Friday, 14 July 2017

A lifetime dream fulfilled

When a man you think you have never met leaps out of a pick-up and greets you with the words 'You won't remember me but you interviewed me for a job 17 years ago' fast comebacks are hard to come by. Guilt is also not very far away. Did the interview go so badly that I had made an enemy for life? Was this payback? Fortunately the demeanour of Martin Browne, river keeper for the Services Dry Fly Fishing Association (SDFFA), on the famous Army water of the River Avon, suggested otherwise as he warmly shook my hand.
Tim Sawyer, Martin Browne & Tony Wells
Funnily enough, though I confess I did not immediately recognise Martin in person, his name had rung a distant bell when I saw it on the cast list for CHALK. 

Way back in 2000 he was working on a fish farm and I was looking for a keeper for Bullington Manor which I had just taken on with full management at the retirement of the incumbent keeper. Being a bit tight I reckoned that 2-3 days a week would be enough for a younger man - oh, I was such an innocent back then. The current keeper Simon Fields has his work cut out with the full five. So, it turned out that my part-time job wasn't what Martin needed, which was bad for me as he is clearly a really good keeper but good for him as there are not many better billets than Frank Sawyer's famous water.
Of the twenty or so filming days for CHALK this was one of the few I was determined to attend. I have only ever stolen glimpses of this part of the Avon from bridges and handy vantage points. Just to walk the banks of the river that Sawyer stewarded from 1928-80 was enough for me - I didn't need to fish. All I needed to see is what Sawyer saw. I did, I have and now I am happy.
If that wasn't sufficient we were also blessed with the company of Frank's only son Tim (he had three daughters as well) who is retired and at 71 lives on the outskirts of Salisbury. Tim didn't follow his father into river keepering - not well enough paid and damn hard work - his words not mine! Instead he went into forestry, travelling the world before eventually returning close to his birthplace.
I don't want to pre-empt what we show in CHALK but the interview with Tim Sawyer gave a loving and fascinating insight into Frank Sawyer, the man most never knew. Tim took us to the place he caught his first ever fish, perched on the shoulders of his father, in the shadow of Netheravon church and the self-same spot where Frank died in 1980.
I have a feeling this may be one of the centrepieces of the film and a special word of thanks must go to recently retired SDFFA Vice-President Tony Wells who made the visit happen. It is a day that fulfilled a lifetime dream which will live with me for a very long time.
Tim Sawyer on the bench that marks the spot his father died


Well, June was a busy month for the CHALK team, with Chris and Leo visiting the Rivers Itchen, Frome, Test (thrice) and the Avon since the last update. 

We're really starting to get into the meat of the project now, interviewing some of the people with the strongest connections to the chalkstreams, whether they're river keepers or those with a more personal connection to the history of the rivers and our sport. But we've also been fortunate enough to host several more of our guest anglers and contributors, including one of our corporate sponsors.
River Itchen from the air

The first stop was a private beat of the Itchen with actor and charity fundraiser James Murray who had kindly offered up a day of fishing on his stretch of river as a reward for a Kickstarter backer. The person who snaffled this particular reward was Mark Husson, who was not only blessed with great conditions on the day, but also benefitted from the guiding skills of Get The Rods Out owner Simeon Hay's guiding skills. It also happened to be Simeon's birthday, and he kept up his personal tradition of always catching a birthday trout.

Neil Swift
Next the road show moved on to Motttisfont Abbey for a short day of filming with the National Trust's river keeper Neil Swift who has the solemn task of maintaining the very water where Halford spent his summers - it should make for a fascinating segment. He talked to us about one of the most important parts of his job, one that's carried out up and down the chalkstreams, the weed cut; as well telling us about Halford's time on his patch.

From the perfectly manicured to the downright wild, the next stop was the Frome in Dorset where guides Tony King and Ian Pople battled the bushes as well as the fishes. As with last month's Wandle shoot, we're keen to make sure that we show the chalkstreams in all their wonderful variety, and not just the pristine posh bits. 

This was a chance to get to find out how two real chalkstream experts make their approach to the water, and what it is that makes a professional guide go fishing on their day off! They talked techniques, watercraft and about the Frome's legendary big grayling.

