Ashmead – a film

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Strange days indeed, as lockdown lifted myself and Garrett Fallon of Fallon’s Angler Magazine headed down to see Mark Walsingham the owner of Ashmead Fishery nestled somewhere in the Somerset Levels. It was my first time out of London in months and it was indeed strange. We met up with some old faces on the bank and moved around the lake hoping to snare a huge carp. Looking back I don’t think we had our hearts fully immersed in the fishing but we were certainly entranced by the time spent amongst the overgrown islands and hidden bays, the fishing was incidental but the location was magnificent. Once I returned to London and started to edit the film most of the footage was left  on the virtual cutting room floor, we thought about calling this film ‘Timed Slowed – A Film about Ashmead‘, in a way this would have made sense but we left it simply named ‘Ashmead.

We will be returning soon for issue 20 of Fallon’s Angler, this time we are looking to film the Dorset Stour in Autumn, if the doors stay open long enough, time will tell.

Letters from Lough Derg

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One year on and who would have thought I’d be writing these words? Week six of lockdown, the weather has finally broken and we retreat back indoors. As a family we are lucky, we have a garden and the local marshes are close to our house in East London. For our daily interpretation of exercise I  run to break the cabin fever or walk with my daughter using a pair of binoculars to seek out birds and other flora or fauna. Often I get pangs of guilt as others are not so fortunate, key workers, single parents, while we sit it out. At the start of the pandemic I decided I was going to offer my services to deliver food, medicines and other essentials but then it appeared I also have fallen victim to the covid 19 virus, although not confirmed my lungs even now are running at reduced capacity, a timely reminder that this whole ordeal is far from over.

This time last year I was in Ireland on the shores of Lough Derg with self isolated recluse – Del Harding, in truth he is not a recluse, although wary of people he  loves the company of others and during our brief three day visit Del was very keen to share his stories once we had gained Dels trust. Our daily routine began in the woods with a fire to make tea,  by late morning Del would rise and join us, drink coffee and share his life through  memories, time had no business here, he talked and I filmed. I managed to get the shots before the sun fell so low that the camera could no longer record a clear image.  As night closed in, Del would light a candle and talk some more, ghost stories, tales of pike, monsters from the deep, and re-living heart stopping moments of the lives of other anglers who once fished Lough Derg.

Photo: Romy Rae

Del lives on his own terms, he has the luxury of space, space for himself and away from others, Del’s routine before lockdown involved a daily trip to the local village to buy a sandwich, a coffee and perhaps replenish his tobacco pouch, I know these little trips were important to Del.  Three months after we left Ireland Del was involved in an accident when a friend managed to fell a tree, unbeknown to Del who was standing too close, the tree came crashing down without warning, missing him by an inch, caught his arm and broke it in two. After several days in hospital Del returned to his wood, thankfully his daughter lives a twenty minute drive away and through his hospital care, family and neighbours Del recovered throughout the rest of 2019 but he was restricted to his own land, no more independent trips to the shops were made in 2019.

During the winter of 2019/2020 Del started to write to me on a more regular basis and I began to write back. I cheated though, my reliance on the computer is habitual, letters were typed and mistakes edited. Del on the other hand would capture thoughts, and talk about the woods and the Lough, then systematically write it all down on the page, Del composed page after page, no words crossed out, just beautifully written letters.  One letter which arrived in November explained he has moved into one of the cob houses where he could have an open fire burning at all times, November, christ! 

As the pandemic established itself Del wrote on the topic in his own pragmatic, often blunt manner, dismissing the coronavirus as a ‘storm in a tea cup’ but soon retracting this thought and reestablishing the situation as a ‘hurricane in a swimming pool,’ soon after he mirrored the updated situation with a  Sci-Fi book he read in the 1960’s, this time the outcome was more sobering, but like many of us he swallowed the current bitter pill with the hope of a new season,  the force of nature is strong, Del would write about the rebirth in his woods and reemergence of wildlife out on the lough.

Every few weeks a new letter arrived, I left it un-opened, got the home-schooling and other chores out of the way and then settled on the sofa in the kitchen with a coffee and loose myself in Del’s words away from the internet, the TV,  and transport myself to that fire pit next to Lough Derg, words flowing like the small stream that crosses his land.

Video

Save the Lea Marshes.

