All posts by Stephen Cullen

This Blog is a record of my love of the countryside, all things in it, especially old tractors, growing good food, drinking good tea and taking time out to enjoy life.

Bringing In The Crops

It has been a while since I have made a chutney from my surplus crops. This has been due to the fact that the past two years have really not been that productive. This year has been very different indeed. Although some fruit and veg have still not produced as well as in previous seasons, I have had a bumper crop of tomatoes; so it’s time for Christmas chutney making.

I’ve grown a number of different tomato varieties this year. As per previous chutney’s that I have made, I am including a bowl of dates, raisins, two cayenne chillies for a little bit of after-heat taste, two bell peppers, muscovado sugar, fresh rosemary, two small tea spoons of mustard, red and white onions, and a bottle of malt vinegar. This is all cooked down for three hours and carefully deposited into oven-hot glass jars. The sharp vinegar taste will disappear completely after these have matured for a couple of Months, and will be grand on the table at Christmas. I will as ever, keep aside a jar for the final day of the course fishing season on the 14th March 2020. I can’t wait to try it now with a slab of cheese, or even better a good quality pork pie, but one must wait.

Great Year For Onions

Although I have had several disasters, notably with broccoli and a number of my fruit crops, this year has been great for onions.

As always I had planted “Sturon” and Red Barron as my main crops which did ok. but I also planted “Ailsa Craig” which did very well indeed. I again planted seeds in November of my giant onions, and by August I had a 4lb 7oz’er.  I left one in the ground for a few more weeks and lifted it at the weight of 5lb 10oz, not a show-winner, but it is my best yet.

Still In Search of Tench

The search for a Tench took me to a club lake close by. This particular pond is known for it’s Tench, although they are caught anywhere on this pond they are known to occupy a certain section of the pond. When I arrived, I found all but two swims to be occupied, and the area I needed to get to catch a Tench was full. Never-the-less, I still setup one rod on the opposite bank and had a good day. I caught numerous Roach and had three really good runs, only for the hook to slip each time. I then resorted to putting on a large carp hook only to then begin catching Bream. Huge clouds of bubbles appeared in my swim which I hoped were Tench but clearly, I had an assembly of Bream in my swim.

The Start of the New Fishing Season

I awoke at four am to the sound of heavy rain. Good and welcome news for the garden and allotment, but not when I was about to take a car journey of over three hundred miles. Although traffic wold be lighter at this time in the morning, I knew that further into my journey the rain would compound delays, I was not wrong. Disregarding an unexpected road diversion that added forty minutes onto my journey, I arrived at my destination eventually around 12:30. I had two options- to check into my accommodation and then track back to do a couple of hours fishing, or I could go straight to the tackle shop to purchase bait and go fishing straight away. The decision was made for me when I called my B&B and there was no answer.

 

I arrived at the pond to find another member already there and I introduced myself to one of the new members. It did not take me long to get a line in the water. The weather was warm and sunny, not perhaps the best fishing weather; but it was pleasant to be back at this ancient pond again. Fishing in a familiar swim, it did not take long before my orange tipped quill float slid away. Roach after Roach came to the bank, along with a few lovely palm-sized Crucians, and two Crucian ‘corkers’ later that day. A great afternoon was had, but sadly there were no signs of a summer, new season Tench for me today.

Spring Equinox

All of a sudden it is Spring again. Although the 20th of March marks the formal start of Spring, it has actually arrived in many forms days and weeks ago. All the Spring flowers are in bloom, and the Blackbird has been serenading for some time now.

I don’t usually plant anything so soon in the growing year, but it has been so mild, and with the warmth to continue I began planting the Onions and Garlic I purchased back in February. One hundred “Red Barron” and two hundred “Sturon” have now been set, along with Garlic, Radish, Carrots, Chard and Beetroot. I have never really had much luck with carrots, but am trying two varieties this season so we will see how they fair. My Rhubarb always does well, and this season is no exception; its off to a flying start.

The 20th of March this year is especially significant as not only does it mark the beginning of Spring, but it is also a full moon. Not only this, but it is a “Supermoon” – a very rare occurrence co-inciding with the beginning of Spring. This particular moon at this time of year is also known as a “Worm” Moon as it signifies the emergence of worms in the soil. The last time this co-incided with Spring was back in 1905!