After a much needed break for a week the end of June saw one of the most enjoyable filming days so far when Chris and Leo headed to the famous Broadlands Estate. They were joined by guest angler Brian Norman, FishingTV star Rae Borras and, most excitingly, Imogen and Edward - pupils from Prince's Mead School, which you may be interested to learn also educated your correspondent's father, youngest brother and little sister - all supervised by headmistress Penn Kirk. I'm told that both kids did brilliantly but that Miss Kirk had her work cut out with keeping Rae under control, much to everyone's delight. 

Imogen, Jon & Edward
Jon Hall, the keeper was on hand to share his wisdom with the kids and the cameras, as well as to talk about the importance of entomology to fly fishing, and the history of Broadlands. It was great to have the next generation of fly fishers involved and to see the enthusiasm they have for the sport - we think it is in good hands. The two youngsters were on a mission to land their first ever brown trout: to find out if they succeeded you'll have to wait for the movie to come out!

Finally, the chaps had a real privilege last week when they paid a visit to the Avon in the company of Team Wychwood anglers Glen Pointon and Steve Cullen for a masterclass in nymph fishing. The Services Dry Fly Fishing Association, to whom we are very grateful for allowing us to come and film, controls the particular water they were fishing, and we were able to meet and speak to the keeper Martin Browne, and the club's recently retired Vice President Tony Wells, both mines of fascinating information.

What I've not said, is that this is what might be called the 'Sawyer Water', and that we were lucky enough to meet Frank Sawyer's only son Tim, who gave a moving interview about his family life and memories of his father. We learned all about Sawyer Senior's work in restoring the Avon, his life as river keeper and in the media as a journalist and television presenter. To top it all off we were shown some of the earliest examples of Sawyer's now ubiquitous Pheasant Tail Nymph, tied by the great man himself - talk about getting close to history! 

And just a little more news for you all - we have now booked the cinema for the premiere. We will be sending out proper invitations in the near future to those backers whose reward includes an invitation to the premiere, but for the time being, pop this in your diary. Thursday 23 November 2017, The Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square, London. Now, anyone know where to hire a red carpet?

Thanks to George Browne at FishingTV who posted this update to Kickstarter on Wednesday and kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.


It must be because the best fishing is in the most out-of-the ways places that I often struggle to find top notch places for you to stay within handy striking distance of the rivers. However occasionally a gem pops up.

It is not a name you will often hear banded about but there is a pocket of southern England that goes by the not very romantic title of the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) taking in the overlapping boundaries of Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset which includes the chalkstreams Allen, Nadder Stour and Wylye, along with some obscure Avon tributaries.
Hurtling west on the A303 you will probably have passed through this AONB without ever realising it but turn off the highway and you will find yourself amongst rolling chalk downland and ancient woodland. Guided by the spires and towers of village churches the country lanes take you from one sleepy habitation to another, to occasionally pause your weaving journey on the narrow hump-backed bridges to glimpse the sparking streams. Time seems to belong elsewhere.
Why has it turned out this way? Well, I am no socio-economic historian but my best guess is roads. Look at the map and you will see that Cranborne Chase AONB is bounded by roads with the exception of the A303 that goes straight through it. In essence that thing we call progress either went around or through but never stopped. Many might say that is a bad, and maybe it is most times, but not always.
10 Castle Street
So, if you have a chance to stray from the well driven path follow those lanes to Cranborne, the perfect guidebook village tourists never find. Two pubs, a village shop, the poshest garden centre on the planet and the newly opened 10 Castle Street. The Telegraph described it thus:
" ......a hotel, restaurant and private members' club combined, Babington and Soho Farmhouse-style, but on a smaller scale and much more affordable ...... it's great, because it is a hotel that doesn't feel like a hotel".

I have visited and it really is gorgeous. If you want somewhere lovely to stay and still have money left for fishing you will not do better.


The theme this week is the UK's 15 National Parks. It is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom of the page.

1)   Which National Park was listed last week as a UNESCO World Heritage site?

2)  Which are the biggest and smallest National Parks measured by land area?

3)    When was the first National Park designated?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 

1) The Lake District (pictured)  2) The Cairngorms is the biggest and the Norfolk Broads the smallest  3) 1951, a full 20 years after a government inquiry recommended their creation.