain comes. Fish in a river are tricky to spot at the best of times. Fish that don’t move are near impossible and Paul’s eagle eyes and experience revealed fish that took me minutest to locate.

One can obtain day tickets for the Dutchy Waters from a variety of outlets including the Post Bridge Post Office.

The Sea Trout is an unusual character in that it is exactly the same species as the brown trout which were now fiddling about next to it. They aren’t just cousins but brothers and sisters and Geoff was explaining to me that the Sea Trout have a very positive impact on the brown trout stocks in the river.

Having done some minor on-line research it seems that more female trout head to sea and live an anadromous (migratory) lifestyle. That makes some biological sense as the energy demands on females to produce eggs is far larger than the demand on the males to produce milt (sperm). There doesn’t appear to be any real answer to the question of which trout decide to make the move. There are obviously benefits in terms of better food supply in the ocean and Sea Trout are mostly found in rivers with poor nutrient qualities. But there also great challenges in this migration. It would seem that having essentially two lifestyles within the same species offers some level of protection against a local disaster, where at least some of the stocks are not resident all the time. Of course the larger and better fed females are able to produce a lot more eggs having grown in size, another advantage for the species.

Studies also tend to show that many resident male brown trout will participate in Sea Trout spawning, and it is suggested that those that do are more than likely the progeny of Sea Trout in the first place. Biologically the fish are identical and it appears that there is a sort of continuum where the cross over from Trout to Sea Trout is in a constant state of flux.

It is though thought, that the Sea Trout females make a significant contribution to Brown Trout stocks, which as Paul pointed out, makes it all the more important that returning female Sea Trout are released.

Sea Trout, are simply brown trout which venture out into the ocean in search of better pickings, the original economic migrants if you will. But they have to return to their home stream to breed. Given that they are the same species and that , according to Geoff, the majority of the returning Sea  Trout are female, the local diminutive brown trout males have the opportunity to fertilize eggs from the female Sea Trout. In effect then they wait around for the opportunity to have sex with larger ladies. These diminutive trout who spawn with the large female Sea Trout are apparently referred to as “Precocious Parr”

As a slight aside in his book “Fish that Fake Orgasms, and other zoological curiosities” (St Martins Press: ISBN 978-0-312-37116-6), Matt Walker describes how Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta) and therefore quite possibly Sea Trout fake orgasms. By gaping and faking it they get males to ejaculate prematurely , thinking that they have successfully mated and then the female will move off to look for a better suitor. So maybe those precocious parr are being duped at least some of the time.. an interesting thought.

Some unremarkable footage of me making a hash of things and some wonderful stuff trying to spot Sea Trout in the river. Paul and Geoff are passionate about these fish and their survival and I can clearly understand why. (The last fish caught was successfully released, but with fading light and not wishing to harm the trout I called it a day)

 

It is an interesting evolutionary construct, with some of the population out of the river , they are protected from freak occurrences which may otherwise wipe them out. Essentially the Sea Trout/Brown Trout complex is the absolute epitome of the biological “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” survival strategy.

So we crept up and were able to see some massive (by trout standards) fish lying low in the stream, they are incredibly tricky to locate, with no movement to give them away. Mind you a missed step or a waved arm and the massive bow wave of “something” tells you that you missed your chance.

In the end I couldn’t resist the temptation to wet a line and catch a trout, I had managed not to blank on any stretch I had fished to date, this was the final hurdle.  I didn’t care how small the fish was, and I didn’t’ wish to disturb the Sea Trout. So I caught a small brown trout and we headed back for a delightful supper in Paul’s garden.

After a most pleasant meal, under the watchful eye of Paul’s most lovely and generous Irish spouse,  we returned to the river. Geoff met up with us and we watched a few more Sea Trout before I let loose on the local brownies. They are tricky to hook but I caught a few and in the end I suggested to Paul that I should stop. The last fish of the day was hooked well back in the mouth and I struggled in the failing light to release it without harm. I figured that it was time. I didn’t wish to hurt any fish and I had caught enough.

We stood in the river, watching the bow waves of the now more active seatrout for a while and I simply marveled at the wonders of the natural world. That is what fly fishing gives me, peace, friendships, and a ringside seat to some of the most wondrous goings on on the planet.  I had my last cast of this trip on the Yealm , with Paul taking video, the Sea Trout waking up, and the songbirds singing a farewell. What better way to spend an evening?

