We faced two problems at the beginning of June. The first was that only the English waters from our portfolio had been opened to general fishing. I haven’t worked out a percentage, but a very large part of our WUF fishing is in Wales. That is curiously naïve of me perhaps, but I never imagined that it would become important. The restriction to England for English anglers led to a heavy concentration of angling effort on the Lugg and Arrow tributaries in North Herefordshire. This was not really anybody’s fault; after all it was mayfly time, these are great rivers and everybody was very keen to go fishing again. Nevertheless, fishing pressure was fairly relentless with the same beats booked day after day until we saw catch numbers drop away. Fishing was open in Wales to local anglers only, but eventually “local” was determined to mean “living within 5 miles,” so we haven’t heard so much about Welsh fishing which must have been quite limited. The Usk is normally my prime delight during the spring season, but I have seen little of it this year. The mayfly waters of the Llynfi system in Wales were also out of bounds. Perhaps the upper tributaries of the Monnow, which are also mayfly waters and tucked away in a corner of Herefordshire might have been exploited rather more by travelling English anglers?

The Usk in spring - Oliver's usual haunt at that time of year

The second problem was an exceptionally long drought. Everybody’s understandable concentration on the pandemic and the lockdown had rather overshadowed the fact that we experienced a record dry spring without a drop of rain for many weeks. Our rivers were now in real trouble, many areas affected by warm water and the growth of algae. You won’t find a keener salmon angler than Trevor Hyde of Ross Angling Club, but as June began he described conditions for lower Wye salmon fishing as “…poor, bordering on waste of time.” Despite the agreed compensation water being supplied from the Elan dams at the top end, he couldn’t recall the river being so low and in such bad condition with the bottom covered with slime and loose clumps of algae rolling slowly free in the current.

The green soupy colour has also been back in many places and worse than before. Fishing for any species is not much fun when you have to haul back the fly for cleaning at the end of every cast. You may remember some pictures I took earlier this spring of the lower Wye near Redbrook? We couldn’t fish because of the lockdown, but the water was clear and sparkling. Well, take a look at the Wye at Redbrook photographed this month, now turned a bright green. At the same time there is much less ranunculous weed than normal; even the swans who eat it look thin. The soup colour comes and goes (sometimes it is brown) but excess phosphates are the problem, leaching into the river from badly managed poultry units upstream, exacerbated by low flows and bright sunlight. NRW and Welsh local authorities are supposed to take measures to avoid such mistakes, both in the planning and day to day management of agricultural industry projects. Repetition is boring, but in Wales the appointed watch dogs are not watching, and if they are watching they are not acting.   

Look at the Wye at Redbrook now.

Some of the smaller rivers and tributaries were also in a bad condition at the start of the month. Up on the Teme, a Severn tributary, the EA had already begun fish rescues from areas where the flow had virtually disappeared. We already know that the upper Teme suffers badly from low flows during a dry season, but EA intervention of this kind usually occurs much later in the year. The WUF put out a newsletter detailing the low water problem and some of the long-term measures being put into place to counter it. In recent years the main river channels have been treated as an easy source of agricultural water, available more or less any time it is needed. As the climate changes, more restrictions will have to be imposed to protect the creatures which live in our rivers. One can imagine a future in which British farming takes on some of the aspects of dry farming elsewhere in the world, where farmers can take water from the river only in flood time, but must then store it. Our landscape would become scattered with check dams and tanks on private land, ready to irrigate crops in the drought season…which on reflection is quite an attractive idea.   

The English countryside also became distinctly busy in June with people celebrating newly relaxed lockdown restrictions. Several times we had the pleasure of picking up the cans and wrappers after drunken barbecues around our Forest pool. (Picnickers always seem to get the idea of feeding our rainbow trout with bread, which gives members a moral quandary about using white flies!) Everybody now seemed to be out and about in the sunshine. CT from Barton under Needwood came to the Lugg at Eyton on the 30th May, where he caught a nice trout and was surprised to find a party making their way downstream in a rubber dinghy. Strange as it sounds, these boaters were within their legal rights, because there is an established history of navigation on the Lugg. However today it is unusual to see the rights exercised, for which I am thankful. On the 1st June the Lugg at Eyton was fished again, this time by TL from Kingsland, and he reported finding a dead trout and a dying grayling. The Lugg gauge was not so very low at the time, so we thought this might be something to do with the extreme heat of the day or the visit of a predator. Eyton, in a very pretty shallow valley, has a public footpath and is not far from Leominster, which may account for the number of visitors reported by various anglers. GC from Stourport on Severn fished it on June 2nd and enjoyed himself, despite various parties of sunbathers and picnickers. He had just the one trout, however. AL from Bromsgrove was at Eyton on the 3rd – note that although this is a long beat, lately it has been worked day after day – and although he caught 7 trout and some out of season grayling, he was worried about the river. He described it as “on its bare bones” and vulnerable to predators.

