It’s a fascinating life, I can tell you. What I can say is that down the hill, at the bottom of what I euphemistically call my garden is a lake of unparalleled beauty. Each morning I have my curtains drawn to reveal my wake-up-tea, and beyond, a glistening expanse of jewel-like water. If the lady of the lake thrust forth Excalibur one morning, I would be only mildly surprised. As it is I do at least know that therein lurk brown trout, wild as wild can be, that pull down the scales to over 6lbs. One of my staff, who really should know better than to fish in the lake, has caught a perch of 4lbs and even more interestingly, when the lake was netted a year or two back, out came great eels "as thick as a mans arm". But here I sit, with a desk full of papers to attend to, when I should be a-fishing in my garden. I’ll get to it later.
The lake, "my lake", is of course, an estate lake: man-made to add even greater wonder to the sylvan lawns, and views to the distant blue hills of Northumberland.
Early this year I fished another estate lake, some hundreds of miles south of here. Berwick Grange was built in the folds of the Home Counties, to serve the modest weekend needs of a London clothing baron, who, having made his pile selling ready-to-wears to the burgeoning Victorian middle classes, decided that he needed a stately pile in the country to promote his status. He wasn’t to know that he would outlive the completion of his Xanadu by only two years. The poor chap had all-too-little pleasures from his stately pleasure home.
All the same, God bless the man, he had the great foresight to build a tier of three achingly beautiful lakes, by the simple expedient of damming a little river. One hundred and fifty years later these lakes are overgrown, virtually unknown, and full of fish. It sounds like Paradise, and it is.
The Sheringham Society’s P.R. man, Jason Inskip, heard about these lakes through a chance encounter, and with the application of some silver words, managed to divine a day’s fishing for the society.
The approach to Berwick Grange lakes is quite a business in itself. The track wonderfully overgrown, with leaning trees, and tall grass growing through the cinders. No place for cars, although horse-drawn carriages must have passed this way, once upon a time.
And then, the lake – the middle lake. What? Perhaps three fifty acres of silver, with islands. On the nearest island stood a once – beautiful Greek temple, now pierced with trees and bedecked with willow herb. No noise, although perhaps a distant road hum, and the drone of a high 747. We all felt we should be whispering.
Beyond this beau ideal, we remembered that we had also come to conquer. The choice seemed to be between Wizards, for the tench – surely there just had to be tench - and carp rods; such a lake would be impossible without carp. Mark IV’s of varying vintage were drawn from their bags. Sheringham tails slipped silently into position.
Then, of course, we realised, there would be much more to it than simply casting upon the waters of fifty or so acres: we had to know where the fish might be. Clever souls went off to investigate, others of us, less patient, or less concerned about catching, set to where we were. Little cannon-balls of ground bait looped through the air, in certain knowledge that their action would attract all the lake’s inhabitants from hundreds of yards around.
Have I mentioned Zoltan? Zoltan’s father is Hungarian so there is some excuse for naming his son so. Zoltan is one of the Sheringham Society’s stalwarts, and by far the best piano player – for songs after dinner. Anyway, Zoltan sneaked off with his ancient and rather droopy rod, and almost before we had noticed his disappearance, a great ‘whoop’ came from the bushes to our right. Of course, the whole group went chasing off to see what the fuss was about, and found the dear chap with a rod in a most impressive hoop in it's top half, matched by an equally impressive hoop in the bottom half. Zoltan was wearing such a grin that we were severely concerned that the top of his head might fall off. He survived in fact enough to see a beautiful crucian slide intact into his wood-framed net. Aha! Thought I, there are some proper fish in this lake.
Society backs fled into the undergrowth, and there soon came the sound of urgent Aerial rachets, as line was feverishly fed through rod-rings.
It wasn’t long before some manic laughter, reminiscent of John Wilson, wafted down the breeze, signifying that Jason had latched into something entertaining. That sort of thing is highly infectious, and about our blissful lake hung an air of boyish happiness.
Having set up shop between two rather spiteful alders, I cast to whatever might be interested, and lay back with a languorous yawn. Trite as it may be to say so, just being there was enough. All the same, my reverie was short lived, because I was almost immediately called to arms by the insistent howl of my little Aerial. What a noise to make on such a day. The culprit was an iconic tench of about 4lbs, which looked as though it had never been caught before in it’s life – and probably, it hadn’t.
Then came a lovely cheeky little crucian chappie, all round and indignant. Crucians do their best to be pompous and important, but never quite manage to be either. They are a blessing to anglers though, who recognise them for the wee gentlemen that they are.
Sheringham lunches are always a joy. K. Howard had brought enough food to feed an army. He always does this, I think, just in case anyone fails to provide for himself. Strangely it’s the married types who fail most often, having relied too heavily on their wives. As always too, lunch dreamed on over long - but fishing really should take second place to fellowship. Glasses chinked, and snoring noises came from under a chestnut where Mr. Witcher was contemplating his lunch.
Back at our task of the day, the fish were still very co-operative. Explorers reported basking carp the size of basking sharks. This sort of mis-reporting is to be deprecated at all times, but it didn’t stop several of the band rushing off with Walker carp rods at the ready. Grand visions were rewarded by several wonderfully golden-scaled creatures. Inskip’s sixteen pounder was said to be ‘one of the little ones’, but as he caught it on a Mr IV Avon and 6lb line, we all thought he’d done rather well.
Back near the island swim, my tally of ‘Cheeky Chappies’ was mounting. In fact, when I had mentally counted up to about twenty, I stopped, lest my head be turned by such numbers, and I wandered off to sport with the others.
Interestingly, having caught more than their share, many of the chaps had moved into swims together, and were enjoying a fishy yarn to two. Sheringham people don’t seem to be overly worried about numbers, or weight.
We’re going to get another day at Berwick Grange, I’m told. I can’t wait. Maybe it won’t be quite so idyllic on second acquaintance, maybe the skies will be less azure, and the fish less enthusiastic about our meals on hooks; but I suspect it will be just fine, nevertheless.
And what of the Grange itself? Well, I have sadly to report it no longer exists. Taxed out of usability, it ‘somehow’ burnt to the ground about fifty years ago, to the cheers of the loony left, and the despair of all who recognized the moment when another nail was being driven into the coffin containing Britain’s heritage of greatness.
The lovely lakes remain, incapable of being burned out of existence. When the light and mind are just right, it’s possible to see the reflection of the great house which stood once on the hill; and the wind through the trees sometimes echoes to the sound of carriages on the cinder paths. The cheeky chappie crucians see and hear neither.