A short film about specimen angler Bob Hornegold who has spent a lifetime fishing the Lea system, a river close to me, a complicated river that has been changed by man for thousands of years. Today the river still shines with some remarkable fishing available just fifteen miles from central London.
Art and the art of angling, I consider this to be a partnership that sits comfortably side by side, just like the landscape and the angler. Here is a new film where I find John Richardson a life-long angler and artist in his West Norfolk studio carving and then printing on his Victorian press, while the Fenland landscape dominates throughout.
It goes like this…got woken up; “daddy can I go and see nana?” “yes, go on then” I mumble. I go downstairs, boil kettle, find cup, clatter, spoon, rattle coffee packet, pour…flick through newspaper, celebrities, celebrities, celebrities, war, fear, sport; put paper down, slurp. Find car keys, phone, charger lead, bait, rod and bag. Car door clunks, press ‘engine on’, radio 4 starts up, Saturday morning live, more people banter on, “I’m this, I did that,” more views, more pop culture. Satnav kicks in, “turn left”, “go straight ahead”, light flashes, diesel low, refuel, more bleeps, find wallet, enter kiosk, banging house FM, choose shite sandwich, more bleeps, pay, go. Satnav pillow talk kicks in again, M42, turn off, road narrows, see church in distance, my bearings found, satnav off, radio off, window down, turn corner, river flows, coloured but fining down, pull up, switch off engine, open door, step out, calm, peace, just me, no one, stillness, an antidote…perhaps this is why I go fishing?
Last summer I went small river chubing on the River Mease and wrote about it here, it was hot, the stingers were high but the chub were obliging. Six months on, and spring still a few weeks away I have returned, I wanted to see the river in it winter dress, and hopefully seek out a greedy winter chub.
The trees were magnificent, bare open branches silhouetted on a battleship sky, on the horizon – a hint of blue, the water is coloured but not chocolate, days before the river had flooded the fields but now the river was once again contained. After trotting a float for a while I set up my 10′ avon with a quiver and walked the river dropping a swimfeeder into some deep holes. I am still unfamiliar with the river Mease but eventually after an hour a chub came to the net.
Producing films about angling is a challenge. One, there is always the task of catching fish for the camera, but there is a more complex challenge. How does one represent angling and create an engaging narrative when the act of fishing in realtime is generally a slow one? As a format film is not the ideal way to represent angling unless the editing and narrative has a pace that holds an audience. Literature on the other hand has always led the way when it comes to capturing the nuances in angling, the reader reads, imagines and considers the prose, the pace it set by the reader, literature is more personal and intimate unlike film. Film is an end interpretation created generally by a collective of people, the result is often diluted.
In my opinion, angling film makers fall into a few traps, the all-action – lets make fishing exciting and the slo-mo style with elevating music, the later can be visually stunning but leaves the viewer slightly detached, engagement surely is the answer? The writer must be the key to the film. This year I made three film on angling, far from perfect on many levels, some fundamental mistakes were made on all, but looking to the future I am working with Fallons Angler and those I can trust who write well, (I really think writing is the key) I hope to put together some short films in 2017 that will captivate both the angler and non-angler.
The last year has been an interesting one, I’ve taken off into the field with the aim to shoot video and stills for various projects, one re-accuring challenge is with Fallon’s Angler, it has been…well challenging. The beauty of modern technology is that everything is relatively compact and lightweight although some camera systems have now got smaller, glass is glass and it can still weigh a fair amount, the task of packing it down so that I can move freely on foot and keep in step with roving anglers is an art in itself. In the summer Fallon’s Angler set off by foot onto Dartmoor, I had to carry fishing gear, camera equipment, food, water, bedding and my house. I’m not one to weigh everything down to the last gramme but I made sure I took only the absolute essentials, my only luxury was a hip flask of Laphroig, the hip flask was given to me by my father, and if you knew him you would understand that this was to be the professional drinkers 10 oz version! Unusually the hip flask returned from Dartmoor with almost half of it’s content untouched.
Image courtesy of Bruno Vincent
On the Dartmoor trip I took a Fuji X Pro 1 mirrorless system with just two lenses a 16-55mm and a 55-200mm, I love this camera but it falls down when it comes to shooting video, the trip was a stills only shoot and the Canon had to stay at home. Below are a few shots that didn’t make the final edit and covered to black and white, the article for issue 7 included a mix of colour and black and white.
My next challenge was to put together a compact system that can shoot good quality video and audio as a one-man band. The problem with shooting video is you need a few lens options, microphones, field recorders, monopods, tripods with pan heads, the list can go on and as the list increases so does the weight, my nemesis was whether to pack a rod amongst my camera gear?
