Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Fennel's Priory Barbel Weekend

This morning I had quite a shock to the system, exposed to something I neither wanted to experience nor would wish on anyone else, yet folk do it day in day out. The tube systems in London are greatly relied upon for those wishing to get to and from work quickly and inexpensively. Thankfully I’m not one of them, but this week, whilst attending a 5 day course near Hyde Park, I have to blend in with the locals and follow suit as best I can.

The problem started this morning. I left the hotel, strolled leisurely along to the tube station just opposite Hyde Park and found the platform I needed, stacked with people. It didn’t take long for the first tube to arrive, but it was filled to the brim with work goers. Obviously too crammed to take any more people I stood in the hope that the next one would be along shortly after. That’s when the carnage began.

It was like a stampede, folk, mostly suits with earphones, pushing past me squeezing onto the tube, in fact, at least ten people got into impossible gaps. There was no sign of “excuse me” or “thank you”, just the odd grunt. With the tube on its way to Ruislip there was I still standing on the platform shell shocked at what I’d just witnessed. There were folk arriving all the time, jostling for position and after only a couple of minutes the platform was full again, only this time I was at the front.

The next tube came through and looked just as packed as the last one, but still the doors opened and folk squeezed themselves into gaps children would have struggled to fill. More grunts came and still I stood there wondering if I’d ever get on board. This process continued for another two tubes, until tube number five saw a fairly empty platform and a few empty spaces within its corridors. Once on I felt quite pleased with myself, but at the same time horrified for the poor folk who are seeing this as a way of life. The way of life I prefer is that of a more gentlemanly pace and demeanour, none of this grunting and barging.

A world away from the hustle and bustle of city life is Bredwardine, a quaint little village in Hereford, scene of the recent Fennel’s Priory Barbel Weekend. I set off from Portsmouth early, the actual event was to be fished Saturday and Sunday with fun and frolics going down in the Red Lion Inn, where most of us were staying, but me being me saw an opportunity and set off early on the Friday to get an extra day’s angling in. I arrived at the pub somewhere around 8:30am and called Mr Dave for directions after getting horribly lost.

I spoke to Mr Dave who asked me why I thought driving up a massive hill might find me a river? Fair one I suppose and with a new sense of direction my nose was pointed the right way and soon enough I was leaving the car in a field compound and trekking off across the meadows on foot in search of a prime fishing spot he had explained to me. The area was gorgeous, the river was incredible and I couldn’t wait to get going. From the directions Mr Dave gave me I found what I thought was the spot and began to tackle up.

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A sweeping bend with a crease in the current and a slack behind it, I knew just where to cast my luncheon meat hook-bait and it didn’t take long for a bite to occur, a missed bite but a good sign nonetheless. Next cast produced another bite which this time I managed to connect with, and not only my first fish from the Wye but my first chub of the season was soon being admired. I slipped the hook out, took a few shots with the camera and watched the splendid creature swim powerfully back into the river.

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The weather that day was changeable; overcast with a light breeze, gusting at times and with it came light drizzle. It bothered me not though, I was happy doing what I love at probably the most unspoilt place I’ve ever angled. The wildness of the place was truly second to none, although I wasn’t too sure of the pack of cattle I spotted. A couple of them gave me funny looks from the off, so I knew I’d have to be careful where they were concerned.

Soon after catching that first chub Mr Dave arrived and quickly told me I was in the wrong spot. He kindly transported my gear to the right one in his off road vehicle and explained why the new swim would give me the best chance of a barbel. He left me to get on with it and fished just upstream of my position. I made that first cast with renewed confidence and a strong desire for that rod tip to be pulled towards the river. The next hour or so was spent watching the flow and the world go by; kingfishers were regular and also small wading birds, probably sandpipers.

