John Bailey: A poetic walk around the waters of Norfolk

Fishing the wonderful Wensum as the sunk, where is John Carrick?

Fishing the wonderful Wensum as the sunk sinks... now, where is John Carrick? - Credit: John Bailey

Pingers and I shared a cider last night, sitting on school dinner-type plastic chairs, but that mattered not.

It was the view that counted, a glorious vista up and down river, across flood meadows to steeply rising, oak clad hills beyond. But for the cows, the sheep, the herons, the swifts, the sand martins, the buzzards and a rolling barbel or two, we were the only creatures drawing breath for as far as the eye could see.

There was no road noise even and the skies were free of planes. It was a scene Thomas Hardy would have recognised, or Cotman. Just damn those chairs.

It’s a cliche in angling that it is important to smell the roses along the way. It’s right of course but strangely condescending, as though we are too stupid and blinkered ever to look up from our maggot or fly box and breathe in the wonders around. I suppose, though, we do sometimes need reminding just how lucky we are that there is more to a fisher’s life than computer screens, Love Island and TikTok. Almost exactly a year ago, I found myself on the tidal Bure at Woodbastwick and how beautiful a dawn was that? Stunning. Bliss it was to be alive, if you discount the mosquitos and midges that were the painful flies in the ointment.

Dusk and dawn are the times to be out in the summer, dawn especially when you have the world and the water to yourself. How lucky was I to begin my angling life on Norfolk’s estate lakes, from Beeston in the south to Holkham in the north with two score  Pools of paradise in between? Wolterton. That tench Mecca of the 70s. The walk from the gardeners potting shed, past tennis courts and tended gardens to the meadow where the lake lay, almost always draped in mist. Barningham, Bayfield and Blickling where you could watch the rising sun light up the most lovely house in the land. How blessed was I?

Angler and nature in harmony

Angler and nature in harmony - Credit: John Bailey

Rivers, for me, are best at sunset, especially my beloved Wensum that runs roughly west to east, a fluke of geography that makes that special time golden. The rookery beneath Swanton church is as lovely as the old river gets. You won’t catch much but to watch the heavens afire as the birds come home is quite a thing. You really do expect to see the weary ploughman plod past and Norfolk legend John Carrick just about fits the bill when he’s away to The Darby.

The sea’s not bad either! Dawns mullet fishing out of Blakeney, in the big lagoon behind the Watch House, were as magical as you’d get this side of heaven. As ever, you caught pretty much nothing at all, but the lemon-tinted skies alone were enough to make you set the alarm clock. And then I came to live in Salthouse, in a cottage that cost me tuppence and was sold last year for over half a million. If I stood in the tiny loft room and watched the shore through field glasses, even half a mile away I could see the gulls congregating. It was those nights I’d get myself down the marsh as quickly as I could with a rod made up and ready to go. If I were in luck, whitebait would be showering in the surf and up the shingle with mackerel after them and bass after them all. A little silver plug cast out 15 yards and wham, bam and a late night supper was in the pan.

Winter is best on Broadland

Winter is best on Broadland - Credit: John Bailey

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I haven’t mentioned the pits, but there have been times this century when I have been on Kingfisher and thought, blimey, this is pretty good. Perhaps it will never have the majesty of Blickling or the charm of Felbrigg or the lost loveliness of Melton Constable, but, yes, pretty good nonetheless. And then of course there are the Broads. Perhaps winter is their time, when a January wind comes in from the sea and there’s a taste of salt in the air. Snow completes the scene , with geese coming in skein after skein.

Whoa. Stop there. OTT or what? But I don’t wholly apologise for this poetic walk around the waters of Norfolk. I started with a cliche and I’ll end with another, Joni Mitchell’s famous mantra. You really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone - and sad to say there’s a lot of what we have that is still special, but could be lost in the twinkling of our eye. When it comes to nature, care of our waters, notably, there is a lot of talk, but we see not much in the way of action. What a tragedy if the aesthetic side of our sport were ever to be more lost than it is already.