If you travel north-east of Haywards Heath you meet a village called Lindfield, my old village, if you continue on as if you were heading towards the Ashdown Forest you come across a small village called Horsted Keynes, it has just a couple of pubs and a general shop. The main road that cuts through the village has a turning to the left travelling north, the sign post states two things, ‘No Through Road’ and the ‘Village church’, beyond the church you come to the lakes.
I experienced my fellow students from the other villages as soon as I started secondary school and in fairness they were all pretty much the same, post 1970’s kids, a mix of the long-haired and a new breed, the skinheads. We were too young to express ourselves as punks but the rub came in the form of suede head cuts and eighteen holer Doctor Marten Boots. As the tribes settled in to new life in secondary school, one select bunch stood out as they appeared to have their hair cut just a little shorter than the rest and their stay-pressed trousers a little tighter, they were the Horsted lads!
There was a slight sense of un-ease with these dangerous looking lads but I soon developed a friendship with one of them called Mark, in fact his hair was quite long, unlike the other Horsted boys but more importantly we had fishing in common. As I mentioned before in my piece ‘Becoming a proper fisherman’, I spent a lot of time in lessons with the Anglers Mail on my lap and telling tales of lost and found fish, some tales were true, some exaggerated and others slipping far from the recognisable truth!
Anyway after much talk and tales of my 6 lb pike capture I was finally invited to fish the Horsted waters by Mark who lived right next to one of these lakes, these fifteen lakes that ran either side of a bridle path that ran up a small valley. I knew the area quite well as my mother used to spend the autumnal months picking apples in the orchards situated at the far end of this lake filled valley. I spent many days as a youngster, probably during some of the teacher strikes of the late seventies, sat under those trees dodging the occasional apple fall.
So five years on I was back but this time interested in the first lake you came to from the church end. The lake was shrouded in oak and beech, from what I can remember only one end was accessible to fishermen, the rest untouchable by the overgrown banks, the water dark, quite eerie.
Now bare in mind I was with a bunch of about three to five Horsted lads that saturday morning, I was feeling a little apprehensive that my limited fishing skills would show, these boys were born fishers, most were from single parent homes, no father or uncle to teach them the ropes, these boys just fished on instinct and instruction from the older boys. Despite being partly feral, prepared they were and some roach were caught the previous evening ready for our days piking. Unfortunately the roach didn’t survive the night, now suspended upside down in an aluminium bait bucket. Seeing those glorious roach, lifeless was a shock but to the Horsted lads it was an annoyance, dead-baits weren’t as good as a live bait. So now not live but dead we all cast out our baits into the lake and stood back, slider floats all in a line.
By lunchtime nothing had been caught and being 13-year-old lads we also had no lunch prepared, so we fished on, luckily it was quite mild for late Autumn so we were fairly comfortable.
By three o’clock the Horsted boys were getting restless, a few heckle’s towards the local girls on horseback broke the boredom momentarily , clearly these girls were a different breed of local, home for the weekend from boarding school and certainly not playing ball with these rapscallions from the village. The truth, I was starting to feel the pressure, their frustration I felt was starting to be aimed in my direction!
Finally I was called up to play a traditional game that had been passed down from generation to generation throughout the village…. ‘roach canons!’ Like a chapter from the Wasp Factory I was taken to the bridle path, asked to select a roach from the bait bucket (thankfully dead, normally this is done with live ones) lay the dead creature on the path facing the lake, then quickly stamp downwards using the full effect of my Dr Marten Boot, across its body, where upon its guts would explode through its mouth and into the lake! I went through the procedure feeling like Sergeant Howie, persecuted in a community I did not belong in.
As the afternoon fell into fits of laughter and flying guts I finally stirred the courage to break for home before darkness fell, roach canons was not for me! Rod packed and tied to the cross-bar of my bike I left Horsted Keynes and sped down the three-mile road and back to home. As I did I took in the smells of rural West Sussex and the relief of leaving the roach armageddon.
Looking back, I don’t resent the Horsted lads, they were just like any young band of brothers finding their status amongst one another, but for me angling had another meaning, a meaning that still reflects here in the Tuesday swim, not too poetic and certainly not some form of macho prowess, but about angling experiences that enhance my life and maybe drag a few of you along with me? Stamping on fish is not a good thing but experiencing these things is, it gives us our own opinions on life and whether these experiences are good or bad, especially when we are growing up. I never did return to fish with the Horsted lads although I did go on to fish with Mark on quite a few occasions, especially night fishing for carp in an old ladies garden, but that’s another story.