Mr Dave came to see how I was getting on, I hadn’t received any bites and he suggested I attached a small bag of free offerings to my lead which would create a little trail of food items for the fish to sniff out, travel upstream and find. I did so and almost immediately received a pluck on the rod tip, just a pluck, but it was proof there were fish down there and that the slight change in tactics had worked. He left and returned to his swim, I recast and after a few minutes felt a strong pull on the line, I struck and felt a powerful lunge followed by line being slowly stripped from the spool whilst the fish, which felt very much like a barbel, headed off downstream towards the fallen trees.

I applied pressure in the hope that the fish would slow down or stop but instead the hook pulled and I would back fishless and disappointed. I fished on for another half hour, by which time Mr Dave said his farewells as he was heading back to the pub to meet those who had arrived, including Shaun. I hadn’t seen Shaun for a good while and was looking forward to meeting up again. In the meantime with itchy feet I upped sticks and headed downstream for another cast in the swim I caught the early chub from. The river was on the up and was moving through a bit faster than previously, so once again I was on the move, and with the river to myself I was at liberty to move around as much as I pleased. Those blood thirsty cattle staring at me and getting ever closer didn’t help me to settle either.

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Whilst aimlessly moodling along the riverbank looking for a spot to stop and cast Mr Dave was back, this time with Shaun in tow who was eager to have a good look around at potential spots for the Saturday. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries and he asked why I wasn’t fishing the slack water directly below us. It did look good so soon enough I was creeping into position and lowering a bait just over the edge into deep slow water to see if something was lurking. I gave it ten or fifteen minutes before searching further out. Mr Dave and Shaun drove off to explore some more.

I made a cast alongside the crease, where the fast water met the water coming back on itself, the area the food items coming from upstream would more than likely come to rest, the fish’s restaurant. After a short wait I watched the rod tip twitch and pull round, I struck but there was no resistance felt. I wound in, attached a new chunk of meat and cast back to roughly the same mark. A few moments went by and the same thing happened to the rod tip, this time a fish was hooked.

The battle was great, all battles are with a Mark IV, and as the wonderful chub glided upstream towards me I reached out with the net and scooped up my prize first time. I weighed this one, just to get an idea, and it was 4oz over 4lbs. I was thinking of how I was going to do the photo just as Shaun and Mr Dave returned, Shaun offered to be camera man and did the job brilliantly. We watched the fish swim away and it was smiles all round.

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My two friends headed off to check out another beat, I continued fishing and it was only another half hour until I decided to head back to the pub to meet the others, check in and to get a nice meal inside me. It was close to 6pm anyway so I doubt I had much light remaining. I looked around to make sure I’d left nothing behind before trudging off across the field back to the car. As I did I noticed the pack of cattle were upon me once again, a few were giving me that look, the one that says “You’d best be on your way sonny, you’re way outnumbered!”

I made my way back to the pub and was delighted to meet up with Tim and Shaun in the car park. We entered the establishment and were met with even more fine piscators all telling tales and supping ale, it was a great atmosphere. We took no time at all settling in, hit the ground running so to speak and were soon following suit with ales and tales. Shaun recommended the whitebait as a starter and as it was Friday I opted for cod and chips as my main course. The food was out of this world, the banter was top notch and the evening went swimmingly.

It was great to catch up with Fennel and Mrs H, and I also got to meet Fennel Senior and a good few others I’d either never met before or had not seen in a long while. Eventually the early start and trekking across meadows started to take its toll on my aging body, so I bid one and all a good night and turned in. The rooms were more than adequate and a good and peaceful sleep was had. I rose around 7:30am and left for the tackle shop to stock up on supplies before breakfast time.

My timing was impeccable, I arrived back to a bustling breakfast room just as mine and Shaun’s Full English’s arrived, he’d ordered ours whilst I was out and had to sit through watching everyone else eat there’s before ours came, such a gent. Before we tucked in Fennel stood up, addressed the Friends of the Priory and gave a short speech about the story behind the Priory Weekend. The full English, toast and pot of tea didn’t take too long to circumvent, and shortly after we found ourselves being rounded up with cane in hand at the back of the pub for the group photos.

