Fingerprints

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From the potters wheel, another Thames find.

A few years ago I wrote about the fragments of pottery, ceramic eggs and other objects I would find washed up on the shoreline of the Thames. Most items were of no real value or historical interest simply fragments of a bygone age, items of everyday life that had been disposed of, lost or purposely placed.

The other day whilst walking the river I noticed a large fragment of the base of a pot. Clearly visible were the finger marks of the person that crafted it, the impression of their fingers captured forever. As to the age of this piece of poetry I couldn’t guess but I would imagine crafted well over a century ago, the well known mudlarker Lara Maiklem would easily identify this. What fascinates me that is the way that these fragments of the past emerge from the silt and tumble their way down the river towards the sea. I always wonder who did it belong to, what was its purpose and what stories it may tell.

Last weekend we walked a section of the Grand Union Canal, it was peaceful abs seemed a world away from the hum of the traffic heading along the M4 in the distance, close your eyes and chatter of the birds, the sound of the water and the noise of fighting coots made you feel you’d entered another world. Detailed along the canal are information boards informing the passerby of the local history from the Romans to the Civil War and the canals industrial past – for a moment you sense the spirits of the past, the clash of swords and armies on horseback.

It was clear that someone had been using a magnet to search of metal finds in the canal the band by a bridge was littered with relics from the past, even an old scooter with its last resting place against the wall. I imagine there are still hundreds of items from the past are yet to be found.

The Stort

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I recently acquired a bottom rod, The Stort, made by Chapman of Ware, a producer of fine cane rods since 1957. The workshop in Bowling Road in Ware, Hertfordshire finally shut in 2016.

The Stort was one of a range of coarse rods that were made, the more widely know were the Chapman 500 and 550 Deluxe 2 piece Avon rods and the Dennis Pye 700 3 piece Pike Rod. There were a couple of other bottom rods produced, the Peter Stone 600, a 3 piece ledger rod and a 2 piece Peter Stone Ledgerstrike.

The bottom rods produce by Chapman consisted of The Stort, The Shelford, The Amwell and later edition Amwell SP of the 60’s and two sizes of The Hunter, a 12ft and 14ft version. Finally there was the F. J Taylor, roach rod a 12’6” 3 piece but these are hard to find.

The Stort was made from between the 1950’s – 1970’s, made of a straight tapered blank of six strips of dark honey coloured cane. The butt section was 42” with cock handle and aluminium sliding rings, the middle section 42” and the tip another 42” section. The butt ring was porcelain lined, the same for the tip. Early rods were whipped in red and the later ones in green tread.

I was lucky to come across this straight and untouched rod, purely by chance as I was picking up a Hardy fly rod at the time at the seller mentioned he had a few old cane rod. A bundle of rods in varying coloured cotton bags in different sizes, what appeared was a small collection of some of the best names in the business. To view as an Aspindales Dalesman, A Dawson’s of Bromley Burley pike rod, a Marco Elasticane, what looked like an Allcocks Wizard but with no markings plus a nice 7ft light spinning rod that has been renovated, possibly a Hardy Wanless but renamed with restorers name Barrie Willcocks, Westbrook, Kent and dated 1972 , plug & spinning rod. Out of this bundle I decided to acquire The Stort, it was straight and in original condition with the typical light corrosion to the guides. Having purchase a couple of period 50’s-60’s reels I will look to take this to the river before I decide if to have it restored or just leave as is.

Recent acquisitions, on the left the Hardy #7 fly rod and in the right the Chapman Stort.

There sends to be a glut of vintage tackle of the market at the moment and going for reasonable money, I saw another find Hardy Graphite #8/9 rod with an early Sunbeam reel go for £100, as you can imagine that sold pretty quickly.

The Stort by Chapman of Ware

J S Sharpe Featherweight as golden as a fine ale.

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Earlier today I was fortunate to take delivery of a J S Sharpe Scottie Featherweight 8ft #4 cane fly rod in fine used condition. The reality of it was that the rod was in fact 3.5 inches shorter than its original 8ft, none the less a very useable rod that I will try out on small rivers for silver fish whilst the trout season is still a couple of months away.

Some years ago I purchase an old Wheatley aluminium fly box that when opened revealed a host of tiny flies with the descriptor neatly written for silver fish. Each compartment indicating which fish the fly was suitable for, Dace, Roach, Rudd, Bream, Gudgeon and Grayling. This small box of flies has inspired me to use a light fly rod in pursuit of coarse fish. Maybe this recent acquisition could be just the tool.