For those observant types, actually its fairly obvious the image above has the additional baggage of a fishing bag, rod and reel, below is the actual gear that I would take on the field to shoot video once packed up and ready to go, no fishing gear
Last weekend we set off again for Fallons issue 8, our destination has an eastern direction, what we uncovered was a mystery just like fishing itself, we didn’t know the outcome until it was done, but we met some interesting individuals and seen some places that have formed the story, my job was to get it on film both with stills and on video, the tale of two rivers is unfolding as I sit here and view the edits.
Having no car to drive for the first half of this year focused my attention on my local river – the Lower Lea, potential swims were scrutinise more closely than ever before. The trips planned were to be frequent and short, tackle was set up and ready to go, a bicycle permanently rested in the basement, attached to the cross bar – a modified 42″ landing net, a three piece 10′ Allcocks spinning rod strong enough for hard fighting carp and a very long bank stick – in fact its a storm pole off a bivvy door, although I must confess I’m not too sure what the original purpose of it is, I’m guessing it is a method to sure up the door on a bivvy when a tornado hits? Anyhow I saw it in a tackle shop a few years back and thought it perfect for holding a rod high on the river bank, it has proven very useful when barbel fishing. A shoulder bag contains a reel, camera, polaroids, and an old bait box with all the accessories that a modern angler needs to trap a carp. Finally an old green bucket holds a mixture of baits and doubles as my seat.
Before the season began I kept a close eye on the river and by mid May I could see signs of carp, I also came across one or two other anglers discretely looking with intent, on occasions a few words were exchanged but generally we all kept to the unwritten code of ‘keep quiet and carry on.’ You can find carp quite easily from Broxbourne (and probably beyond) down into Hackney and through central London and out the other side, all you need is a warm sunny day, a bicycle and a some polaroids, I will guarantee you will find carp within a few hours of riding, whether they are feeding though is another question.
My time on the river since June 16th has probably totalled to about 7-8 hours, each trip amounts to only a couple of hours but it suits my freelance routine, I can drop my daughter off at school and pop down to the Lea or nip out during lunch time. So far I have not managed to get on the river early morning or at dusk, something I want to remedy in August. The Lower Lea also holds a large head of good sized bream, the ‘silvers’ have all but vanished but I had heard that 5000 dace have been introduced by the EA to the lower Lea catchment in the close season, lets hope that they thrive.
To date I had a couple of carp at the start of the season, notably a linear on the 16th June, and a few days later a common, both fish were around 7-8 pounds, these fish are very long and strong fighters, but these were the smallest of the carp that I have seen. I have observed a few fish well into their twenties and one or two that could be in their thirties, I had some heart-stopping moments with the polaroids when these larger carp were feeding hard on my bait, frustratingly these moments were cherished under the cloak of the closed season.
August will soon arrive and after a short holiday I will attempt to get back on the river to continue my quest to catch one of the larger fish, but I must confess after cycling down to the river over the last week I have not seen a fish, my theory is that after a heatwave they move into faster flowing and deeper water where oxygen levels are higher, making observations next to impossible. But I have a cunning plan…
On Saturday 2nd April 2016 the Angling Auctions in Chiswick finally drew to a close when the hammer fell and lot 630 – “An unusual American Bamboo trout fishers creel” was sold. Slow applause permeated throughout the hall in appreciation for Neil Freeman who has put the hammer down on 32,000 lots over the last twenty five years offering vintage fishing tackle, taxidermy, books and angling art to a worldwide audience of collectors and angling enthusiasts.
My involvement began in 2011 (I’m considered a relative new boy) when John Andrews of Arcadia asked if I could help out on the rods. Arriving in Chiswick I was soon put to task in the construction of the rod rack, an antique in its own right, but a protector of fine fishing rods. Neil told me that he built the rack in 1991 with a drunk Irishman, a story I must confess I believe looking at the quality of its construction, but in defence of the Anglo-Irish workmanship it still survives with it’s biannual kicks and trips that it has to endure from eager anglers grasping at the wonders it beholds. Five years on I am still putting up the same rod rack, stuffed with even more matches and bound with ever more gaffer tape.
Over the years staff have come and gone but generally there is a core that stay loyal, Neil’s brother has been involved from the start and more recently Neil’s son Sam has worked as a porter. Fresh sandwiches and cakes are made and the all important tea urn is switched on as soon as we arrive on the Friday morning, the tea urn is first off and last on the van, a tradition that has lasted since the beginning. Last Saturday the tea urn was loaded onto the van for the last time in Chiswick and a new beginning for the Angling Auctions has begun down in Romsey, Hampshire. Hopefully I will see you there?