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With the cameras put away there was a gathering at the front of the pub with Mr Dave helping folk decide where and on which beat they were going to fish. Shaun had spotted some nice looking swims on Beat 5, the swims were different to the other’s we’d seen, in as much as they offered close to the bank angling, overhanging trees, deep slow glides, we couldn’t wait to get there and get going. David P came to that section with us, and once he’d chosen his pitch for the day I chose a tight snaggy swim with a nice overhang just downstream of him and Shaun opted for an area just down from me with a big tree as shelter for the fish.

Before we got going we decided to get the Kelly Kettle on the go and enjoyed a brew before commencing fishing. Once tea was finished I crept into position as carefully and quietly as I could, only to slip on a root and slide down the bank on my bum. The rod and net were fine, but my elbow lost a little skin in the process. Besides all that, I began fishing close to the overhang and it took around half an hour to get my first bite. A rattle on the rod tip I did an excellent job of missing.

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Next cast the bite was more violent and missing it wasn’t an option. Only ten yards down from my position was a series of snags, great for fish holding qualities, but not god for the ticker when an angry fish is doing its best to reach them. I kept the pressure on and thankfully the fish, a glorious chub, was soon on its way into my net. Shaun was already above me with his camera; he’d heard the ratchet on the centrepin and knew I was into a fish so came along to help.

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We took a few snaps and released the fish downstream. We both got back to our fishing and with no more bites forthcoming soon came our 2pm rendezvous time, more tea and this time some cake. As luck had it, Mr Dave and Fennel were passing just in time and joined in the festivities. The plum cake, made by Friend of the priory, Kipling (my Dad), was as wonderful as ever and was washed down with my strong, builder like blend of tea and Shaun’s light and refreshing Assam/Early Grey blend. Tea times are always great and memorable times.

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David headed back to the pub mid afternoon, his car would have struggled with the terrain should there form too much dew on the grass, a wise choice. Shaun and I fished on as his Land Rover was capable of driving over most things. Shaun had a lovely chub shortly after tea which I photographed for him. It was nice to have caught a fish apiece, but deep down I think we were both hoping to see a barbel lying in the bottom of our nets.

With the light faded Shaun suggested I bait another swim to fish for the last hour. This I did with the aid of one of his bait droppers and with the sky starting to darken I switched pitches and fished with that confidence only a change of swim brings. The only twitch I had on the rod tip was a bat flying into the line. An hour into darkness I packed my things away and was soon joined by Shaun, and with the car loaded I was on gate duty until we got back to the main road and onto the pub.

The pub was buzzing; everyone had their story to tell and what great and wonderful stories they were. Fennel’s Dad caught no less than 8 chub, although it was really 5 as he caught the same one 4 times. This fish was aptly named ‘Winston’, due to it probably being his cigars the fish was being drawn to. Bob caught a chub and 2 barbel, John caught a barbel too, and on his birthday. AndyB caught a barbel making the total of first day whiskers 4. Other chub were also caught, along with some trout too.

More ale was being consumed and dinner on Saturday evening for me was soup followed by fillet of Venison, and very agreeable it was too. Mr Dave brought in the rod and reel he was telling me about. A mini 4ft split cane number that will be perfect for my Jessica in a couple of years, coupled with a superb condition Intrepid Deluxe. I was over the moon. I think I downed almost three ales when I called it time on the evening. Shaun had suggested we head down to the river early in the morning for a couple of hours before breakfast, sounded like smashing idea so an early night for me was a good idea. Shaun, however, had other ideas and rolled in at 2am!

With Shaun’s late night I felt sure the early morning angling plan was dead in the water, but sure enough a little after 6am he was up and getting ready for the off. We already had the car loaded from the previous day, so all we had to do was get in and get going. It was still just about dark when we left and upon approaching the river we could see it was one of those fabulous dawns that just cannot be missed. I was once again on gate duty and as Shaun pulled up at my swim I jumped out, unloaded my kit and bid him tight lines.