Kington trout - LH from Hereford

Going back a bit, on the 1st June AM from Worcester drove for more than an hour to the Arrow at Titley which he had reserved in advance, only to find a wild stream season ticket holder had failed to go online to confirm the beat as free the evening before and was already fishing it. I admit this is a mistake I myself have made before, but we need to be careful. It’s no fun fishing up a small stream which somebody else has just been over, although AM did manage 3 trout. On the 2nd June AK from Leominster made separate morning and evening visits to the Arrow at Mowley Wood and enjoyed himself catching half a dozen trout from 7-11 inches. JA from Craven Arms in Shropshire came to fish the Herefordshire Wye at Whitney Court and managed 9 trout with spiders, despite low water. (You know there is some more wonderful border fishing around JA’s Craven Arms and Church Stretton, little towns which I used to pass through quite often. Time seems to have passed by that quiet part of Western Brookland. There is a café on the road called The Lazy Trout which was there in CV Hancock’s time). 

Mowley Wood - SP from London
Kington Arrow - BP from Pembridge

The WUF informed on June 4th that the Breconshire fishery had reopened, but only for those living within 5 miles of the town. By now the weather had cooled considerably and we had some cloudy and blustery days. JA from Leominster was up very early on the 4th to fish the Arrow at Hergest Court and had an excellent result with 21 trout from 6-12 inches, mostly on nymphs. Something from Wales at last: PG from Painscastle drove as far as Abernant on the 5th and caught 4 trout. I heard there was some good fishing on the Usk at Llanover despite low water. On the 6th JA of Leominster was up at 5 in the morning, seemed genuinely surprised that his wife didn’t want to come with him, but visited the Arrow at Kington for another 10 trout.

Some of these were on Walker’s Mayfly Nymph, which is interesting. It’s a pattern which I have carried for years, but don’t often use these days. Perhaps this is because, when mayfly are really established, I can usually make a dry fly work. However, Dick Walker’s big nymph pattern used to be very good for still water trout, even when natural mayfly were not present. I used to tie them on longshank 8 hooks. JA was at Kington again the following day and this time he had a dozen trout to 12 inches. Rain began to spark the fishing results up a bit. Showery weather was becoming established now and on the morning of the 8th I was quite surprised to find the Olchon and upper Monnow too muddy to fish after a thunderstorm over the Black Mountains in the early hours. Next came a Welsh report which really made me envious: DA of Brecon fished the Usk at Cefn Rhosan Fawr and caught 8 trout from 12 to 17 inches, “…trout rising, but picky.” Well, a contest with picky trout, that’s the charm of the Usk for you. And I have had only the one day on it this year, in early March! TL from Kingsland fished at Lyepole for 7 trout on the 9th and DE from Menithwood with a friend had a dozen from the Hindwell branch at Knill. JJ from Stourbridge fished the Lugg at Lyepole on the 10th and caught 10 trout, though with nymphs and spiders as few fish were rising.

Walker's Mayfly Nymph
Escley trout

Meanwhile PB from Churchdown came with his son to fish the Arrow at Mowley Wood and reported trout of 14, 15 and 19 inches taken with a mayfly pattern. AZ from Govilon had a day on the Usk at Glan y Cafn spoiled by youths and dogs swimming from the opposite bank. On the 13th AW from Salisbury had 9 trout at Lyepole with mayfly still about, but felt himself disadvantaged by a lady who went up and down the beat with a paddleboard during the afternoon. This has happened before and may have been a guest at the cottage in the middle of the beat. In any case, as already mentioned, the Lugg is legally navigable as far up as Presteigne, unlikely as this sounds. BP from Pembridge fished the Arrow at Whittern the next day and took half a dozen trout to 12 inches with a Tenkara outfit. On the 15th MB from Redditch took 7 trout at Lyepole and also caught a poacher with a spinning rod. Thankfully the illegal fisher did leave, but MB mentioned that he had noted the details of his sign-written van. The police are the appropriate agency to receive that information and he may already be known to them. On the 16th SP from Warwick caught 5 trout from the Hergest Court Arrow although he described it as a “wild stream” due to the amount of growth making fishing difficult. This one is actually a booking office beat which should be maintained by the owner. And to be quite fair, while everybody moans about the untrimmed branches, everybody seems to catch something.