 

Fishing with Angels

July 4, 2018

Fishing with Angels, two evenings on the Wiltshire Wylye.

After all of the hustle and bustle of travelling down from Wales I was finally in the green and pastoral lands of Wiltshire, on the banks of the River Wylye with fly fishing guru and author Peter Hayes. There had been no rush to get out on the river, the evenings are uncommonly long, it was just past summer solstice and one can fish well past ten o’clock at night.

So we enjoyed a beer in the river gardens of the Swan Inn and discussed our thoughts on fly fishing and fly tying, on presentation and such , as two fly anglers from different hemispheres and with a divergent experience of our sport are want to do.

Peter is to my mind a true fly fisher, I don’t mean that he casts that well, I am sure that he would tell you that he doesn’t. However he exhibits that most crucial of all traits of good fly fishermen everywhere, Peter has an uncommonly inquiring mind, and challenges everything known or thought to be known about our sport.

I like that, I don’t always agree with Peter’s hypotheses and I am equally sure that he would respect that I don’t. Perhaps in this day and age people have lost the distinction between discussion and argument. What we did is discuss things, even if in disagreement, and that is a most valuable tool to the angler, and more than likely pretty useful to everyone else if they could get the hang of it.

Peter Hayes, practicing camouflage or maybe just having a quite sit down.

The commonality doesn’t grow from agreement, the agreement, if there is such a thing, stems from the desire to question, to query, to wonder if what you have been told is indeed measurably true. It turns out that in fly fishing, and one suspects much else, it isn’t.

The idea isn’t necessarily to be right, but to challenge common thinking, to question what has become the norm and if you have yet to read his excellent book “Fly Fishing Outside the Box” well you should. If you are a dyed in the wool “Match the Hatch”, “Dry Fly Only” ,  Halfordian disciple you may find the journey a tad disturbing, but I assure you that you will relish the thought processes that go with it. The simple act of questioning some norms will be beneficial in and of itself.

Peter Hayes’ thought provoking book, well worth a read.

So we chewed the piscatorial fat for a while, watched a few rises on the Swan Inn stretch of the Wylye and then headed out to visit a feeder of the main river.

Compared to the rugged aspect of the Welsh rivers with their slippery bed rock and overhanging trees the Wylye is a verdant if rapidly flowing stream of some distinction. The section we fished is I believe what is referred to as “lightly keepered”. That means that minimal effort is made to make things overly easy, one will find overhanging branches, nettles, deep holes and un-mown banks. But it isn’t quite the raw wilderness experience of the valleys of Cymru. Indeed the section I fished on the second evening had me casting at the bottom of various gardens, the backcast more inhibited by sun loungers than branches. That said once you are in the river, it isn’t quite such an easy thing to get back out and if one wishes to progress without scaring all the fish stealth is a prerequisite.  The feeder was of moderate width, with a few overhanging trees, of crystal clarity and it was obvious from the get go that the hot , (remarkably so based on yearly averages)  weather had affected the fish. They weren’t keen to engage, things were a bit too warm and a bit too bright and they were having little to do with our machinations. Peter landed a few small trout and I was , in time, able to land one small brown trout and a chub. A new species for me so the exercise wasn’t wasted.

This short video clip is really to illustrate the speed of the current and the clarity of the water.

What really was apparent, as a chalk stream neophyte, was that, although the flows appear tranquil, the weed beds throw up complex surface currents and the water is moving a lot faster than you may imagine. Peter’s assertion is that what you really want is slack in your leader; well you can’t argue about it. Interestingly we both recognize the value of that slack and we both achieve it in rather different ways. So there is more than one way to skin a cat, or to add slack to your leader. Interestingly Peter uses a clear floating polyleader as the base for his leader, one can argue if this is a leader or a line extension, but from what I saw it worked quite well, food for thought.

The fishing was however slow and Peter had to return home, leaving me to experiment on stream alone. The rises never really got going despite the hatching of a reasonable number of late blooming Ephemera Danica.

Peter Hayes targets a rising fish on the Wylye

Even for the non-angler, the Mayfly, Ephemera Danica, is really something quite spectacular. The nymphs live in the river for two years and then, at some preordained moment, hatch from a watery existence into adulthood. Breaking through prison bars of surface tension, dodging the preying eyes of trout and chaffinches to finally take flight and rise into the sky. I have to wonder that if we are so smart, how come it takes us years to learn to walk and more to ride a bicycle, but mayflies, having never felt a breeze or breathed air manage to master flight within seconds. Watching any ephemerids hatch is fascinating, but to see these massive insects rise up from the water, glowing as they are backlit by a setting sun.  Well to me it looks like one is watching angels being born.

