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Urbantrout Diaries 3: Discovering the Dour

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Sometimes, from bridges across concrete channels and wide mill-ponds, you catch glimpses of astonishingly large trout... Sometimes, from bridges across concrete channels and wide mill-ponds, you catch glimpses of astonishingly large trout...

This month our ‘Urban Angler’ Theo Pike is looking at a little known chalk stream on the easternmost outcrop of Kent that is in need of a lot of TLC






During the process of researching and writing Trout in Dirty Places, several rivers never quite made it to my final cut of 40 urban locations.

Sometimes their trout populations still seemed too fragile to take much publicity and possible angling pressure – other times there wasn’t a community group fighting that river’s corner and actively improving it for trout and many other species - or fishing wasn’t possible, for any one of a range of reasons. So the cut was made, and the book was written, but I’ve kept an eye on all those rivers, whether or not I’ve revealed them yet on my continuity blog at Urbantrout.net

More recently I’ve also been helping to steer the Wandle Trust through the first stages of evolving into the South East Rivers Trust, extending our partnership river restoration work from the Wandle and Hogsmill to several other catchments across Kent. And by one of those curious twists of fate, at least one of those rivers that didn’t quite make the cut for Trout in Dirty Places has suddenly come back into my life.

Most people have probably never heard of the Dour – I certainly hadn’t until I started studying geological maps and went looking for a chalk stream on the easternmost outcrop of Kent.

But long before recorded history, the Dour was responsible for creating one of Britain’s earliest natural harbours, wearing a deep notch into the chalk cliffs and providing Neolithic boatmen with a safe landing-place in a strange new land. Since then, this little four-mile river been exploited for the usual rich mix of industrial processes, including tanneries, corn, paper and sawmills, and iron foundries for the military garrison that fortified Dover against continental incursions for most of a millennium. And on our own first sight of the river, a couple of weeks ago, the whole of our South East Rivers Trust team found it hard to suppress a sense of déjà vu…

Just like our home water on the Wandle, the Dour’s spring-fed sources have been landscaped as water-features in manicured public gardens, tidily edged with stonework and toe-boards that now seem ripe for ripping out and softening with native plants. Sometimes, from bridges across concrete channels and wide mill-ponds, you catch glimpses of astonishingly large trout, the kind of trout you’d be happy to see in any chalk stream: leviathans that hang around just long enough to be photographed under stern No Fishing signs before fading into silty weedbeds or ivy-tangled undercuts.

Yet that’s where some of the similarities between these urban chalk streams end – because unlike the easily-accessible Wandle, the Dour becomes progressively tougher to get at, the further it plunges down its post-industrial valley.

When it’s not flowing 30 feet below the roads and car parks, pinched between vertical walls or gabion baskets, many of the river’s ancient milling sites are being redeveloped as gated communities, bristling with combination locks, infra-red cameras and the kind of security-consciousness that’s probably quite predictable in a town within clear sight of the old enemy in France.

No doubt a few big, isolated resident trout also inhabit these places, and I thought I noted a few spots between the new estates where an agile fly-fisher could risk a suicide drop down an eight-foot wall, taking only photos and leaving only footprints, and hopefully a pal with a rope to pull him up safely again…

Community river cleanups, organised by our guides from Dover Council, the Dover Society and the Environment Agency, are already taking place in the more accessible areas, but there’s lots of water still filled with bikes, lorry tyres, and impossibly varied urban detritus. As we walked the water, we took photos and made lists of larger obstructions likely to prove impassable to fish - and even found sea-trout leaping vainly at one huge weir, shadowed by the upstream end of a massive car-park culvert, called up from the sea by overnight thunderstorms flooding off Dover’s hard surfaces. Their battered determination was humbling, and we took leave from our new local partners feeling equally resolved to find new ways of helping those heroic fish fulfil their proper destiny.

Another month, another urban river: the exploration and planning never stop…



Theo is a freelance marketing, fly-fishing and environmental writer. He’s also Chairman of Trustees of the Wandle Trust, and founding editor of Urbantrout.net a website dedicated to the urban fly-fishing and river restoration improvements.


Theo’s trailblazing book Trout in Dirty Places: 50 rivers to fly-fish for trout and grayling in the UK’s town and city centres was published by Merlin Unwin Books in 2012. His new book on invasive non-native species is due in April 2014. 



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theo pike, Urban Trout, Urbantrout Diary, River Dour

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