Arrow trout - TL from Kingsland
Manor Farm trout - BP from Pembridge

By now the ongoing showers were very heavy, but quite localised. Over in the Valleys some of the flash floods of last winter were repeated and cars were drowned to their roofs in the Rhonda. Our border streams were rising more slowly and now some of the fishing became really good. On the 18th, a day of continuous heavy rain all over the region, JA from Leominster had 15 trout from the Arrow at the Lyonshall Whittern beat. I was able to watch some excellent fishing for both trout and grayling on the Lugg at Lyepole, although the mayfly season seemed to be over. When prepared to rise, they definitely wanted smaller flies now. LH from Hereford with a friend was on the Arrow at Kington and they accounted for 16 trout up to 1 pound on nymphs. The water was slowly colouring up as the day went on. SC from Llandeilo Graban fished the Edw at Aberedw on the 20th and accounted for 13 trout from 7-12 inches. LW from Merthyr Tydfil caught 6 rainbows on spinner and worm from Llwyn On. KS from Cardiff fished the same reservoir the next day and caught no less than 22, keeping 3 and returning 19.

Meanwhile the lower Wye had reached salmon fishing height, but it was dirty with clumps of silkweed still rolling in it. The coarse anglers were now out and taking barbel and chub. I was interested to see AB from Cinderford reported a 14 pounds barbel from Courtfield on the 22nd. AB, that is indeed a very big barbel and it would have put you in the national record class a few years back. Despite the colour the lift in water levels must have done some good because a few salmon, most of them nice fresh fish, began to show up in the lower parts of our rivers: a couple from Whitemill on the Towy, one good one below Chainbridge on the Usk and a small one from Goodrich Court on the Wye. While we recorded a few salmon during our first 6 weeks of fishing we still have a very long way to go to make up the numbers for this season, whether you care to blame the Corona virus or the drought. No migratory fish have been reported yet from the upper parts of our rivers. This is depressing because we hear that Scotland (where there has been a lot more rain) is doing comparatively well.

Not quite a winged Pegasus, but unusual - JA from Leominster
Bideford Brook - NG from Gloucester

Warm weather built into a proper heatwave with temperatures over 30 degrees. JA from Leominster made an early morning trip to Whittern again on the 25th and took 9 trout to 12 inches using a Baetis Nymph and a Parachute Iron Blue Dun. JA gave a blow by blow account of this session, starting at 5.30 in the morning: “Quick, covert number one, then waders on…” That may be a little more information than we need, JA. You don’t have to tell us everything. Usk Reservoir was visited by SR from Llanelli, WH and AP from Neath, and DE from Aberdare, all of whom caught 6 trout each, although there were complaints about the size of the fish and littering on the bank. On the 28th, by which time the weather was much cooler, NR from Solihull very much enjoyed fishing the enlarged Mowley Wood beat for 5 trout, while spotting kingfishers and a goshawk, as well as a family of goosanders. I would have been tempted to draw the attention of the goshawk to the small goosanders. NR appreciated the balance between the wooded lower section and new more open water on the upper section. We finished the month with a few showers and the prospect of more rain to come, but the rivers still waiting for another proper rise.                     

Many weeks of lockdown produced negative consequences in most parts of the country. Whatever the reason for it, anti-social behaviour continued to spread. The South Wales fire service have had to deal with more than 200 deliberately started brush fires this spring, while poaching currently seems to be a growing problem everywhere. One incident this month involved groups of stroke haulers seen on the tidal Loughor trying to snatch salmon and sea trout along with mullet and bass. Perhaps I shouldn’t describe this crime in too much detail, but it involves a heavy casting rod and about half a pound of lead with as many as six big treble hooks attached. All this is thrown across and wrenched back in a series of strokes across the mud bottom of the estuary until something is foul-hooked. NRW (responsible for controlling angling methods) advised that they are aware and monitoring the situation. I don’t trust myself to comment on that. Abandoned gill nets over 100 metres long (you can buy gill nets on Amazon now) have been picked up regularly on Welsh beaches.

Monnow trout
Overgrown Olchon

Several readers wrote in after last month’s newsletter requesting that I should refrain from making political comments. Maybe I should, but I am going to allow myself several points in response. Firstly, I hope it is understood that opinions I express on any subject are my own and don’t represent any position of the WUF. Secondly, that I’m always happy to receive feedback, whether agreeing or disagreeing, and there is a link to an email address at the bottom of this letter. And thirdly, while it would be nice perhaps to write about angling and rural life only, a sort of rustic idyll if you like,  politics in recent years does seems to be intruding more and more on ordinary life.  This has never been more so than during the present pandemic when the government has until recently felt the need to give an hour long press conference every evening. The fact is that politics is part of most people’s lives, just as the environment around us is, and during this lockdown year at least, politics is rather hard to avoid. And imagined rustic idylls don’t always bear too close an examination: a thriving drugs culture and endemic unemployment are long-term problems typical of many of our small country towns.  