End Of Season

As per usual, I was anticipating fishing for Roach on one of my favourite rivers in Wessex on the last day of this course fishing season.

As the date approached I, along with others, watched the weather forecast for the days approaching the 14th; It was not good news. The bailiff had been on the phone the previous week to say that the river was in the fields. Desperate news, but this particular river falls very, very quickly, so I was not too disappointed at the time.

I drove down on the Monday and arrived late in the day. Tuesday brought ‘biblical’ rain; this did not look promising for Thursday the 14th. The rain stopped around 15:00 on the Tuesday and I ventured forth to see what the river was like. I was amazed that, yes it was flowing very quickly, and really was too coloured to fish well, but it had not risen into the fields, so I had a couple of hours fishing on the river bank.

However, Wednesday morning brought grave news from the bailiff that the river had risen overnight and was now in the fields again. Along with gale-force winds, fishing here would be impossible today. I am lucky to be a member of a couple of nice ponds in Wessex, and one in particular I know to be tree-lined, and was sure to be able to get out of the wind somewhere along its banks and cast a line.

I found a lovely sheltered spot close to trees that were part submerged in the water. The perfect hiding hole for big Roach and unsuspecting Carp. The sun made an appearance, and once the Kelly kettle had been fired up, I was very comfortable, content and warm. I caught some lovely Roach, the biggest was definitely the very first fish I hooked, but as it rolled on the surface it threw the hook. I went on to catch 20+ Roach but no Carp today. Tomorrow, the 14th, would definitely be spent on a pond somewhere.

After many emails sent and received, it was to be spent with a few friends on a commercial pond. I had fished this pond a few times in the past years and looked forward to connecting with one of its resident big Perch.

I arrived at 12:00 on the dot after travelling down some very narrow lanes and through a ford that was full of water, breaking one of the cars fog lights in the process! Damn sat-nav, I will throw it out of the window one day. I hadn’t realised but a couple of guys had arrived before me and were already fishing, and infact catching too. After a brief chat with the guys I hastily setup the rod and made my way to one of the few calm parts of one of the ponds there – it looked very perchy! Not long after I had setup the rain arrived. It wasn’t bad at first and I thought that it might blow-over, but it didn’t, it just got heavier and heavier. It was no good, I would have to retreat to the car to fetch my brolly. As I walked back to my pitch, two other friends arrived and sensibly stayed in their car while the worst of the rain passed over.

Everyone had a good fishing day, no monsters were caught and the best part was meeting with friends again and feasting on home made pork pie, cake and of course tea! A great end to this course fishing season. I now look forward to spring, hearing the first Blackbird song and of course the opening of the new season where I look forward to fishing for Tench once more.

Christening Bob

I was kindly gifted a new ‘Perch Bobber’ as one of my Christmas presents last year, and is a welcome addition to the second box of floats that I keep.

I have been looking forward the final day of this course fishing season, and was going to use this new bobber for a Perch on a river or pond somewhere. However, this unseasonably warm weather of the past few days has surely got fish on the feed and I was itching to get to a river or pond, it was impossible to wait until the end of this course fishing season, the 14th of March.

There is a commercial fishery near where I live, not the sort of place that I would ever fish, but I learnt of Perch up to 4lb residing there, so was keen to have a crack at one.

I only fished for a couple of hours in the afternoon today, but really enjoyed feeling the warmth from the sun for the first time this year.  I managed to catch two Perch, one of around a pound and a half, and the other a little smaller at around a pound. The biggest surprise was at the end of the day catching a small Tench (on a prawn), not the prettiest Tench I have ever caught, but it just shows how warm the weather is today; quite bizarre.

It is the rule that normally it is the kiss of death fishing with a new float, but I was lucky enough to christen my new Perch Bobber. It could have been a summer’s day.

The Real Acid Test

Looking back I realise that I have not written a post on the old allotment for ages, and being such a nice day today, I have decided it’s about time I wrote one now. The warming sun bringing early hope for the coming spring. Blackbirds are now more evident in the garden; although still a little early to hear their song which I look forward to hearing every year.