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The swim was the one I lost the barbel in on the first day, and the same swim Bob caught two barbel from on the Saturday, so it had form. Bob wasn’t fishing on Sunday so it was ok for me to slot into the swim in his absence. The only issue was that there was so much thick fog around I couldn’t see anything. It mattered not; I was more interested in taking photos of the marvellous spectacle before me. The world was just starting to materialise out of the mist and with it came more and more stunning images.

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Eventually I got the rod tackled up and began fishing. A bite was very quick coming but was missed. The re-cast produced a bite which I managed to connect with and as I ran upstream in an attempt to prevent the fish getting caught up in the underwater snags just downstream I soon realised it was a chub that was hooked. I have no problem whatsoever with chub mind, I love catching chub, nowhere local to me offers really good chub fishing so I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to be among such wonderful sport.

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With the fish landed I removed the hook along with another which wasn’t mine, it’s always pleasing to do this, you feel as though you have repaid the fish back a little for giving you the pleasure of catching it. I released the chub and took a quick peek up the bank behind me. The bank was high you see and although it sheltered me from any wind, it did cause me to only see in front, left and right. Well, I’m glad did take a look as the sun had risen and the scene was utterly breath-taking. A warm, large, intense sun hovered just above the meadow, it was sheer perfection. Dew hung among the grass like droplets of crystal, the whole scene was enchanting. I wanted to show the world what I’d found there and then, but the best I could do was to try and capture the whole thing on my camera.

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With enough shots taken I returned to the fishing. It was slow but with kingfisher, sandpiper, swan and kestrel there was plenty to observe, in fact, perhaps they caused me to miss a few bites, wouldn’t be the first or the last time. At sometime shortly after 8am Shaun came rolling down the path, I loaded my tackle into the back of his car and off we bounced across the meadow pub bound.

The numbers were smaller at breakfast on Sunday morning, mostly because a few of the others had already left for the river and were happy to skip their morning meal. We enjoyed a final feast with our comrades and after many handshakes and promises to do the same next year everyone went about their business, be it back to the river or to begin the journey home. For Shaun and I it was back to the river, we’d left a little of our kit in our swims so we could quickly get angling again.

John and David B fished the bend just downstream from Shaun. We told them we’d meet up behind their swim at 2pm for tea and cake. Until then I sat quietly in my swim watching a combination of the rod tip and the world, soaking up every last ounce of the marvellous atmosphere of Britain’s most beautiful river. 1:30 came and with my kit broken down and packed away I headed across the meadow and towards Shaun’s pitch.

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Shaun was still sat there happily watching his rod tip. In fact, he had just started getting some action catching two chub and losing a barbel. He asked if he could have another cast before tea and I told him to have two. Ten minutes later we were driving to John and David’s pitch, unloading the car and building fires in the bases of our Kelly’s. As the tea pots were brewing the last of Dad’s plum cakes was cut up and shared around, all of us having two large slices each washed down with lashings of hot strong tea. It was a wonderful farewell party among friends, just perfect.

With the tea pots rinsed and the cake tin put away I bid my companions a fruitful day and headed off towards my car. It was the best part of 3 and a half hours drive for me, and I was eager to get back before Jessica’s bedtime. A stunning weekend spent at a stunning location with good friends, what more could one ask for?


  1. You summed it up beautifully and still I have a smile at the worried look on your face when you first told us about 'The Pack Of Potentially Blood Thirsty Cows'. :-)

  2. Great write up Stu, and you took some lovely pictures, I must try getting up early one day :o)

    Glad you enjoyed it so much, I have little doubt you will return,

  3. Brilliant Stu :) love that first picture mate

    As for London my experience's are pretty much the same. Not for me, I find not being courteous hard work but I suppose having to do it day in day out hardens the soul

  4. Thank you chaps.

    So looking forward to next years event, wherever it may be.

    Yes Rob, London is an experience all of its own, and one I don't have to go through too often, thank god.