For many years while living and working abroad, I didn’t take much interest in UK politics; there was always more than enough of the local politics to keep me busy! UK politics now seems to me to be much more worrying than it used to be, whether you support the government, the opposition, or neither of them. Of course we have a rough and tumble oppositional system, evolved as such over centuries, but recently it seems to have become bogged down in a kind of trench warfare, waged without honour or humour, and the effects are mostly negative. Some would say proportional representation would improve the situation. To make matters worse, we seem to have largely lost our tradition of unbiased and objective journalism. Instead of competent and broad-minded interviewers and writers, we have highly paid media stars encouraged by their editors to badger and interrupt politicians who submit to their inquisitions, hoping to trip them into making an incriminating statement. The media has no interest in success stories. Melodramatic headlines are what count today for our divided nation, but not thoughtful analysis. My literary sister (who tells me she has spent lockdown reading Tolstoy under an apple tree) has been so irritated by those who purport to influence us that she was moved to quote Yeats to me the other day:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

You may disagree or think that all is well? I never expect to change people’s opinions on these matters, nor for that matter am I much concerned whether the polls indicate that I am expressing a majority or a minority view, but I feel it would be nice to see some more mature standards of behaviour, both in politics and the media.

Some psychologists recently carried out a survey of public attitudes to the pandemic in different countries. The British public were described as the most “anxious” group in Europe. Given the media headlines with which we have been bombarded recently, I can well imagine that is true. Recent demonstrations and counter demonstrations, iconoclastic and destructive riots in some cases, may have taken place in the name of diversity, fair justice before the law, or patriotism, but look to me more like a product of a febrile political environment and people without much life experience but with too much time on their hands. Nervous people are easily divided and more sinister individuals wait in the background to take advantage.

Meanwhile it’s not that we want to write about politics, but politics comes looking for us. This month in our small town the BLM demonstration demanded by two young ladies eventually went off peacefully enough. Following a petition against it and much argument, this event only happened after protest resignations from both wings of the town council including the Deputy Mayor, accusations of racism and paedophilia, even death threats on social media leading to the engagement of the county police hate crime unit, a statement at Westminster by our local MP criticising the demonstration organisers for insulting his constituents and apparent disagreement between the Home Secretary who doesn’t want demonstrations at the moment and police authorities who apparently do. We aren’t used to so much attention in this sleepy corner of Gloucestershire. At the end of it all, it’s difficult to see what was achieved, although the park was tidied up nicely. Last year, if you can remember, it was the “extinction rebellion” movement. I wonder what it will be next summer. You know, older people do get rather tired of being lectured by the young, although I dare say the reverse is true! Mass demonstrations, violent or not, are certainly the last kind of activity needed during a pandemic, a time when peaceful souls have been made to feel guilty for wanting to go fishing or to walk in the countryside. There is not much point in banging the kettle for the NHS on a Thursday night and then crowding into town for a demo on Saturday afternoon. It will be a great relief altogether when the country gets back to work and to the class room.

Perhaps it would be a good idea, in a year or so when hopefully the pandemic is behind us, to undertake a more relaxed review of what measures were taken, what worked and what didn’t. No doubt our nation will do that and will take note of the campaigns waged against the virus in other countries. During these weeks it has been interesting to hear from my brother-in-law in Sweden. He is a cancer patient, and as such he has been shielded over a long period as a virus infection for him would be very serious. Sweden has taken a very different path from the UK, with few lockdown measures during the pandemic. Under their system, the technocrats, scientists and health agencies, took the lead. Of course Sweden is quite unlike the UK, most obviously in terms of population density and land area. In fact, so far and in terms of deaths recorded per thousand, their pandemic strategy does not seem to have been very successful compared with other Scandinavian states. Nevertheless, compared to this country the Swedes have a much higher level of confidence existing between their population and their government. I envy them that.


Back to fishing.  I wonder, why is it that so many rod building companies introduce a complete new range of models every couple of years. Is this really reflective of engineering advances, the white heat of modern technology, or is it just a way to bring in a price rise above the rate of inflation? At any rate, there is no better time to buy a known good rod than just after a new model has been announced. The Greys GR70 Streamflex rods are a well known quantity and I see that Glasgow Angling are currently offering an 8ft 4 weight, a really excellent rod, for just 150 pounds. The GR80 equivalent would cost you 269.99. I enjoy an 8ft 4 weight, which is just the tool to fill the gap between a 7ft rod designed for small streams and a 9 or 10ft rod for the main rivers. I use mine for middle-sized waters like the lower Lugg, the upper Teme, middle Monnow or even chalk stream carriers.


