As I continued on my great English road trip, I settled on a new goal. Autumn had come, turning the trees gold, and with it – or so I understood – came pike fishing season. Suddenly there was nothing I desired more than to wrangle one of those fearsome predators from the water. Upon advice, I headed for a “remote” spot along the Hythe Military Canal (the English idea of a remote location differs somewhat from the New Zealand one).
I’d already fished the part of the canal that lies in the town of Hythe, so now it was time to foray further afield, passing through the town of Lympne (pronounced “lim”, because obviously) and parking up in a handy car park right next to the canal. It was only early afternoon so I figured I had plenty of time to fit in a little fishing before dark – and maybe land my first pike? The thought was actually slightly concerning because I didn’t yet have a net, and my friends seemed convinced that I would be unable to pull one of the toothy predators from the water without one.
But in the spirit of the unofficial byline of this blog (“silly things to do in Dunedin and the world”) I decided to ignore the advice and give it a go anyway. So I walked up the autumnal tree-tunnel which runs next to the canal, glowing gold in the afternoon light, to find the spot that had been recommended to me.
A kilometre or so down the path I found my destination, a dam across the canal with a handy wooden bench I could use to arrange all my equipment. A sparkle in the distance caught my eye and I noticed some silly person had lost a lure in one of the trees overhanging the calm pool. Well, unlike a lot of these strange new English fishing techniques, I am quite familiar with spinner fishing (one of the recommended pike-catching methods) so I’m sure I’ll do much than this unfortunate stranger!
I pulled out one of the large pike lures that had been gifted to me by a kind friend and proceeded to cast about the pool. I noticed some very small fish leaping suddenly out of the water, and decided that the only explanation for this phenomenon was the presence of active pike in the depths.
As the afternoon light turned golden, a dog-walker stopped to chat with me. Hearing my love for historic things, he mentioned that there was a Roman ruin nearby, which I found highly intriguing.
Distracted by this fact, I cast again…directly into the tree of doom! I tugged and twisted in humiliating futility, and finally had to accept that I had made another sacrifice to the pike gods.
Feeling somewhat disillusioned, I sulkily packed up my gear, and decided that since the light was so atmospheric I would seek out the rumoured Roman ruin. So I headed further up the canal-side path.
It wasn’t long before I saw what I was seeking on the slope to my right – the scattered rocky remains of Portus Lemanis, a Roman fort dating to about 270AD which once guarded the harbour here from Saxon pirates.
Hold on a minute…harbour? Here? We are miles from the coast! Well it turns out the path I am walking may once have been the approximate shoreline before the Romney Marsh to the south was drained.
Seeking a closer view, I took a steep path up the hill until I was level with the ruin. It stands on private land, but after a moment wrestling with temptation I decided that the once in a lifetime opportunity to watch the sunset from atop a Roman ruin was worth a teeny tiny trespass. So I scurried across the field and climbed up on to one of the many masonry outcrops.
Nobody’s quite sure what Portus Lemanis would have looked like in its heyday, as subsidence on the hillside has moved everything around, but still it was nice to imagine myself atop the fort’s thick walls as the sun approached the horizon.
I watched until the sun disappeared completely below the horizon and the sky was fully infused with shades of pink and orange. Then I quickly made my way back on to the track and decided to follow it further upwards towards the castle. This turned out to be a very difficult proposition, as the steep track was slick with slippery mud, and my choice of hand holds to steady myself was limited to either thorn bushes or nettles.
At least the view was nice, and I stopped every so often to enjoy it.
Finally I reached the ridge, to find that the combination restaurant and pub by the castle was just closing. So I passed it by and took the narrow road back to my car – a rather frightening experience in the dark as there was no footpath and quite a lot of traffic.
The next morning I was up early, and decided my first task would be to acquire a net. Instead of driving in to Hythe, I chose to walk the opposite direction along the canal, soaking in the autumnal atmosphere of the mild day.
A sudden spray of leaves drew my attention up into the treetops, where two squirrels were chasing each other in what looked like a playful and frolicksome manner but was probably high drama from their perspective.
Finally I reached the town and purchased a net from the same fishing shop I’d visited last time I’d fished the canal. Then I grabbed an uninspiring English breakfast before my return trip. Along the way I spotted the local sound mirror mounted on the hill, the third I’d encountered since arriving in England. There was an information panel which included a smaller model of the mirror and suggested I send a friend across the canal to speak quietly so I could see exactly how the device worked – which would have been a great idea if I had a friend.
I got back to the car park having whiled away most of the morning on my errand. If I’d taken the car I’d have been back within half an hour, but then I’d have missed the beautiful colours and wildlife along the way, which would have been quite a tragedy. Still smiling from the afterglow of my walk, I picked up the rest of my fishing gear and returned to my piking spot.
So I redoubled my efforts to entice a pike into taking my lure, but still I encountered no interest. At least this time I didn’t lose anything important, so it was an improvement over my last attempt. But as morning passed into afternoon the temperature began to plummet and my hands started to get uncomfortably cold. So I packed up again and went in search of that noble English institution – the local pub!
As I meandered pubwards, a fascinating phenomenon started to take place in the sky. The now boiling grey clouds were forming into a strange lumpy pattern, which believe it or not was something I had been wanting to see ever since I first read about “mammatus clouds” – a rare icy cloud formation that often signals the approach of a thunderstorm.
But this did mean I had to hurry to the pub before the rain began to barrel down. In all the clouds lasted only about fifteen minutes, and I hurried into Botolph’s Bridge Inn just as the first heavy drops started to fall. There I was just in time for Fish Fryday so was able to enjoy a traditional fish and chip meal with my traditional pint of cider in a traditional English pub.
And just to be sure, I enjoyed a few more traditional pints of cider with the rather less traditional free wifi until it was time to brave the weather and return to my “lodgings”. Snuggling into the many sleeping bags in the back seat of my car I settled down for a wild night as the wind rocked me to sleep and the pounding rain provided a lullaby.
By dawn the violent weather still had not cleared so I reluctantly gave up on my pike fishing mission and hit the road to seek shelter elsewhere. I hadn’t achieved my goal, but I had enjoyed a beautiful authentic autumn experience, seen the sun set from an ancient ruin, and ticked a meteorological phenomenon off my bucket list. So on the whole I couldn’t bring myself to be upset at the trade.