Time for the next stop on my great English road trip, and since I’m so unfamiliar with the local geography I simply chose it by tracing the path of the River Stour along the map until I found a large-ish area of green. This patch of wilderness turned out to be Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve, a swampy area of protected land 12 kilometres to the east of Canterbury.
I cautiously navigated my oversized Jeep through the narrow country lanes that lead to the tiny village of Stodmarsh (population 55) where I found the turn off to the reserve car park. Time to scout the area!
I first tried out the short loop walk, crossing a bridge over one of many ditches which are used to regulate the water levels in the reserve. Its surface was covered in bright green weed, a theme that would be repeated as everything in the forest appeared to be covered in a layer of bright green, even the park benches.
I soon found that the water level could perhaps do with some extra regulating, as the track had been partially flooded. By the time I realised that I was not simply encountering an isolated puddle my feet were already wet, so I shrugged and continued.
When I met the place where the small loop joins the much larger loop walk I figured I might as well keep exploring – especially since this path ran along a higher bank – so I set off deeper into the reserve.
Soon I drew alongside a lake to my left – I could hear waterfowl beyond the reeds but couldn’t see them.
On the other hand, there were plenty of little birds in the trees although none of them would hold still for a photograph. In fact, I think it was the most birds I’d ever seen in one place since I got to England. In the canal to my right I noticed a pair of geese beyond the dangling branches.
The first recorded use of this land was by medieval Augustinian monks who dug ditches to swampify the area and grazed pregnant mares on the fertile ground. Hence the name Stodmarsh – or “stud-marsh”. It was drained in the 1700s after a flood barrier was built but a coal mine built nearby in the early 1900s caused subsidence and the ground became waterlogged once more. Now Stodmarsh looks much like it must have in its medieval days, up to and including the grazing horses – two of which I managed to spot!
As the hardy Konik ponies ignored me, I headed on towards the River Stour, enjoying the autumn colours. Being from an evergreen country, the universal oranges and yellows and the falling leaves were endlessly fascinating for me.
But what I really wanted was to find out if there was good access to the river from this park, somewhere decent to fish from. Luckily the walk soon began to follow the winding path of the river and I began looking for a site that would not require me to negotiate a swampy mass of twisted undergrowth.
I was beginning to feel this was an impossibility when I found an area of solid ground beneath a tree which provided excellent access to the river bank. I stepped over some branches to the water’s edge and took a good long look. The occasional splash and ripple on the still surface of the river told me all I needed to know – there were fish here!
Despite having found a perfect spot I decided to continue my reconnaissance just in case there was anything else good to see. The path took me all the way to the eastern end of the reserve, Grove Ferry. Here I found a sign post with the number of the Canterbury & District Angling Association, which oversees these waters, and dutifully wrote it down.
The other side of the loop walk wound through the golden reed beds of the marsh, taking me between and over the channels which keep it all irrigated. I moseyed on into a wildlife viewing hide only to be jumped all over by a dog. I had interrupted the photographer who had already claimed the spot overlooking a pond. I assumed he was watching the two white swans floating on its surface, but in fact he was observing a fox stalking its prey in the grass beyond. Unfortunately the disturbance caused by my entrance Had frightened it away. Sorry!
Finally I made it back to my vehicle and proceeded with my enquiries as to the local fishing. I called the Canterbury & District Angling Association on the number I’d picked up earlier and asked about the pricing for day tickets.
“We don’t do them,” was the response. “You’ll have to buy a membership to fish that stretch of the river.”
Oh, and how much is the membership? £132.00? Um…I’ll have to think about it.
Greatly disappointed, I ended the call. I’d had my heart set on fishing that spot only to find it was well outside my price range. In that case, what to do with the rest of my day?
This is England, so of course the logical answer is to find the local pub. In Stodmarsh, this happened to be The Red Lion, and I was able to hole up in a corner with my laptop and a pint of cider, bludging off the free wifi. When dinner time rolled around I ordered the fish and chips, an unusually fancy version that nevertheless proved to be excellent.
I chatted to some of the friendly (or at least willing to tolerate me) locals for a while before heading back to my home-on-wheels to crash for the night. With the dawn of the new day I elected to leave in search of a cheaper fishing site, a little sad to leave the lovely environs behind.