Great documentaries are produced by great story tellers, visionaries with a clear message and understanding of the subject. Angling is generally documented through the prize shot, the end result, the final climax, man or woman holding fish, sometimes thrusting the fishes head into the camera for extra dramatic effect, it’s a macho world of size and weight recorded for everyone to give the big thumbs up or ‘like.’ The photographing of anglers and angling in a different light is sorely unrepresentative when it comes to the main angling press and media with very few exceptions. I agree that on occasions a good trophy shot is interesting to view especially in the case of an exceptional capture but there is more to it than that. With technology in both stills and video improving and affordable, there are many inspiring images coming from anglers many of which come from using their smart phone, its portable and always in your pocket. A more recent addition to the anglers kit is the Go Pro style of clip on video camera, they are brilliant but placed in the wrong hands (or head) have now left us with a deluge of wibberly wobbly footage of man struggling to land fish with the winds blasting out any comprehension of what they may be trying to say. In the right hands this technology can be exciting and enhance a sense of freedom that film makers have never before experienced. Two lads that I have followed for a while are Carl And Alex, who started off filming their fishing exploits while still quite young and now have a huge following, including coverage in the main press, but their passion and enthusiasm for fishing is key and a real joy too watch. Even as two youngster they show a real maturity and can put together films with a strong narrative, that engages the viewer throughout.
Capturing the quieter moments in angling, the long periods spent in contemplation, appreciation, and solace is something that as a photographer I want to explore further. Last year I spent four days with Michael a ghillie and custodian of a beat on the River Blackwater, a thoughtful man who loves his river, who spoke with a real passion and knowledge for the salmon that run its course. Yes salmon were caught, trophy shots administered, whiskies sunk but one afternoon I took these shots that highlighted the trip for me. We were all standing on the Lower beat at Killvullen, a wide shallow open stretch of water, the fishing was slow so I took out my camera with a long lens and caught Michael away from us anglers just for a few minutes, spending time lost in his own thoughts.
I consider Carl, Alex and myself all artists who want to share our experiences, we are different, but we both have a place, I hope that more anglers will realise and explore the possibilities beyond the hysterical world of high fives, numbers and wibberly wobbly footage. As someone famous once said and I cannot remember who, music is nothing without the silent spaces between.
Growing up in the seventies and eighties, the local woods was my playground, a place of freedom and discovery, a real living breathing Xbox, where armies were formed and disbanded, explorers lost and found, a place of endless possibilities. To get my band of brothers to the woods we had to negotiate ‘no mans lands’ – a hundred yard track that led up to the gates of Sunte House, a seventeenth century manor house and its custodian, Mr Gorer or ‘Old Man Gorer’ as us brothers of the woods called him. Unlike many manor houses, Sunte House was not austere, its large windows gave it an airy appearance, the slate roof tiles enhanced this, in bright sunlight they sparkled a silver-grey, echo’s of past garden parties resonated in the grounds , there seemed to be an air of happiness about this place in the not so distant past. At the start of the track was a cattle grid with a hand painted sign in black and white now flaking away, it read ‘Sunte House – Private – No through road.’ The cattle grid was ‘ours’ a place of safety, a look-out for Old Man Gorer, it was a game of cat and mouse that we played out for years. Old Man Gorer was an elderly man, always dressed in a three-quarter length beige mac, normally undone, he looked dishevelled and always aided by his scruffy collie dog. For years I feared he would collar me, in hindsight he was frail, he was quite elderly and never posed a threat .
As we grew so did our courage, one evening we decided to break into the gardens of Sunte House and explore, dressed like commando’s we entered on the west side through a gap in a barbed wire fence and found ourselves on a meandering path, a canopy of exotic shrubs grew up high and blocked out the sky, many of the plants were labelled, lead tags etched with their botanical names. The west side was dark and quite eerie, somewhat neglected, but still maintained a certain order, someone had curated this garden in the past, there was a sense of Victorian plant collector about this place. We were relatively well hidden on the west side but to gain access to the east side and the main garden we had to dash across the front drive across a manicured lawn in full view of the house and potentially Old Man Gorer. It was still daylight, there were no lights on in the house, we waited until dusk, then made our move. As the light dropped we edged out from the shrubs on our hands and knees and onto the lawn, quickly we sprinted across the open fifteen yards. Once into the cover of the main garden we found more labelled shrubs and another perimeter stone path. We followed the path around tentatively in case we encountered Old Man Gorer coming around the opposite way. As we crept along the light through the shrubs was changing, it was getting lighter and it was moving, it was unclear what I was seeing and then I could sense water, the garden was hiding a secret, a large pond. Pushing through the undergrowth I could see a rectangular pond with an island in the middle, lily pads everywhere, and moss covered stones and rhoddendrons lined the edge. It was still and quiet, the distinctive smell of water was present, huge Scotts Pines towered above creating a high canopy, it was reminiscent of a Japanese garden but with an English accent. Suddenly the wind started to pick up and sway the trees, a barking dog in the distance un-nerved us, could it be Old Man Gorer’s dog? We decided to retreated and return another day. For weeks the pond played on my mind, I sometimes questioned if the pond actually existed, it was so enchanting and I was so fanatical about catching carp from lost ponds, I thought I may have imagined it.