I have previously owned a mint condition Sharpe Featherweight but sold it on to Thomas Turner the notable Traditional and Collectable Tackle Dealers. Having seen this one for sale on an online marketplace I thought I’d buy it and put it to good use. What I love about the Sharpes cane rods is the colour of the cane which seems darker than the Hardy cane rods. The colour of my rods are like a fine dark ale, similar a an able I tried the other day from The Chiltern Brewery, their Three Hundreds Dark Old Ale, a very pleasant 5% Gluten Free ale made in the Chiltern Hills.

The weather for the rest of this week isn’t too promising so I can’t see the rod being used for a few weeks. I will look to pair it to either a Hardy Lightweight reel or possibly a Featherweight.

Somewhere in the postal system is an Abu Cardinal 40 spinning reel making its way to me so I will be looking to compare the 4O to another Abu reel the 44x. Hopefully I will write up about these next week.

Tales revisited

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With January nearly at a close it is a time to reflect on what a strange month it has been. With Covid 19 still dominating the way we live our lives it has also given me time to get back into writing again about fishing, collecting vintage tackle, gardening and the allotment. I have been grated time again to observe the River Thames as I take my daily exercise during this third lockdown. The odd flurry of snow over the past week and a celebratory Burns Night meal of haggis washed down with dram of Arran Whisky helped conclude what has been a challenging start to the new year.

The month started slowly however by mid-month I had acquired a few items of vintage tackle found on eBay and Facebook Marketplace. I had sold a fair amount of my vintage tackle collection at the end of 2020, most of it simply wasn’t being used and I had decided for 2021 to invest a proposition of the proceeds back into collecting a few rods and reels I could make a return on. I found three vintage Hardy rods, a Wanless cane spinning rod and two Hardy Graphite Salmon Rods all of which were in excellent condition. I also purchased an unnamed 10ft cane Avon rod with a Speedia De Lux wide spool reel. With this renewed interest in collecting I also found several Shimano spinning reels at bargain prices, the first a Baitrunner Aero GT4010 and the other a boxed Shimano Perfection, these are still very usable reels. The other week I managed to find a near mint Orvis Battenkill 8/9# fly reel, a usable Abu closed face reel and finally this week I purchased an Abu Cardinal 40 with spare spool.

I now need to put the brakes on any more acquisitions, it is really hard once you start as I see beauty in the construction of quality vintage tackle especially cane rods and older reels.

I will make a greater effort to fish more often this year, reduce the amount of tackle taken on any trip to just my Efgeeco Packaseat, reel, rod, landing net, rod rests ( beautifully made by Dave Pearce) and a small box of end tackle.

Hand made perch bobbers and float case by David Pearce.

I recently joined The Crabtree Society in order to network with other vintage tackle enthusiasts and to read of their fishing exploits, it is a great community like-minded fisher folk which I look forward to engaging in conversation with. I’m sure it will inspire me to write more this year, it’s not going to be all about fishing but allotments, gardening, adventures, cooking and the odd review here and there of a range of spirits and ales.

The garden and allotment year…


At just before 7am this morning the latest copy of the RHS monthly magazine made a resounding thump as it hit hallway floor. There is always a level of excitement when a new journal arrives, whether that be Trout & Salmon or the Porsche Club UK, Porsche Post. Most other monthly journals I subscribe to online. What I have observed is that some publishers are still using flow wrappers which although they say can be recycled can only be done at larger stores. I have to say the RHS wrapper featured above uses 100% sustainably sourced paper and just feels more environmentally friendly.

I’m looking to completely overhaul my garden this year, making it cleaner and simple in design. The garden is only about 7.5m x 10m and faces northwest with the sun in winter only getting to it after midday. One side is always in the shade and the other in full sun. I have a small garden shed which I aim to move or should I say remove in order to build a more functional shed to work in. There is a large olive tree on the sunny side and a mix of terracotta and galvanised containers making up the majority of the planting as the two small beds that run either side are more trouble than they are worth, although planted up with roses, clematis, ferns and hosta they haven’t really done that well so the idea is to keep the roses and fig then cover the beds with gravel or larger pebbles allowing drainage, then constructing a trestle table from some reclaimed wooden legs and a rescued Dutch barge hatch cover which is around 8ft x 3ft in order to place the pots and containers on a raised platform, hopefully this will give me the addition and less cluttered space I’m looking to achieve. On the side which gets more sun I will continue to grow a pear which is planted in a large terracotta pot and all other plants I will remove leaving only a handful of pots with sun loving plant in. All other space will be cleared and only relevant garden furniture to remain.