Remarkably these sub adults (Dun or Sub-imago) still have a final trick up their sleeves, (a gross chunk of poetic license because I doubt that they have sleeves at all).

They then shed another layer of skin, including the surface of their eyeballs and emerge quite remarkably with longer tails and legs. It really is something of a magic trick, as though having pulled a rabbit out of a hat one then removes its skin to reveal a bigger rabbit.

All this fuss, the emergence from the water, the shedding of the skin, and the dodging of predators both in the water and the sky has one single purpose…………………………………sex. I suppose that if you had to set your sights on something, that wouldn’t be a bad goal to have.

Having spent all this time underwater, building reserves the hatched mayfly has no mouthparts and is unable to feed or drink. Timing is everything, put bluntly you have less than 24 hours to find a partner and get it on before you run out of petrol.  Arrive late at the party and it will all be for naught. And you thought that your end of school dance was high pressure.

For those who have never witnessed the true mayfly this video courtesy of FishOn productions.

As things turn out, a lot of this effort is for naught, numbers of insects are consumed by the fish in the river. Not just trout, but chubb and dace too. Then there are the chaffinches which sat on the backside reeds and simply waited. As soon as a fly would light up in the sunshine a chaffinch would swoop across the water to consume it. If real mayflies are angels, then, from my observations there must be a profusion of chaffinches in hell. One began to wonder if any flies actually made it to the relative safety of the bank side vegetation.

Peter Hayes with a fly caught dace on the Wylye.

So it was that I headed to bed only to return to a beat slightly lower down the same feeder stream the following afternoon. Having now had some time to get used to the different demands of this type of fishing I fared better, perhaps though the fish were just more in the mood . I took a number of trout one or two of pretty fair size despite it still being hot and bright. In the end I took a break and resolved to head out again in the late evening.

Back on the same stretch and now in fading light the river started to come alive and I was most pleased to see that those mayflies which had survived the trials of hatching were now hovering over the river in moderate clouds. The spinners are simply spectacularly beautiful, the duns are impressive but the spinners seem to glow, as though having hatched as angels they have now been awarded their halos.

One of my better fish on the Wylye, this one taken on a Spun Dun

I was so desperate to try to get a photo of these insects that I inadvertently drowned my phone by dropping it into the Wylye, plus I never actually got a good shot. The phone survived after some gentle coaxing. I figure that if one is to drown a phone a slip into an English Chalkstream is somehow more elegant than losing one down the loo, even a loo with ornately folded toilet tissue on hand.

Thankfully, although not mandatory, catch and release has become the norm on this water.

So there it was, my second ever adventure on a genuine chalk stream, my second ever experience of Ephemira Danica in the flesh and my first ever of the spinners on the wing. It just reinforces the notion that fishing isn’t really that much about the fish. The wonders one sees whilst hiking into or standing in a river are just spectacular, the flowers, the kingfishers, the otters, the mayflies. Not of course to ignore the sense of belonging that comes from such open invitations to fish from the likes of Peter and later on in the trip Geoff and Paul on the Yealm. Fly Anglers are blessed with this sort of bonhomie, it seems to stand out against the backdrop of the day to day “dog eat dog” scarce resource mentality of the masses. I am, and will remain, most grateful to all the wonderful people I have met through fly fishing. So I stood a last moment in the stream, slightly leaking waders adding to the slight chill of late evening, the light fading and the smell of new mown grass and meadow sweet in my nostrils I felt more relaxed than I had in ages,  I beats the hell out of therapy and even on a chalk stream is probably less expensive.

A Journey to Stoford

July 3, 2018

A journey to the Swan at Stoford.

Having delayed my departure for one more, most welcome, breakfast at Pwllgwilym Cottages and a last taste of generous Welsh hospitality I was to head West, to Wiltshire and the River Wylye at the invitation of Peter Hayes.

I was most thankful for the Sat Nav on the phone once again, the road system certainly flows well and most routes direct one around rather than through towns, speeding things up and avoiding congestion. The only trouble is that the free flow is achieved primarily by use of multiple roundabouts, large and small, often in combination. The sensation of listening to a phone message of “at the next roundabout take the 3rd  exit A4042”,………… “at the next roundabout continue straight on the A 4042” ……… at the next roundabout”…………..demands a level of concentration hard to muster after a week of endlessly enjoyable angling.  I don’t remember being that dizzy since a fling on the “octopus” at the local fair when seven years old.