 

“There is nothing as yet been contrived by men, by which so much happiness has been produced, as by a good tavern or inn.” Dr Samuel Johnson, 1776.

We are told the pubs will open shortly. “Hallelujah!” the cry went up when the Prime Minister announced it in the Commons. I must admit it; I have really been missing the pubs during lockdown. The question I have now is how many of them will manage to open up again when the enforced closure is withdrawn? All through my life there has been a steady reduction in the number of country pubs in this part of the world and this has been a matter of sadness and regret. I thought I had better write about some favourite riverside ones now and hopefully the article will not be in memoriam. Sam Johnson was quite right of course, about inns as with other things. Earlier Izaak Walton had expressed the same pleasure; he praised specifically riverside inns promising a convivial company, a refreshing glass, good food and clean sheets. For Walton’s ideal tavern evening, the company had to be prepared to sing after supper; in fact he insisted on it. It strikes me a night out with Walton in those days must have been a bit like dinner with the Swedish military now. Let’s take it as accepted that a good tavern has been valued down the ages.

I remember very well that my father was a pub man, which is not to say that he was the type who spends every evening drinking numerous pints with his mates. But on one of the country hikes which delighted his weekends, the opportunity to turn in to a pleasant establishment for a glass of cider and the chance to talk with whoever he found in there made his day perfect. Dad was an educated man and well-known in his field, but there was no side to him and he would talk happily to anyone. Some of my earliest memories as a small boy are sitting next to him with my bottle of lemonade on a wooden bench in some smoky ale-house, and being thoroughly puzzled by the strong accents of foresters trying to explain something or other about mining or stone quarrying. It wouldn’t have suited my mother who had her airs and graces, but then women were never seen in forest pubs, or at least not in those days and not as customers. I’m afraid they were exclusively male establishments. “The past,” as LP Hartley famously wrote, “is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” So they did and in those days rural society was still rather rigidly divided – one either went to the pub or church/chapel, but not both. For some reason meal-times were also kept to with an almost religious fervour. Gradually these restrictions began to change. I remember the time my poor father, somewhat exasperated about his mother’s complicated arrangements for Sunday lunch, her awkward insistence on which was cutting into our holiday plans, suggested: “Why don’t we just go and get sandwiches at the Rising Sun?” Grandmother, born a Victorian, brought up as an Edwardian, and after that determined to ignore any further unwelcome changes during the rest of the 20th century, was one of the church-going group. She drew herself up ram-rod straight and spoke in the kind of tone you would expect from Lady Bracknell. “To an inn, Jim?” she queried. “On a Sunday?”  As I recall, we went off for sandwiches anyway. Even grannie finally mellowed in the end and in her sunset years (she lived to be 99 and to boast about it) would be prepared to sit in the pub garden with a fruit juice – but never to go inside.

A pub, of course, is not quite the same thing as an inn or even a hotel. I like pubs anyway, unvarnished as they may be, and most of the old irritations associated with them seem to have vanished away. Landlords (or perhaps it was landladies) used to have so many objections and rules for their clients, but there were also rebels. I remember a Herefordshire village which had two competing pubs. One put up a notice by the door: “Hikers – no muddy boots please.” The other pub promptly put up its own notice: “Muddy boots welcome.” Today the mood around the village pub seems to be rather more relaxed. You can get good real ale and reasonable wines, probably decent cooked food and even children are at last welcomed into the sanctum of the British pub. The occasional noisy drunk, objectionable as always, is thankfully a rarer sight than he used to be.

What is a real treasure, and an increasingly rare one these days, is a true fishing inn. By which I mean an establishment which will house you, ply you with food and drink, and rent you a day’s fishing to boot. One can imagine in the mind’s eye the perfect fishing inn, which will probably be tucked under weeping willows near the foaming water of a weir or mill pool and named something like The Angler’s Rest, The Trout or The Perch. Such an establishment would be as far above other pubs as Sweet’s Tackle Shop is to more mundane businesses selling fishing tackle. Unfortunately there are precious few of them left. I can think of a couple, on the Hertfordshire Lea and Middlesex Colne, which became swallowed up by London’s expansion to the extent that you would hardly guess there is a river nearby. Also I began this piece with a plan to compile a list of “favourite fishing pubs,” but I ran at once into the problem that I find it rather difficult to define what is a fishing pub or inn and a fishing hotel. For example, how exactly to explain the difference between such different establishments as the Cammarch Hotel on the Irfon, The Stag Hunters at Brendon on Exmoor,  Gliffaes on the Usk, The Red Lion at Moccas on the Wye and The Bull Hotel on the Gloucestershire Coln at Fairford?