I left the allotment baron last year, so the soil really has had a rest. Quality of potatoes and other veg had seemed to have taken a down-turn in previous years, even though organic fertilisers were dug-in.

I had forgotten all about a soil testing kit that I was given some years ago. I had done a few soil tests previously to try it out, but discounted the results, from what I have read they are not very accurate anyway.  Coming back to it this year, I carried out a number of tests with both dry and wet soil, from different depths, and from all over the allotment, and found some interesting results.

It turns out that the soil in the fruit raised beds has a PH around 7, being a light shade of green on the tester. However, the soil from the vegetable raised beds is very, very dark green indicating a PH of at least 8. This is too high for what I grow here, and should, like the fruit section be around PH 7. Doing a little research, I learn that the soils PH can be adjusted over time. I know that other allotmenteers annually ‘lime’ their soil, but this would push my soils PH up even further. I learn that Sulphur is the answer to make your soil more acidic.

I’ve dug-in and watered-in seven of the smaller raised beds, and one of the larger ones. I have no idea if the quantity of sulphur applied has been correct? I fear it is too little, but In around three months or so, I will carry out a few more soil tests to see if this has been successful, and will only know if whatever I plant here grows well this year and provides better crops.

It’s a bit early

It’s a bit early in the year for me to buy my onion sets. I was at my local garden centre recently I could not resist picking up a bag of white and a bag of red.

As usual, I am going to grow “Sturon“, a variety that always does well for me and for my reds, I am going to grow good old “Red Barron“, a variety that others struggle with on our allotment soil, but I seem to do ok with them, and they are great store’s.

I have not grown garlic for a few years now so am going to give it a go this year with a soft neck, mild flavour variety called “Arno“.

Although it is a spring-like day today, I am not planting these until the ground really does warm up a bit, at least not until the end of March. Until then, they will bide their time in the warmth of the greenhouse.

The First Family Holiday

Although I have managed a few fishing trips away this year; this is the very first family break since the birth of our daughter.

It is just as well that I own an estate car as the amount of gear we needed to pack was unprecedented.

I was not expecting to get fishing on our holiday as there would simply be no room in the car for my fishing gear on top of all the family essentials, even in my estate car, but a friend persuaded me to stow a rod away somewhere and said that he may join me on the river bank for a crack at a Perch.

My first choice at this time of year is always a lovely Fred J.Taylor Roach rod that I own. It is quite a large rod and really would not have fitted and possibly would have got damaged in the transit. However, I found in my pile of sticks a rod I forgot that I had, an Edgar Sealey ‘Octofloat‘. This is a three piece rod and is light as a feather, perfect to smuggle into the car.

I had also packed the bare minimum into a Brady bag including a wide drum ‘Speedia‘ that I have not used in ages and looked forward to an afternoon on my favourite Wessex river aiming to catch one of it’s lovely Roach.

Our arrival in Wessex coincided with Storm ‘Callum’ and thoughts of any fishing were very distant for a number of days. Eventually a break in the weather did show on the forecast. Rain had stopped and high pressure was to stay for a couple of days. This was great, and gave the river a little time to recover allowing the water to fine down and clear a little.

The day arrived and was greeted with glorious sunshine, something that we had not seen for ages. Bizarre for this time of the year, mid-October and the temperature was in the high-teens. In fact, as I strolled to the river it could have been mistaken for a glorious summer’s day. Maybe not perfect fishing conditions for some, but perfect for me!

The river was the lowest that I have ever fished it following a very hot summer.  The spot that I chose to fish had very little current in it, which is unusual as later in the season I have know it to be a torrent here.

I did not manage to catch many Roach today, but did land endless Gudgeon, numerous Dace, a few small Chub and a cracking Perch right at the end of the day. A lovely couple of hours were spent.

Surface Fishing

It has been well over two years since I tried to catch a Carp from the surface of any water. I know this as it was the last time that I used this reel. A K. Dowling & Sons centre pin. Not a collectors piece by any means, but it was the first pin that I bought and I use it exclusively for surface fishing for Carp.