After a succession of roundabouts, major and mini ones, the driver  is completely disorientated, without any sense of direction and the dreaded voice suggesting“GPS signal lost” is sufficient to induce raw panic. The trip took me off the grid of my Mid Wales map so there was no point of reference and one had to simply “follow one’s nose” in the racing commuter traffic until one could safely pull over, swear at the phone and reset one’s internal compass .

Further: it seems that in some act of defiance the road signs fail to mention that you may or may not be headed towards Bristol until such time that the Severn Bridge is virtually in sight. Given that you basically have to go over that bridge and that at the other end of it lies the metropolis of Bristol one would imagine it made sense to label the route as such far earlienr on. Hell, you can find a sign providing directions to the next opportunity to enjoy a “Cream Tea” that is 50 miles away, but an impressive feat of engineering (The Severn Bridge spanning miles of estuary) or indeed the city of Bristol with its near half a million inhabitants, well those go unmentioned.

Never mind, after a few minutes of panic and convinced I was now heading in the wrong direction the signposts finally said Bristol and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The Severn Bridge, a pretty piece of engineering, apparently doesn’t warrant a sign post to tell you you are heading for it.

It is an interesting aside that you pay no toll fees to use the bridge heading out of Wales, but do when traveling West into Wales. Given that the toll booths are on the Welsh side of the river one might conclude that the Welsh are not that keen for you to visit (toll payable) and are quite happy to see one leave (free exit)..

The alternative explanation is that the English are afraid you may find out how lovely Wales is and therefore provide a disincentive to visit and a financial inducement (no fees) to return East.

Given my wonderful break I would happily part with five quid to go back and the free ride on the way out did nothing to ameliorate my sadness at my departure. I just loved Wales, the people, the countryside, the friendliness and the fishing. The Wye/Usk foundation make an amazing variety of water available to the public and the place, to me at least, is a fly fishing paradise.

The Severn Bridge, completed in 1996 is over five kilometers long, and impressive as this feat of engineering is, the best part of it is that you drive for five thousand metres without coming face to face with a bloody roundabout.

I was now speeding through the countryside towards Salisbury and the manicured hills of Wiltshire, entirely different to the rough ground of Mid Wales. Even the sheep looked warmer.

I found the town of Stobridge, without too much difficulty, the Swan Inn, where I had booked, was right on the main road, which made it hard to miss. I was to find that this convenience came at a price. Trucks, whizzing to destinations around Salisbury, roared past my bedroom window at all hours.

Now the Swan Inn has a riverside garden right next to the Wylye River and before even attempting to book in I couldn’t resist the temptation to view the stream and see if I could spot some fish.

My very first view of the Wyle River , grass cutting upstream meant we would have to fish a feeder but the cut weed gives one some idea of the speed of the flows.

I had been warned by Peter that there was weed cutting progressing upstream, and sure enough clumps of long riverine weed were barreling down the stream and catching around the bridge supports. Despite this I spotted a few fish rising occasionally, I couldn’t tell if they were trout or grayling, but they were rising. Unless one has witnessed it, it is hard to imagine how fast these streams are flowing, they look quite tranquil in still images but the water is in fact whipping downstream at a rate of knots.

Anyway, time to book in, cart heavy bags up narrow stairs and prepare for my first trip on the Wylye and only my second ever fishing on a genuine Chalk Stream. (I had some years back fished the Piddle in Dorset under kind invitation of Tony King).

There is, to my mind, something a bit odd about the Swan Inn. A sort of mismatch of ideologies if you will. For example: The towels were cleverly arranged on the bed, twisted and folded like a clown’s balloons and fashioned into what I took to be two rabbits. (Perhaps they don’t know how to make towel origami Swans).

Toweling rabbit, as if chambermaids don’t have enough on their plate

In the bathroom, the end of the toilet roll was folded in the most complex fashion I have ever witnessed, the attention to detail impressive but perhaps overly ornate given the utilitarian purpose of loo roll. It did however provide some entertainment during morning ablutions to see if one could replicate this complex “fan in pocket” origami construction. Having mastered the art I set about reconstructing the folds with elaborate precision during each bathroom break. I have to admit that I approached morning ablutions with a degree of trepidation, always fearing that I may interrupt some wizened , graying , wall-eyed oriental, whose job it was to fold the toilet tissue.

