A trip down memory lane part two:
The idea was to encourage mother to venture out a bit, she is a pretty sharp 89 year old but gave up her car a year or two back. In much of England and in particular the rural South West, loss of one’s own vehicle is about far more than giving up four wheels and an engine, it represents in reality a significant loss of independence.
Without a vehicle mother’s travels have to be structured around the vagaries of an irregular bus service although on occasion she can join organized “coach trips” . These ventures of questionable value are generally organized by “Friends of the Aged” or some such organization and tend as best I can tell to focus on shopping centres and cream teas. If one is particularly unfortunate there may well be a collection of garden gnomes and a children’s petting zoo thrown in for good measure.
I have never been entirely sure why such things should be imagined to be fun for the over eighties but with these sorts of trips one is shackled to the world view of the organizer. So it’s garden gnomes and budget shopping or stay at home and watch another re-run of Coronation Street.
Anyway, the point was to get out and about, mother in tow, and in this particular instance provide her with some choice as to the direction and indeed final destination. So it was that I decided a reasonable ruse was to suggest that I would like to revisit some of the places I used to fish as a child.
Near at hand, just down the road in fact was “Black Bridge” A now disused railway bridge of massive metal girders and rivets, painted as you may well imagine pitch black and spanning the modest flows of the River Neat. The train tracks were dug up years ago and trains don’t venture much further south than Exeter these days, mind you it is more than likely that mother crossed that very same bridge at the start of her honeymoon some sixty odd years back. Difficult to believe that people used to board a train to go on honeymoon. Actually difficult to believe that anyone residing in the UK would go to London on honeymoon either for that matter.
It was at this precise location, underneath the railway bridge that I once hooked and landed the biggest eel of my fishing career, not perhaps much of a milestone looking back but of considerable import to a youngster whose fishing abilities were only marginally better than his rudimentary tackle. As I recall that eel was taken with a ball of cheddar cheese as bait, in current economic times I doubt many would use something quite so pricey. If you are of sufficient financial means to use cheese to catch eels and want to try it, I remember that the key is to dip the molded cheese, hook contained within, back into the water for a minute or two before casting it out. Without this minor but critical adaptation you will likely see the hook fly one way whilst your lovingly fashioned and overly expensive fromage heads off at a tangent to your desired target. Black Bridge however is close enough for mater to reach on her mobility scooter and thus was not due to be part of our Grand Tour.
Mother doing her impression of Sting (Ace Face) in Quadrophenia, well a bit slower.
As an aside, mobility scooters appear to be all the rage in the UK, they obviously provide useful independence and transport for the aged and infirm and as best I can tell an equally significant number of the terminally obese or abjectly lazy. Indeed disability scooters now come in all shapes and sizes and a variety of racy colour schemes including metal flake finish, although I can’t see that that makes them go any faster.
In a country where “taking offense” appears to be something of a national pastime I was surprised to see the speed controls on mother’s own version clearly labelled with a picture of a tortoise and a hare, to indicated slow or fast. Perhaps the manufactures should consider that people like my mother are elderly and perhaps moderately infirm but not brain dead. The woman managed to negotiate the twists and turns of the English countryside in a motor vehicle for decades without serious incident, she is still more than capable of feeding and clothing herself, she still manages keep fit and sewing classes and has been known to attend the occasional “computer course”. To imagine that she is so retarded that she needs kiddy like hieroglyphics to tell her which way to turn the speed dial is to be quite frank, a serious affront, so yes, I am offended. More to the point, anyone so thick as to require juvenile graphics in place of a speedo really shouldn’t be astride any sort of motorized transport in a public place.
Still I digress, aiming for locations out of reach of walking sticks and mobility scooters we set off on something of a treasure hunt, hoping to locate a large viaduct under which I regularly fished as a youngster. Of course we would in those days follow the river upstream, casting spinners in the early years and later flies at the resident brown trout. Now the plan was to find the viaduct by driving the country lanes, with only a vague forty year old recollection of its actual location.
You wouldn’t think that you would be able to miss a viaduct that is several stories high but we struggled to find it. Those lush high hedges not helping matters and generally blocking the view much of the time. We wended our way up and down country lanes, meandering in what one might describe oxymoronically as a state of aimless focus, without success. Eventually we took a pass through Bridgerule, another fishing haunt of my past where in those days the fishing was controlled by the Bude Angling Association, now there are “Private Fishing” notices on the gates so perhaps it has, like much else, been bought up by recent immigrants for their exclusive entertainment. Bridgerule lies astride the mighty River Tamar. Mighty it may well be lower down its course, but at this point one could probably jump over it in parts. Don’t let the size of the stream fool you, not only does it boast runs of sea trout and salmon it has considerable significance as a county border.