I’m looking forward to restoring the shed to a place where I can work and use as a pitting shed to prepare plants for the allotment. Currently the shed is crammed with stuff that for some reason I thought would come in handy one day, I realise that’s a very typical male thing to do. As I said in my post of yesterday this year will be a year of getting rid of the clutter and only having things that have a direct use. It is the same notion I have about the allotment this year. My aim is to curate my allotment by growing and planting plants that will have a use in the creation of a botanical garden for creating a vermouth.

Other plant and vegetable with be planted up in order to store and ferment to be used in cooking. Having said that I will grow broad beans, garlic, onions and a range of root crop vegetables, I love beetroot and last year I manage to grow to good crop of heritage beats.

Over past few months little has changed with the back garden so I aim to complete the makeover by the end of March, as with the allotment the only jobs completed have been to prepare to raised beds then plant the garlic and broad bean. The large vine has been pruned in order to give a good crop of grapes and the apple trees pruned along with other soft fruit such as gooseberry. The remaining fruit trees will be pruned in the summer.

The other job I will commence is the restoration of the riverbank which forms part of my allotment plot. There is a good head of Chubb in the river so at some stage I hope to sit in the dappled sunlight to fish later in the year.

I will aim to document the developments month by month.

A time to write…


Over recent years I have found it difficult to write, not that I didn’t want to but simply my mind and emotions weren’t in the right place. Previously writing had been a release from the stresses of life and a channel for my creativity documenting the way I observed life and my surroundings. Recently I have realised that my love for nature, gardening, foraging and history mean more than I thought to my general well being.

Walking the foreshore of the Thames most days allowed me time to reflect on life and the study of the foreshore for signs of the past were absorbing, much in the same way as casting a fly to a trout, trotting a float along the margin for that tug or hurling a spinner into a dark pool for that ferocious snatch of a pike or salmon looking for that last meal to give it the energy to push upstream.

As they say much water has passed under the bridge of late but I still yearn each day to get my fix of the tidal river or pounding seas of the south coast.

If you have followed me on other social media platforms then you will know that I have found solace in the caretaking of a neighbours allotment whilst they are in distant lands for an extended period of time. For me the allotment has given me much pleasure, a place where I can choose to be alone and emmerse myself in looking after my own little bit of paradise or share the experience with family and friends.

I have decided to write again, fish again and share my experience on the allotment because it helps get me through the daily pressures of life.

I’ve decided to scale back things in life and focus on those things that are truly important. I don’t need all the tackle I’ve accumulated over the years, one rod, one reel in each category of fishing will do. It’s a time in my life where I have worked out to let go of many things. Like many millennials, life is about experience and not about the possession you have. Since loosing my father the penny dropped, you can’t take possessions with you but memories last longer, the less clutter the clearer you can see life and the more important issues.

For many years I have been aware of the environment and in my own way done what I can to draw peoples attention to certain issues, from plastic waste on the tidal Thames to water extraction and pollution on our southern chalk stream. The plight of inshore fishing affecting sea-trout and salmon farms in Scotland affecting the wel being of the natural salmon population, goes without saying the effect of Global Warming which is and has been for some time a real issue that will impact on mankind and the lives of generation sto come, we simply can5 bury our heads in the sand on this issue, we have to face up to it there has to be change and change for the good.

Hopefully over weeks to come I can share my observation, experiences and stories in an informative way. To those that have continued to follow the ramblings of the Tales By The Riverbank I thank you all and wish you well for 2020.

The fifth day of Advent…


The frost was thick on this fifth day of Advent, the sky was clear at 4.30am when started to get myself together for a flight to Glasgow.

It is evident that Christmas will be soon upon us, trees, hedgerows and gables are all festooned with Christmas lights. Music on the car radio down to Gatwick resonated with Christmas classics and everywhere I went during the day the sounds of 50’s and 60’s reminded me of my early childhood.

As this weeks draws to an end there is a little excitement at the thought of getting the decorations down from the loft, putting on a Christmas carol playlist, heating up the mulled wine and easing into the Christmas spirit.

On the forth day of Advent


Nature brings beauty to the hedgerow in winter in all manner of ways. Seed heads, fruit and coloured stems of rubis demonstrate the way that nature presents itself. Whilst the festive season fast approaches I can’t help but look around at nature’s baubles, stars and ribbons. Holly, rose hip, mistletoe and ivy all add to the dressing of Christmas. The abundance of berries are nature’s larder to get the wildlife through the harsh winter month.