In 1981, I rented a three mile stretch of the upper Bure around the village of Saxthorpe in North Norfolk. The rent was £60 and I held onto the water for a few years, keeping quite an accurate record of my time there in a very rudimentary type of diary. It so happens, I am spending four days there this coming week, forty-odd hours walking, watching, perhaps fishing a little, but above all considering the changes there might have been in exactly forty years. I’ll be thinking about the insects, the weed growth, bird life, fish stocks, and even how Saxthorpe has changed as a community. I might also talk to the farmer for whose family I worked on the land back in Uni holidays. I have no particular points to prove, and I’m going with no preconceived ideas or hidden agendas. This will be a completely candid look at how a river I have loved has weathered since I last knew it intimately. At the same time, I might learn something about how I have changed for better or for worse in equal measure.
Most of you will not know the upper Bure, and might have visions of the same river down in Broadland, perhaps around Wroxham, where it is wide, deep, tidal, and often pretty dirty and unappealing to a fly fisher. Travel North West, however, and the Bure is one of those little known Norfolk chalk streams that exists largely under the radar, completely overshadowed by the famous streams of Wessex. But it does have history. Downriver from my beat runs the modestly famous Blickling water where a club has fished for a very long time indeed. Celebrated Norfolk author Major Anthony Buxton wrote about the stretch in his book Fisherman Naturalist, published way back in 1946. He tells of losing his fly in a trout there at midday, but catching the same trout and retrieving his lost fly at 5.00pm. (My memory tells me the fly was a Red Quill, but I have lost my copy to check!)
Beneath the Blickling beat, you come to the Abbots Hall stretch, where the river is becoming noticeably wider and deeper. Trout fishing was advanced here in the Eighties, largely under the auspices of that great Norfolk angler Michael Robbins, and it was under his benevolent dictatorship that Sunday morning working parties did some fine work. (I didn’t dare go AWOL, but I claim little credit for the hard work that was done.)
Back upriver to “my” little length now, and I fished it lightly to be honest: when you own a water, the fish become pets more than targets, but when I was tempted out I used a 7 foot greenheart rod that I had been given as a child around 1963. Stupidly, I never thought to take any notice of its maker, and I guess from the set in the top joint it wasn’t exactly new when it came into my possession. Anyway, we have long been separated, and I will pack a rod for my trip, probably a Hardy I still have left over from the days I worked for them. I don’t expect to fish much if at all, but you never know when trouty temptation might come my way.
I’ll go and pack now, along with camera, polaroids, binoculars and notepad. And of course, put a hefty dollop of hope in my heart.