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In a time when we need to be resourceful, thoughtful towards our neighbours, the Lea marshes are proving to be an immensely important place for the people of East London. Right now we need space, air, and nature as an antidote to what is going on with the pandemic. In layman terms the marshes are perfect, we don’t need music festivals, car parks, bigger ice rinks, we simply need the space with a little amount of unobtrusive management to support the local community.

I shot this film over the last few years with a mix of hand-held cameras as I spent time on the marshes, fishing and walking.

From the gloaming – a film

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Towards the end of last year myself and Kev Parr had to produce a film for issue 18 of Fallon’s Angler. The two previous films we had worked on  (one about winter fishing at Aldermaston on the Kennet, the other catching tench on the Sussex Levels) showed that Kev could clearly deliver both informative and engaged narration. So on this occasion I suggested he once again narrated over the film after I had completed the edit. “Keep it poetic” I said, but aside from that it was left to his own devices. A few days later Kev emailed me an mp3 file, I clicked play on the laptop, sat back and listened. Kev had recreated the day in words, words that would have been far from my own reach, subtle, sensitive and certainly brought back the feeling that I had that day on the River Test. So here is the result – a day on the river catching dace, roach and a lovely big perch, caught from the gloaming.

Angling films – delving deeper

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This year has seen my involvement in the making of two films, the first  Mr Green’s Rod was shot in Sussex with one of Britains most recognised and enigmatic anglers – Chris Yates, the second a much lesser known angler, in fact he pretty much lives as a recluse tucked away on the shores of Lough Derg in Ireland – his name Del Harding. In hindsight I see many parallels between the two men, both are writers, anglers, men of the old ways, both lifestyles are closely connected to the land and the rhythms of nature. The way they approach angling is also on an equal footing, it’s simple, they respond to the conditions, the light, wind direction, air pressure  and temperature, if the conditions are favourable they pick up a rod. Time is a restrictive measure that appears to elude these two, it’s a quality that I really admire, to loose time is to gain freedom.

I have been criticised for promoting this way of life in the film about Del, ‘living off grid is irresponsible and we should not promote it!’ I suggest it is the freedom that Del represents that makes these rather small minded individuals feel uncomfortable, Del’s world is the only world he knows, he doesn’t do it to prove a point, it is purely the only way of life he is familiar with, it is an alternative way to live and for that reason I feel it is important  to celebrate it. As we work harder on these films I feel the narrative grows stronger even if they are not to everyones taste, we don’t just want to do fishing films. Spending time with Del was a journey that took many years to conclude (I have written about the journey to Lough Derg in Issue 17 of Fallon’s Angler) and when I finally met Del the experience was purifying and reassuring, Del lived up to my expectations as a man who made a path outside the mainstream and he has stuck to it.

Moving forward we come closer to home and look at a film that focuses on the iconic roach, a film that will be more about fishing but still exploring the anglers relationship and how they read the landscape and their quarry. We hope to get this out before Christmas 2019. Further down the line we look at some new characters, ones that I feel duty bound to record. Fallon’s Angler and the films are growing as is our audience, keep tuning in as we delve deeper. You can subscribe for free to the Fallon’s Angler YouTube channel here.

Mr Green’s Rod – coming soon with Chris Yates

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On June the 16th 2018 Fallon’s Angler returned with Chris Yates to the Sussex Levels to celebrate the start of the coarse season. I shot the film  from dawn until dusk, as Chris tells the tale of Mr Green’s rod – a story that has taken fifty-nine years to be told.
The Sussex landscape evokes fond memories for Chris as he recalls an era of club match men, coach parties, large bream, and a particular young girl who he saw fishing almost six decades ago.
This film highlights what a day can bring when immersed in thought, the landscape and fishing, it is as Izaak Walton famously once wrote ‘the contemplatives man’s recreation.’

 

Bloodline.

