While our homes may be our castles, few people can hold their hand to their heart and say that they would not wish for a small stretch of whispering trout stream or some rough ground over which to swing a pair of barrels. For most of us, though, this dream is unlikely to become a reality. However, there are numerous opportunities throughout the UK to live out this dream in all its glory for a time, at least.
As a hardened fly-fishing addict, with a passion for wild trout, I have always relished the opportunities I have had to stay a stone’s throw from the water’s edge. Many years ago, during a family summer holiday at a cottage in Snowdonia, I remember extracting a small brown from the stream at the bottom of the garden, dashing into the kitchen to show my perplexed mother, before dashing back out to the stream to return the no-doubt equally perplexed fish. Many years later I still get that same thrill from being able to stagger out of bed, swallow a cup of tea and head to the banks of a river.
When fishing in such close proximity to where you are staying, even if only for a short spell, everything takes on a relaxed exuberance. I don’t get to fish as often as I would like, so as a result I try to eke as much as I can out of my time on the water, which can result in a feeling of pressure to catch fish, somehow to wring the maximum enjoyment from the occasion.
The drive to the river is done at breakneck speed and the drive home drawn out, as the river whispers away into the memory. But, when staying beside the water, everything slows down. My casting feels less urgent. I watch the river and spend more time thinking and less time doing. As a result, I am sure I become (if only temporarily) a better angler.
This relaxed fishing pace was evident during a stay at a cottage in Dorset with some friends the May before last. Three days spent fishing the Frome and Piddle gave us plenty of chance to tackle the local browns, as well as time for leisurely pub lunches and hearty breakfasts. Staying and fishing together led to a real sense of camaraderie between us and our catches started to feel like a team effort, rather than the fishing one-upmanship that can sometimes pervade time spent with friends on the river.
The cottage we stayed in was, however, a short drive from the rivers we were fishing. To feel that cherished stumbling closeness to the river-bank, one needs to stay on it and be able to look out of the window at the glossy sheen of flowing water. And so it was that I booked one of the cottages at Glaslyn, on the banks of the Upper Wye. Renowned for the size and quality of its grayling, 3lb-plus brown trout are also caught on the estate’s four miles of fishing every year.
Promises of a romantic cottage beside a tumbling river had persuaded my girlfriend to join me for the stay. And we weren’t disappointed. Gardener’s Cottage is set in a stunning location overlooking the river, which runs past the end of the garden. It also has a helicopter pad dating from Glaslyn’s days as a corporate retreat.
The benefits of staying so close to the river were evident from the afternoon we arrived. Unable to resist the sight of rising fish and an immense hatch of grannom, it didn’t take long for rods to be rigged and waders donned. After three weeks of sunshine, it took roughly an hour for the veil of light grey overhead to be pushed aside by a glowering darkness and the heavens to open.
I got drenched. My comically inadequate raincoat was of little use against what felt like a Welsh monsoon. But I was incapable of turning my back on rising fish, having managed several nice trout to 15in and a couple of grayling before the storm. The surfaces of the river’s pools were still being slashed by frenetic grayling gorging on grannom and the occasional small mayfly, and while the rain hammered down, one grayling in a little pool missed the small Adams a total of seven times before finally connecting with it. At around 21⁄2lb, it stands as my best to date.
By the time I managed to drag myself away from the river, my teeth were chattering and my hands numb. Usually, a long, uncomfortable drive then follows, often wrapped in newspaper or the tarpaulin from the boot of my car. It made a most welcome change that two minutes after catching my last fish, I was warming up beside the fire, while the cork was popped on a bottle of red.
The rain continued to hammer down all night. Rising early the next morning, we looked out of the bedroom window on to a river that resembled milky Yorkshire tea. So we went back to bed. It was fortune rather than a keen sense of foresight, that when we did arise we were able to continue fishing on the River Elan. Situated on the Glaslyn estate, a short walk from the cottage, and fed by the Elan Reservoir, it continues to run clear when the Wye is high and dirty.
Chalkstream cottages casting a little Klinkhamer to head and tail rising browns resulted in a 14in and 16in fish, literally 5yd from one another. Cracking fishing, heightened by the presence of my better half who had strolled from the cottage with me. I get genuine pleasure sharing my fishing with others and it is easier to do so with relatively non-fishing folk when the option of a warm sofa and cup of tea is just a short walk away. Perhaps spurred on by the sight of such lovely fish, Kate even had a go herself.
The freedom from the usual pressures of work, email and phone calls really enables one to savour the fishing. And where better than an English chalkstream? What fly-fisherman’s heart would not be quickened by walking out of his door, across a meadow and into a vista of waving ranunculus beds interspersed with the gentle sip-rises of feeding trout?
If the hatch is not on or the fish simply torpid, amble home and try again later. This almost Vanilla Sky dream is a possibility at the luxurious fishing lodge on the Wrackleford estate, built from the remnants of a barn that was the setting for Thomas Hardy’s The Three Strangers. The four miles of fishing on the doorstep nurtured the young Roderick Haig-Brown, so you are experiencing history.
While the intimate chalkstreams of Dorset have a special draw for me, I have a real desire to fish the River Dove. I have yet to fish this famous limestone river, immortalised by Izaak Walton. I have only stared wistfully into its waters when in the immediate area for work. However, the hatch of magnificent sulphur dunes I witnessed from the river-bank has resulted in a commitment to fish the river soon. Fortunately, fishing (and a rather nice cottage overlooking the river) is readily available in the form of a stay at Dove Cottage. With any luck it won’t be long before I manage to flick a fly into its trout-filled waters.
Something that all of my friends will attest to is that I am not a particularly elegant fly-fisherman, hit, as I apparently was, with the clumsy stick at birth. It is a rare day’s fishing when I go without a near dunking or a hook firmly attached to some part of my body. These issues become more pronounced when attempting to fish in the dark. It has to be said that the attraction of a warm change of clothes just yards from the river when fishing for sea-trout holds a substantial appeal. While my home county of Devon is blessed with sea-trout rivers, the most prolific sea-trout fishing in the country is to be found on the River Towy in Wales. The Edwinsford estate has more than five miles of fishing on the Cothi, a major tributary of the Towy. Lucky anglers manage to land sea-trout over 10lb every year. A whopper of 15lb was landed in 2008.
A break in a fishing cottage is the perfect opportunity to immerse oneself in fishing and share everything that living so close to the water has to offer. Who knows, perhaps one day I will be able to live permanently beside my own stretch of babbling trout stream. Until then, a temporary suspension of reality will have to suffice.