The lake I was fishing is the lake that I fished years ago. I had been looking forward to another trip there for some time. It was a good forty minutes drive from where I was staying in Wessex. I imagined that there would be a few fishermen there as it was a weekend and I was not wrong.  Most had not caught a thing blaming the cold weather the previous days, and the odd frost that they had in this area.  In the afternoon sunshine a couple of fisherman were trying their luck for a carp on the surface and had not yet had a bite when I arrived. It was not long before one of them tempted a good carp on bread. I, on the other hand had brought dog buscuit. A bait that I had struggled to get as it seems to be really hard to obtain. However, a trip to a local pet store armed me with fishmeal and potato flavoured dog buscuit – surely I could not fail on this.

It took quite a while to tempt fish to begin feeding on the surface. It was great fun watching fish come up to my bait and back off at the last second only to be overcome with greed until one finally took the bait. The reel screamed into life but the fish gave up really quickly. I was sure that I had foul-hooked it but when I got the net under it I had not surprisingly. I got a shock when I lifted the fish onto the unhooking mat as I could not believe how heavy it was, easily over 15lb. The cold must have semi-comatose’d it.

I lost many more during this fishing session and with the nights getting shorlter I had to pack up before I knew it.

Never Fish Off-Rota

It was the last day of my trip and I  never look forward to the long journey home. The issue is that my route takes me very near to this pond, and I always tell myself that I will just fish an hour or two and then get back on the road home. This invariably never happens and I stay at the ponds far longer than intended. Today was no exception.

I had contacted a few of the members to see if it was ok to fish on their day and was very pleased to get a reply to say yes, there was no issue.

I checked out of my hotel and made my way to the tackle shop in order to purchase some fresh bait. When I arrived, no sooner had I opened the car door it began to rain, and by the time I walked the short distance to the tackle shop it was pouring down, accompanied by a deep rumble of thunder. I must be mad going fishing in this!Non-the-less, bait tubs full, I made my way to the ponds. The tops of the trees billowing over, and the wind was just getting stronger and stronger developing into a gale. No sane person would choose to go fishing in this weather, I was on my way home so had nothing to lose by giving it a go.

Remarkably the swim I was to fish was out of the wind. This pond is surrounded by trees which not only gives protection from the wind, but  are great for sheltering under in light showers. The wind was ridiculously strong by now.  Another issue was falling Kelly kindling (branches) which were a close encounter on more than one occasion, but came in very handy during the day for my tea making.

I did the same as yesterday by raking the swim a couple of times and only brought in light weed, baited it, and retired to put the Wizard together.

I was soon fishing and once more could hear distant rumbles of thunder and temporarily, I remained dry. How long could my luck last? Not long as it happened.

I caught a lovely palm-sized Crucian. The swim from time to time was cluttered with bubbles, so I was praying again to catch one of the fabulous Tench that reside here.

Fishing was quite slow, but very enjoyable.  Concentrating on my inactive float for so long then turning to attend to a boiling Kelly the split second my reel screamed into life. By the time I had put the kettle down and got my hand on the rod, the fish was well into the weed and there was no way back from there, loosing a float also in the disaster. If you are ever short of a bite, make tea! It’s amazing how many times stopping concentrating on a float actually gets you a bite. Obviously I had lost a Tench.

I missed a couple of lovely lift bites too, probably Tench although I have known Roach to feed in this manner also. I missed some proper thumping bites with the float shooting under, today was not going well.

Another cracking bite saw the float zip under, I lifted the rod and was into either a really good Crucian, or a Tench. The fish dived down into the lilles, my line kissed the stem of one of the lilles and gave way as if it had been cut by a razor blade; I could not believe it!

It was not long before my luck with the weather ended and the rain came in earnest. For the first shower I was quite comfortable sheltering under the boughs of the tress. When it stopped, I retrieved my brolly from the car in case of a big storm. The brolly came in very handy as the heavy rain did come, but I didn’t get any thunder surprisingly.