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I am drawn to the bike’s simple engineering, uncomplicated, it’s silent gears take me from east London along  the Lea Navigation and out into the open space of the old flood plains that still line the Navigation. I know the Lea from Broxbourne to its exit into the Thames at Leamouth, it harbours a familiarity that offers me comfort, a place that I have known for thirty years. Certain stretches have been altered, the Bow Back Waters were mainly filled in for the 2012 Olympics but this artery from Hertfordshire flows true to itself since the natural river was made navigable over two hundred and fifty years ago. It is a complex network of old river, navigation, flood relief channels and tributaries, but this is still very much a river that is alive, the constant cruisers have brought a new vibrancy to the place and  it has become a playground for modern  London, re-vamped pubs, new-builds, joggers, cyclists, canoeists, dog walkers, birdwatchers and young families have contributed to the rivers new found personality. Only twenty years ago I could fish many stretches of the canal for hours and not meet a soul, today things have changed.

When I ride I leave early while the tow path is quiet, as the canal opens up past Ponders End by the King George Reservoirs the wind often intensifies here on Rammey Marsh, the metropolis is on my back as it gets blown to the horizon. At Pike Pool by Enfield Lock I turn right and leave the Cut and take a tributary more akin to a Hampshire chalk stream. It’s late February, the river looks alive, streamer weed still hangs on from last summer in the middle flow, blossom and birdsong is starting to show, despite the cold start spring has come early this year. The river looks very inviting to the angler, today I see two fishermen but they are not the usual aimless lure anglers but float anglers carefully running floats down the inside crease, as I cycle past I hear their conversation, like their fishing it is more focused, their voices clipped, I want to ask how they are getting on, but on this occasion I restrain myself, instead I wish them “good morning” and cycle on. Soon after I leave the river, cross a nature reserve  and head to the hills of Epping forest. Lungs burst as I take on Mott Street until I reach the comforting sight of Holy Innocents Church at High Beech and the thickly wooden lanes of heavy oak and beech that meander on a level that leaves the heart a chance to recover.

The temperature is still cold, the sky is cloudless, vapour pours from my lips, I am reminded how important the changing seasons are to me, just seven months  ago I was on the Lower Lea, then it was hot, the air was thick with the scent of summer. I was fishing with Tony, we had met at the pub for a quick afternoon pint, I was tempted to have another but Tony was eager to go and  fish. I had recently discovered a new swim, it was tricky to get to but once in place we were hidden from any passers by and any annoying questions, the same questions that I refrained from asking the two float anglers. Tucked away in our hide out, the sun battered down all around us but under the tree and next to the flowing water it was cool. I had not fished this swim before I had often seen carp patrolling, moving out from this deep trench into a more familiar swim where I had previously caught carp. I was quietly confident that this was an timeworn route, as familiar to the carp as the trodden paths taken by the old drovers on Hackney Marsh and beyond.

With ours rods out we settled into the swim, as I turned to speak with Tony I saw from the corner of my eye my rod tip bounce down, then again, I struck and felt a heavy weight heading out and into the full flow of the Lea. Ten minutes later I was cradling a carp like a new-born baby,  near to twenty pounds in weight. It’s a hard thing to explain, perhaps it’s an feeling only anglers experience, but catching these old creatures somehow warrants a close affiliation to the place, each time I catch one of these carp, my relationship with the Lea becomes more intimate.

From Epping Forest I re-join the canal, it’s still early but people are starting to embrace the day, cat-ice still covers the canal. Once again I think back to that warm July day, I think of the other anglers who have fished the Lea in the past, anglers leaving the east-end and disembarking at Lea Bridge, Ponders End or Enfield, rural outposts from the stink of the city. I picture them lined up along the tow path perched on their creels, puffs of smoke rise as they gaze out and onto the canal and dream. I try to re-capture their thoughts now decades old, buried deep into the silt of the Lea.

As my ride comes to a conclusion I pull off the canal at the scene from a postcard I found in a local market, in the background there is a house now raised to the ground and replaced with a electric power sub station. The rest of the landscape remains familiar, the Lea runs strong, a bloodline from the heart of the city to the wheat fields of Hertfordshire. Written on the postcard it says ‘don’t you think this is a pretty river, it puts me in mind of the Guilford scenery rather  than that of a London suburb…’

 

Sturgeon Hunter – a film

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Last May I flew over to British Columbia to meet Garrett from Fallon’s Angler. After a conversation with his father over twenty years ago he made a promise to himself to fish the Fraser river for sturgeon. Sadly his father never made it but now the challenge was on and the chance to catch a fish the size of a man was a potential reality. My film captures that journey through the Canadian wilderness and eventually  connecting to something quite extraordinary.