So I abandoned that idea and decided instead to make a short list of friendly country pubs near our rivers where after fishing you can at least go and get a nice glass of beer and maybe have a chat. Some of them will feed you and if they claim to be an inn might even put you up for the night, but regard that as a bonus. Inevitably, quite a few of them turned out to be named The Bridge Inn, and so I will start with those.

The Bridge Inn, Abergavenny
Bridge End Inn, Crickhowell

The Bridge Inn, Abergavenny

This one, just by the bridge and weir pool at the head of the Abergavenny Town Water, is just so convenient. In truth, it’s the pub’s garden overlooking the river which interests me more than the interior. There are a couple of places below where the Usk can be forded in low water, but otherwise a trip across the bridge is indicated. Why not break the middle of the day with a reflective pint in the sun-shine before heading on to explore the other side? This part of the river, along with the pub, can get quite busy when the river is high and salmon are running. The pool by the pub garden is probably the main salmon catch of the beat and the place where they lie, surprisingly to some, is on the shallow side below the pub, not by the steep reinforced wall and deep water on the town side. There was a time when water was high and salmon were about that every resident of Abergavenny over the age of 16 seemed to be lined up on that bank shoulder to shoulder, busily worming the pool and occasionally strolling over to the pub for liquid refreshment. It was easy enough to get away from the crowds, however and this pool and the one immediately below were and still are very good for trout. 

The Bridge End Inn, Crickhowell

Another bridge end pub, tucked in a corner at the bottom of the town and separated from the Usk (except during very high floods) by a one-way road system. This establishment is very pleasant inside and they serve a reasonable lunch, but the main attraction again is the pub’s beer garden across the road. Here you can sit at tables under fruit trees overlooking the weir, sip your drink and chat against a background of foaming water. The garden is understandably attractive in warm weather but I always think that, if you pick the right day in November and wrap up warm when the river is high, it might be possible to sit outside long enough to see a salmon leap.

Bridge Inn at Michaelchurch Escley
The Bridge Inn at Kentchurch

The Bridge Inn, Michaelchurch Escley

This one is quite a surprise, because one does not normally expect such a small tributary as the Escley Brook to warrant a riverside pub of its very own. Still, Michaelchurch is a very small village near the top of the Monnow system and this is the one and only pub. You reach it down a steep lane past a couple of cottages with vegetable gardens. The concrete bridge for cars is one of those made with a line of pipes and a good flood on the Escley comes right over it across the road and on occasion into the pub. In fact this establishment is absolutely charming: a low building built in grey stone with a long terrace and tables above the stream, and with a separate footbridge shaded by weeping willows. A small campsite has been contrived along with the car park behind and there are various arrangements for overnight staying. I have had several very good meals in this inn over time, either inside or out on the terrace, beneath which is one of the Escley’s deeper pools. Usually at least one decent sized trout is in view cruising there, doubtless doing very well from table scraps. There are times when I found my hand itching to have a cast at such a fish, even to flick a cast under the foot-bridge, but I assumed the management would be offended by such an assault on a pet. The pub has had several different owners since I have known it, but one of them would let himself be persuaded to drive angling customers the considerable distance back to their car if they came in after fishing all the way up the valley to the top of Escley Beat Two. In its original form, this beat was 2.6 miles long. A more reliable ploy perhaps, if two anglers with two cars are fishing together, would be to leave one car at the pub before starting.

The Bridge Inn, Kentchurch

This one is on the main Monnow, just upstream from the Kentchurch Bridge. It serves as the official or unofficial headquarters of the Garway Fly Fishers, who use the car park before accessing their water (Kentchurch Estate). The inn rather trades on the local folk story about the construction of the bridge, supposedly a joint engineering effort by the Devil and a local giant, John o’ Kent, for which the Devil was rewarded with nothing more than the soul of a dog, who was first to cross rather than a human. Possibly this diabolical connection was the reason the whole exterior of the pub was once painted a lurid red colour. I’m glad to report that this has now been changed to white. It’s a very nice place to stop in a beautiful valley and with a nice garden. Also, following a change of management it is now open all day and the cooking is really rather good.   

