Friday, 28 March 2014

Alchemy On The River Dore

After the experience of last week, a fruitless trip to the River Honddu, Tuesday's destination required a little more thought and consideration.  The waters of the spring fed Honddu were bitterly cold and the river in parsimonious mood. A couple more weeks are probably needed before the place wakes up.  But what to do in the meantime?  Where to go to scratch that Spring fishing itch?  The answer lay in an oft neglected – at least by me - corner of the Monnow catchment, The Golden Valley.  

The Golden Valley is wide in aspect and gentle in its curves. It is a place of sleepy hamlets, of timbered churches and ancient farmlands whose sweeping lowland meadows bely the witness borne to centuries-long ebb and flow of borderland turbulence.  And through it all flows the River Dore, in a scribbled course of curves and straights.  The French, or at least the Normans, assumed that the name of the river referred to D’Or - “of gold”, and so was born The Golden Valley.  The historical reality is actually that the word Dore is a bastardisation of the Welsh “Dwr”, which means water; ah well, you can take your pick:  prosaic Welsh or Gauloise romanticism.  Whilst I’m not sure that The Watery Valley would capture imaginations in quite the same way as it’s present name, as I drive up the valley towards Vowchurch, the day has a definite grey and watery feel, there is no golden aura, just a pewter dullness to a sky heavy with cloud cover.
The Timbered Tower of St Bartholomews
Journey’s end arrives and I park up the car and stroll to the old bridge.  There is little breeze and in the slow water above the bridge small trout are feeding on a steady stream of olives.  Bingo.  This is what we came for, free-rising trout on an early Spring day.   But first there is business to be done in the frothing riffle and pool below the bridge where water cuts under the root covered bank to provide perfect trout territory. 

It doesn’t disappoint, a plump 10” fish comes to hand second cast.  These pools are one or two fish gigs at the maximum, so I progress to the flats above the bridge with three fish to hand already and the prospect of casting to rising fish waiting.  

The fish are still rising confidently, mostly small ones but great to blow the casting cobwebs away with, and across under the far bank, just off a semi-submerged log something larger is stirring, a target for later, once we've got our eye in.  Typically nothing goes quite to plan, two small fish play ball but the larger one evades me.

Onwards and upwards we travel… which turns out to be a fair bit upstream where the river opens up into a series of delightful riffle and pool sequences, all full of promise and character.  The Dore has an undeserved reputation as being somewhat dour; lugubrious of nature, muddy and stygian in its depths.  Jon Beer featured it in his column once.  He didn’t like it.  He didn’t fish here though, here are crystal clear waters, flowing ranunculus and a stream song full of mirth and life. 

This is now Spring fishing at its best, each bend presents a different challenge with rising trout asking subtle questions from the shallowing tails of deep pools, and the faster rootside nooks and crannies hiding trout of surprising size and quality.  And such quality too, two consecutive drifts of a flashback nymph along a steep shelf bring consecutive fish of 12” and then a 14” bruiser which took and fought with a savage violence that left me trembling.  A real granddaddy of the stream.

An Elder Statesman

Savage and Violent!

I am now just in a zone all my own… searching, casting, watching and casting, feeling utterly in tune with this intoxicating stream.  A series of lovely fish fight their way into my memories and blaze a lasting impression with their beauty and condition.  One trout in particular reminds me of an old Golden Valley legend… that of the monks of Dore Abbey who once caught a trout around whose back was a golden chain, such was the burnished beauty of this fish that an impression was taken and a sculptor charged with carving its memory into the stonework of the abbey, where today it remains, its presence little known and less understood. 
The Stuff of Legend?
By now the skies have warmed and the pewter grey clouds have been rent by the mid-afternoon sunshine, kissing the water and its fishy denizens with the tinge of old gold.  The Dore has worked an unexpected alchemy upon the day and as I cast a line into the last pool of the day, I am left wondering if those Normans didn’t know a thing or two more about this little river when they named the valley Golden.




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