This unassuming and rather murky piece of river has considerable significance, both to the people of Corwall and my fishing history.. it is the Tamar River at Bridgerule.
It was just here that I remember catching a lovely brown trout on a Black Pennel, swung downstream through a beautifully fishy looking glide that curves around a corner just below the old stone bridge. I was only about thirteen years old, accessed the waters via lengthy rides on my bright red bicycle and as a bonefide novice I had yet to adopt the snobbery of dry fly purism. Not only that, and although I don’t recall exactly, it is more than likely that I ate that trout, pan fried with brown bread and butter. A lot has changed in forty odd years.
In yet another aside Bridgerule is something of an oddity in that the village lies on both sides of the Tamar such that essentially half the residents should be Cornish and the others Devonian, occupants of what was once known as West Bridgerule and East Bridgerule. To appreciate the foolishness of this nomenclature one needs to understand that you could spit and hit East Bridgerule from the Western side of the hamlet, given good lungs and a following wind. Up until 1844 those from the West were Cornish, but then parish boundaries were redrawn and the entire town became part of Devon. It may not appear that significant but in these parts the Tamar River represents pretty much an equivalent notional boundary as that between Israel and Lebanon. Being on one side or the other takes on great importance and I am sure that back in the day, the “theft” of a chunk of Cornish soil didn’t go down well with the locals, in this instance, at least to us Cornishmen, it was the “East Bank” which was the problem. Come to think of it, I caught that trout from the Devon side of the river, so I don’t feel too bad about eating it.
The Cornish border, generally following the River Tamar but here pushed to the west to sneak Bridgerule into Devon.
Having taken a few snaps of my erstwhile fishing haunt we set forth once again in pursuit of the Viaduct heading for Titson, an unlikely sounding place in an area filled with unlikely sounding places. About us lay: Sharlands, Tackbear, Hobbacott, Hele Bridge and Box’s Shop just to name a few. Eventually we passed a Post Office Van and enquired as to the location of “our” viaduct. The moment that the driver greeted us in a distinctly northern accent I knew he would be of no assistance. They no doubt deliver the mail using GPS technology or something these days, but certainly have no level of local knowledge. One can see that in a part of the country where many locations are defined by farm names or even farmer’s names for that matter, outsiders are not a useful resource when trying to determine one’s location. My father who worked for years in the area for British Telecom used to remember everyone by their phone numbers.. He was want to interject any discussion with comments such as “Oh you know Mrs Johns… Bude 2476” as though that had significant meaning to anyone but himself. I suppose that is the nature of local knowledge and it is perhaps sad in some ways that such is gradually being eroded. In fact we had enquired earlier of a man walking his dog, but again he was a foreigner, moved south in the recent past.
To put things into perspective, you are a foreigner if you haven’t lived there for at least a century and it is all the better if you can lay claim to generations of occupancy. These days Cornwall is inundated with “northerners” moving south for a more rural lifestyle only to complain, after arrival, about the narrow lanes, noisy tractors, the quacking ducks, the bleating sheep, the mooing cows and the infuriating clip clop of riding stable ponies, not to mention the difficulty of getting a decent cappuccino. One has to question if any of them thought to do the most rudimentary Google search of the term “rural” before moving in and pushing house prices beyond the reach of the locals. You may well imagine that this doesn’t always make these interlopers particularly popular with the longer standing inhabitants.
It was however that at this juncture we had a brainwave; my brother is a local and more to the point used to be a postman. Sure enough, one call to him and the exact location of our missing viaduct was confirmed and we found it in short order. It is an impressive and somewhat incongruous structure, set as it is in a deep and wooded valley. The arches span the tiny upper reaches of the River Neat, the stream on which I could claim to have learned to fly fish, or if not learned at least started my love affair with it.
Forty plus years ago I would venture up here with my mates, them still throwing Aglia Long, Mepps or Abu Droppen lures whilst I made woefully inadequate casts with Tupp’s Indispensables, Kite’s Imperials and Sherry Spinners. My rod was some cheap fiberglass wand purchased from the local pet shop, which doubled as a purveyor of sporting goods. Even now it is something of a surprise that the fly fishing lark proved as effective as it did, even in my inefficient hands and with rudimentary tackle success was had and from those days onwards fly fishing has come to dominate, not only my fishing but I suppose my life.
Our goal: The railway viaduct at Sharlands, scene to many happy days of learning to fish.
So photographic snaps of the location safely captured on electronic media the day’s scenic tour of fishing venues was pretty much at an end With this little adventure done and dusted we set out through more narrow and leafy byways headed for “The Weir”, a restaurant where we hoped that we might actually find a decent cappuccino.
A variety of books on fly tying, fly fishing and fly casting from the author of this blog are available on line at www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za
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