Wales' oldest inn
Skirrid Inn - the backstairs

The Skirrid Inn

The Skirrid is a strange and steep mountain with a deep gash in its peak (again the Devil is supposed to be responsible for that), standing quite separate from the main mass of the Black Mountains. You find it just off the Abergavenny – Hereford road and the eponymous Skirrid Inn is below it in the nearby village of Llanvihangel Crucorney (a name I am still learning to pronounce). For our angling purposes the Skirrid Inn is useful as being at the top of the Pandy beat and conveniently close to the road leading to all the other Honddu beats. It is also the last pub you pass on your way to the Grwyne Fawr valley with its two wild stream beats and a reservoir far away at the top. This is another inn with a legend and supposedly the oldest one in Wales. Actually, it has a history rather than a legend, the story being that it was once considered the only suitable building in which to hold Assizes in this rather remote district. Thus when the circuit judge came to the area, the trial was held in the main room of the inn. In the case of a death sentence being passed, which seems to have happened rather frequently for such offences as sheep stealing, the unfortunate condemned man was hanged right away in the back stair-well. Why waste time?  This procedure went on for a couple of hundred years, so it must have been considered convenient and quite a few souls breathed their last treading the air in the Skirrid Inn. Go and have a look at the stair-well; there is usually a rope hanging there.

The Skirrid Inn
The Star Inn, Dylife

The Star Inn at Dylife

This is not only the nearest pub to Llyn Bugeilyn, but in fact the only one within many lonely miles. On making the long journey to this upland lake you realise that you have climbed into very wild country, an area which Frank Ward described as the “great desert of Central Wales.” Ward of course used the word “desert” to indicate emptiness rather than dryness. You pass few settlements on the way up the mountain road from Llanidloes, sometimes looking down at the clouds before seeing what remains of Dylife off to the side of the road in a scarred valley. This was once a thriving lead mining town, which has gradually become almost completely deserted since work stopped a century ago. Still, there is the Star Inn which somehow survives by opening its doors to walkers and pony trekkers despite the lack of local population. The boys and I once stayed the night in the Star after fishing Llyn Bugeilyn and were grateful to do so after a day of rain and mountain winds, far away from home as we were. The son of the family cooked us a very nice dinner of roast duck with a damson sauce.    

Serious fishing talk by the Bridge Inn, Abergavenny
The Crown at Longtown

The Crown, Longtown

I don’t think the staff of The Crown or their local customers see themselves as a fishing pub. I use it as one though and recommend it as such to clients when I can. Herefordshire’s Longtown village, which lies close under the looming bulk of the Black Mountains, serves as a kind of centre for a number of remote hamlets and farms. There is a post office and store and the pub, very good examples of their kind, and relying on the crossroad location for their trade. The Crown, strategically placed right on the road junction, is really the best kind of modest and friendly village inn, where you can stay in comfort, eat a good meal and chat to the locals over a pint. For our purposes its best feature is that it is surrounded by good trout fishing waters: the Olchon Brook and two beats of the Upper Monnow being within a few hundred yards in different directions and the entrance to the Escley Valley with four beats is not much further away. Note that these are all mayfly waters.          

The Dog, Ewyas Harold

The attraction of the Dog is that it is right over the Dulas Brook and strategically placed for driving to or from all the Dore beats further up the Golden Valley. It’s another friendly community pub, so people walking up and down pass the time of day while you sit outside on a bench. The Post Office and store is just round the corner, there is a butcher and also a very good fish and chip shop across the road. The beers are good but I don’t believe the Dog does food at the moment, although at one point there was a Chinese restaurant somehow linked to it. However, the fish and chip shop might solve that problem. If you want something more upmarket, the Temple Bar Inn is a few doors along. I have had some interesting political discussions inside the Dog, because they will always let you know what Herefordshire thinks – on any subject. This pub a few years ago displayed a sign with a photograph of the local MP and banning him from entering…because he had voted in parliament for the bill restricting smoking in public places. I do like a landlord with a fiercely independent spirit. Rather sadly, last time I was at the Dog during the week they had confined opening to evenings only. Something should be done about that.

The Royal Spring Inn, Vention Lane, Lydbrook
The Ostrich at Newland, Forest of Dean

Royal Spring Inn, Vention Lane, Lydbrook

This is very much a “Forest” pub, which you will find tucked into the wooded hills above the lower Wye near the Wyebank and Courtfield beats. Pop in for a glass of cider and a chat with the locals, or lunch if you have time. I always seem to come across curiosities here. On my last visit, I helped a chap outside to bump-start an ancient American Harley-Davidson motor-cycle, dated 1948 and still displaying the insignia of the Indiana State Police. We did get it going. Even the police siren worked, a device driven by the back tyre as he rode away – most satisfying! 