The rest of the summer was spent seeking out carp ponds within cycling reach of my house, scanning Ordnance Survey maps for little blue dots often nestled in patches of wood in the middle of open fields, these were forgotten hammer ponds. Once located I would jump on my bike and see if I could gain access, permission was rarely asked for, just some discreet commando style fishing. Hammer ponds are abundant in Sussex and often go back to a pre-Roman era. Sussex geology was rich in ironstone, the main material for iron production and water was essential to the cooling of the iron. During the Stewart and Tudor times iron production boomed and more hammer ponds were created by the damming of small streams and rivers. Often these ponds had a small population of carp, tench and roach not giant carp but a five-pounder was a real prize and I always hoped to discover a pond with wild, un touched Roman wildies.
My quest for hammer ponds took my mind away from the Sunte House pond for a while but soon I had to return, I would have to try to fish the pond, this was going to take all of my nerve. I decided to return to the garden alone, not with a rod but with some bread and see if there were any carp. Once again I arrived at dusk, I was about to step over the fence when a figure silently walked past literally only a few feet from my face, I froze and he continued on, it was Old Man Gorer inspecting his garden, probably enjoying the late evening air. I was convinced he saw me, the woods were dark but he decided to walk on, I was after all just by the public foot path, and he probably encountered the public there on many occasions, I imagined he had no interest in me, the public and knew nothing of my intentions. I returned home thankful that I had not gone into his garden a few minutes earlier and become trapped on the west side by the pond. After that rather uncomfortable close call I decided to have a break from the pond and concentrate on trying to catch a double figure carp elsewhere, I still had a few weeks left of the summer holidays, this was a target I set myself and had yet to achieve.
It was a couple of years later when one evening after messing about in the woods that I decided to return to the garden with a friend and see if we could locate any carp, it had been a hot summers day and if the pond contained carp then tonight would surely be the night to find them feeding? Our access to the garden was easier than ever as much of the perimeter fence had fallen down, the house looked neglected and the garden more overgrown than usual, we darted across the lawn as we had done before and into the west side. Making our way round the dark perimeter path I felt something was not right, the light was different and the smell? As we approached the pond I peered through the shrubs only to discover a flat lawn, no pond, no island, just green grass, it was as I feared, my imagination had run wild, it was a ghost pond. We left the garden dejected and I was somewhat embarrassed after dragging my friend into danger to see the pond that never was.
In 1985 Geoffrey Gorer died and the house was sold, every now and then the new owner could be seen driving past in his beige Mercedes, he looked fairly en-friendly, new fences and ‘Private – No through way’ signs were put up, it was clear the new owners didn’t want any funny business, once again I forgot about Old Man Gorer, Sunte House and the ghost pond.
Thirty years on it is 2016, I still think about that pond, did I imagine it, did I see Old Man Gorer that night, the more I contemplated it the more I doubt it’s presence. I decided that I was to make one final pilgrimage to the garden, my plan was to walk up on the Sunday morning after a family gathering on the Saturday night. Today access can only be made via the public footpath, the cattle grid entrance is now blocked. I set off on a cold wet morning, the mud underfoot was eight inches deep in places but for the sake of an hours nostalgia I was up for it, I soon came to the two open fields in front of the house, now fallow and quite overgrown with brambles, to my right was the ten foot high hedge that hid the garden. The hedges had been thinned to encourage new growth from the base and I could see a way through and into the inner fence. Pushing through the hedge I got to the old iron fence and could see the familiar stone perimeter path, beyond that I could clearly see the ghost pond, a Monet style wooden footbridge spanning over to the island, this time in the plain grey light of a bleak January morning I could confirm that the pond was a ghost no more.
While writing this piece I decided to do a online search for ‘Sunte House’ and ‘Gorer’ and was pleased to discover that Old Man Gorer or Geoffrey Gorer as he was known, was one of three brothers from a well to do jewish family from Hampstead, all educated at Westminster college, with Geoffrey and his younger brother Richard both going on to Kings College, Cambridge. Richard studied music and horticulture and moved in to horticulture professionallly soon after Geoffrey bought Sunte House in the 1950’s, the house must have been the spark to change his career. One day while walking in the grounds Richard noticed a spontaneous hybrid of the shrub Abutilon which is now a popular species that still exists today called ‘Suntensis.’ It is probably Richards influence that made the gardens more a botanical collection of some repute. Throughout his career Geoffrey had been a prolific author on the subject of anthropology, he had a passion for the arts and mixed in some rather interesting social circle including George Orwell and the poet Edith Sitwell. His body of work including 10,00 letters and manuscripts are now preserved in the Kings College archive.