The Watery Beat by George Upex
At the start this river decants itself like molten glass into an ancient fold in the downs. Thousands of years ago, steered by providence, man found this river. As J.R.R. Tolkien put it ‘They heard of the Great Barrows, and the green mounds, and the stone-rings upon the hills and came.’ The names of men buried in these great barrows are long forgotten but their spirit endures. If ever there was a river with the draw of the supernatural this is surely it.
In its lower reaches, King Charles I lost men along the marshy river banks as he fought against the modern world. This river has seen much but keeps its secrets hidden. Standing beside the river my mind dwells on this thought as it conjures up from the tranquil turquoise a silvery chainmail-clad, iridescent, noble cavalier knight with pink pennon aflame rippling high over head. This is no spectre; the grayling of this watery beat are real. In October, with my heart heavy with summer’s loss I come here to fish for grayling.
October is a month of mournful atmosphere. The shortening days grow dark and cold. Nature stands still and takes stock of the fading memory of summer as Sleep, Death’s brother, crawls across the rusting trees and changing landscape. There is something supernatural about the evenings as the light fades and the skies clear. The sun slips below the horizon and everything is still. The chattering blackbirds pause and witness the red glow seep across the sky. Light is draped down the river in front of me in an oily slick of ochre, pink and blinding sliver. As the temperature drops I know it’s time to head home. On the path, shadows lengthen and the momento mori that is fallen autumn leaves are at my feet.
Earlier, I stood mid-river watching these ghostly fish glide between emerald fronds of weed. A sparrowhawk alighted ahead of me and perched on an overhanging branch, turning to look at me with two coal-black condescending eyes that only the wilderness could bare.
More often than not I fish for grayling alone on this little river that I have come to call home and when the leaves start to fall and the first frosts appear I head down in search of this most mystical of creatures. Keats’ season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is a most perfect setting for this melancholic fish.
The grayling of this river have an ephemeral quality which draws me back constantly. I cannot quite determine what it is that sets them apart from their cousins but they have been blessed with heartbreaking beauty and, I think, intelligence to match. The grayling here don’t dart away like the trout which shatter like broken glass as you approach. That isn’t to say they haven’t seen you. They have. The grayling possess otherworldly knowing. They slide backwards and observe, the weight of your heart balanced finely on their scales of worthiness. If you are found wanting, it is futile to try. These fish reward only those who have studied to be quiet.
More than once I have held a large grayling and felt its mournful eyes assess me whilst mine are wide with wonder. In that instance I sense this river’s burden of history weighing heavy on its being as if this fish is the embodiment of all that has been before. As the ghost of history swims back down to its watery beat the spell is broken and after a short time only thyme remains. What lasts is the profound effect on my being. I am spellbound by what has come before me, and perhaps what is after.