The Ostrich, Newlands

This recommendation is really all about the food. Newlands, once famous for its giant oak, is an ancient Forest of Dean village a couple of miles uphill from the River Wye in its lower valley near Redbrook. There is no particular reason why anglers would naturally find their way to it. The fact is that they do, presumably having been led uphill by stories of good cooking. The Ostrich is a very old building opposite the lych-gate of the church, and locally famous for its low-beamed bar and dining room smelling of wood-smoke. In fact the fire in the bar seems to be smouldering for most months of the year. By all means eat in the back garden if the weather is warm, but I prefer the atmosphere of the bar with its long wooden tables and narrow shuttered windows overlooking the churchyard and a row of alms houses. For this reason, we tend to present ourselves at opening time, 12 o’clock sharp, in order to be sure and bag a prime spot. These are pub meals, but of a very high standard indeed, using local suppliers wherever possible. I like the wild boar, but the lamb, the fish and pasta dishes are all superb, as are the vegetables. There is a good selection of wines, local ciders, perries and interesting beers, usually including some Czech ones. Landlady Kath knows how to run a very good restaurant and the prices are not unreasonable. If you can afford to fish for salmon on the lower Wye, you can definitely afford to break for lunch at the Ostrich. It might turn out to be the high point of the day.     

Wheelwrights Arms in Erwood
The King's Head, Usk

The Wheelwright’s Arms, Erwood

Erwood is strategically placed for the whole list of upper Wye beats: Abernant, Ty Newydd, Gromaine, Llanstephan etc. The Old Vicarage in the village is a good farmhouse type B&B for fishermen staying overnight. Here Linda provides a very good breakfast, but the Wheelwright’s Arms a couple of hundred yards down the road takes care of the other daytime needs. This is another village pub, but it’s also on the main A470 road to Builth and so caters for passing trade. It’s a family-run business which always seems to be open and which seems to be able to provide a meal at any time of the day. Locals come and go inside and nobody seems to mind if you wander in wearing a pair of waders. Local meats such as Welsh lamb and black beef usually feature strongly in nourishing meals which will set you up for long hours standing waist-deep in cold water. When the boys and I go winter grayling fishing, we ideally start with a “heart attack special” full English breakfast in a café in Builth – include  the black pudding option if you don’t mind going sooner - and follow that up in the evening with a good grilled steak at the Wheelwrights. If the water temperature is only 4 or 5 degrees and frosts are all around, we figure we can stand a few extra calories.    

The King’s Head, Usk

This is a favourite, which I have saved for last. If you should be fishing the Usk Town Water and feel like a drink afterwards, you have a huge choice of pubs and hotels close to the river. These vary from unpretentious neighbourhood pubs sandwiched between the shops to the impressive Three Salmons Hotel, which is just on the corner when turning into Porthycarne Street towards Sweet’s Tackle Shop. However, the one I and my family like is the King’s Head, which is not by the river nor on the High Street, but easily found and a very good example of an old fashioned town centre inn, the kind which would have been extra busy on market day. You can certainly stay there, but it’s a place to pop in for morning coffee, for lunch, for dinner, or just a drink, and local people are doing exactly that all day long. The interior is full of antique furniture, a big log fire burns in winter and everybody is invariably friendly. There is one particular connection with fishing: the Lionel Sweet Room, where you can dine surrounded by old photographs and memorabilia of the former casting champion, along with some cases of very finely dressed flies which I presume came from Sweet’s Tackle Shop. Quite apart from fishing, Nerma and I have a soft spot for a trip to Usk, where by the way, and typically of this friendly town, the car parking is free – they actually welcome visitors! “How about lunch at the King’s Head?” is a popular suggestion to make in our household when the financial situation is not looking unduly sticky. For one thing, it’s a darned good lunch. Otherwise, in Usk you can walk along the river, look round the agricultural museum or visit the garden centre and a couple of antique shops. (Younger readers will have to understand that this is the sort of thing that retired people like to do with their time when not actually fishing). Once we came to Usk on Christmas Eve, saw Jean at Sweets, bought a couple of last minute gifts in the main shopping street and looked over the wall of the town bridge. There, on the wide gravel flats just above the bridge piers, we got a very fine view of a hen salmon cutting her redd. Two cock fish were in attendance several yards away, one on either side of her, each moving in when a chance was seen. Off we went then to the King’s Head where, I seem to remember, we ordered lamb chops with mint sauce, new potatoes and peas. Very simple and very nice.            

So that is my list. There are plenty of other curiosities, including The Boat at Redbrook, once a haunt of the watermen who worked the trows up the Wye and the only Welsh pub I know which has its car park in England. Like the others, it has well-kept beer, reasonable prices and they greet you with a smile. The Bell at Skenfrith? Not a favourite of mine these days, and if you want to know why, have a look at Trip Advisor. I could have discussed many more, but these are the ones which have pleased me and my family in the past. Here is to hoping they all open again. Incidentally, please believe I am not on any kind of “free drinks” retainer for mentioning these! If you have a fishing pub recommendation, I wouldn’t mind hearing about it.

Tight lines!

Oliver Burch 

Wye Valley Fishing