The origami fan loo roll, which I mastered during early morning ablutions. Perhaps overkill for a country hotel?

Come to think of it, if the chamber maid had really been paying attention, she would have left some Brooklax on the coffee tray, as by now, based on the evidence before her, the roll apparently undisturbed and the origami in pristine condition, I should have been in a state of some discomfort.

So whilst these little details smacked of a level of service well above that expected of a country hotel, there were disparities in other areas. For example the room only had the most flimsy plastic glasses and the most utilitarian, boring and heavy coffee cups. I dislike drinking whisky out of plastic as much as I do drinking coffee out of thick and heavy “Sunday School” cups.  Pwllgwilym by comparision boasted Portmeirion breakfast crockery.

As a further indication of lack of detail in some areas, the hotel boasts a section of the River Wylye, which its guests may fish, given the correct license in hand. It however makes no mention in the welcome pack of fly fishing and I couldn’t locate anyone who could exactly tell me where the beat started and ended. In these parts, the waters are jealously guarded and it wouldn’t do to venture onto the wrong piece. So here, to my mind a serious lack of attention to detail. Also one reason why I never tested the “hotel section” which may or may not extend to the end of the car park or indeed the adjacent field, you guess would be as good as mine.

This dichotomy between standards seemed to plague the place.

In the bathroom adhered to the tiles was the following notice:

 

The offending/offensive notice, to be fair, not unique to the Swan, but a near ubiquitous adornment on hotel bathroom walls throughout the country.

I would like to think that I am an environmentally friendly kind of guy, but it seems more than a little disingenuous to have such a notice plastered on the bathroom tiles, when the room sports three (crappy) plastic glasses, two in the room and one in the bathroom, all three,  I hasten to add, hermetically sealed in their own plastic wrapper.

Then on top of that, at breakfast: the Tomato, HP, and other sauces all come in prepacked tear and squeeze individual dispensers. The jams, all in little plastic pots as with the butter. By the time I had eaten my “traditional English Breakfast” and reviewed the Polyethylene Terephthalate, Polyvinyl Chloride, and Polyethylene carnage left on my plate I felt personally responsible for the death of at least a dozen baby turtles somewhere out there in the deep blue. Sufficiently depressing to have one contemplating ritual seppuku with a plastic butter knife. Let’s not be too unfair,  I should point out that in an act of selfless, environmental magnanimity the straws in the bar are paper. (Can I hear a chorus of newborn reptiles cheering “Hooray” on a beach somewhere?)

The plastic pollution carnage of what is billed as a “traditional English Breakfast”,traditional obviously being post plastic invention.

So personally I would rather people stop pretending that their laundry efforts have anything to do with the environment. I should be at least as likely, if not more so, to assist, if I wasn’t being treated like an idiot.

It would have been preferable, to my mind, to see a sign that read something like this:

Dear Guest

BATH AND HAND TOWELS

Listen, we realize that you are on holiday and don’t have to do the washing, so the temptation to be a loathsome slob and fling wet towels all over the bathroom floor may seem overwhelming.

However our overworked and underpaid staff have to pick up and launder all your shit and that ultimately pushes up the price of your stay.

So please, just treat the towels and the rest of the room in the same manner as you would treat your own home. We already have two chamber maids and a laundryman on sick leave with PTSD as a result of the horrors they have endured when sliding open the bathroom doors of dozens of rooms.

Our one staff member can no longer open a door unless someone is holding her hand, she is in therapy.

Please be considerate, it saves us money, saves you costs and might even do some good for a baby turtle

With thanks Management.

Now if I saw that on the wall I would go a week drying myself off with the same musty, postage stamp sized piece of toweling, if only because I thought the management had a sense of humour.

But please, don’t treat me like some moron who doesn’t know that you are just trying to cut costs and using an environmental theme to mask the purely economic motivation. Just tell me that it costs too much to wash clean towels, I could accept that.

So I dismembered one of the toweling origami rabbits, had a shower , dried off and carefully replaced said , previously rabbit shaped toweling back onto the rail, and then it was time to meet up with Peter Hayes, author of a most thought provoking book “Fly Fishing Outside the Box”..and wetting a line on to the Wylye. There may be some weed about, but thankfully not a lot of plastic.