The last straw was another thumping bite, the float shot under and down towards the lillies, I struck into it, but the line between my reel and first eye on the rod had caught around a branch on the ground, the float shot out of the water and wrapped itself many times around the top of my rod – the air was blue!!! It was an impossible tangle. I had no option but to cut it off. This marked my time to head for home, the lake gods were telling me to go.

Tripping over the chain on my Kelly while packing up which was full of hot water and scalding myself in the process, gave even more proof that you should never-ever go fishing off-rota.

 

An Epic Day

This particular pond that I fish is expertly and gently managed, the few members are allocated to fish either on an even number, or an odd number day. Yesterday, I was fishing out of sync, and although I was kindly granted permission by another member to fish on his day, I believe that the lake gods frowned upon me.

Today I will be fishing on-rota. Again, I had my Wallis Wizard with me along with a little Aerial reel. Today however, I raked the swim before I fished. I could only assume that yesterday some of the weed had drifted in and my bait simply was not on the lake bed. It was frustrating as anything as there were clouds of Tench bubbles very near to my float but it never went under. Today would be different I hoped.

Like yesterday, thunder storms rumbled away in the distance, would I be lucky again and avoid the rain?

I hauled the rake four or five times and created a little clear strip near to a bed of lillies, I baited it with corn and then retired to put my rod together. By the time I had returned to the swim it was evident that all the noise and commotion of dragging a rake had not put the fish off one little bit and there were immediate signs of feeding fish.

There was no-one else at the ponds today so I had them all to myself and was very content, firing up the old Kelly now and again for cups of tea.

I was correct. Not only were the gods angry yesterday, but this swim must have been a bit choked with weed. The first fish I caught was a lovely palm-sized Crucian, great to see. I managed to catch a couple of good crucians that I was sure were Tench when I first hooked them, great scrap. Crucians are not meant to fight like that. I then managed to find my quarry and it fought hard. I gave it everything the Wizard had and managed to land a lovely three-pounder.

Once again, I stayed until the bats arrived and was really lucky all day not to get wet from any of the surrounding thunder storms.

Here again

Today saw yet another last minute trip to the Ponds. I had left my house later than anticipated at 04:20 and arrived to meet another member and good friend around lunchtime. I was only six minutes late. We had a spot of lunch – thanks very much!, and we were at the ponds late afternoon. My friend allowed me to settle in ‘the’ swim, a swim that I have never actually fished at this pond.  I have always favoured the more open swims that are available as it is far easier to control a Tench in these which is always my main quarry when I fish here.

I had brought one of my favourite rods, a Wallis Wizard that I have not used in a very long time and almost forgot that I had one in the collection; perfect for small Tench and Crucians. A little 3.5 inch Ariel from between 1920-1925 that I had refurbished made up the tackle for the trip.

We both settled into our swims quickly and began to fish; it was great to be back again. The manager turned up and fished the next swim down. Both my friend and I remained fish-less as the manager hauled fish after fish. (I actually heard him chuckling). That’s fishing I guess!

I drowned myself in mug after mug of tea, and managed to blank in ‘the’ swim. My friend caught a fine little Tench in the evening which was a lovely end to the day.

It’s Still Red Hot

The temperatures are still way-up there, fishing is not so good in hot weather, but I could not resist another crack at a summer Tench and the possibility of a Crucian.

I fished until the bats arrived at the pond, and although I missed many takes, and didn’t manage to catch my quarry of a Tench, I managed to land a few lovely Crucian’s, accompanied by many cups of tea from the old battered Kelly.

A Glastonbury Year

Another red hot day in Wessex saw me at another of my favourite ponds. I knew that it would be hard to catch anything in this heat but still wanted to be at the water to enjoy the setting here. It is a bit of a tradition for me now to be fishing somewhere on midsummer day.

Like Glastonbury this year, I kind of knew the fishing was just not going to happen, but enjoyed the blazing sunshine.

I might have only caught a tan here today, however I still relished just being here.

A Jaunt Wessex Way

I was not able to get to Wessex for the first day of the opening course fishing season this year. I eventually broke free and arrived on the 19th June. Fishing today 20th June , tomorrow (midsummers Day) and Friday before having to peel myself away and drive back home.

Meeting with a good friend for the first day, we decided to fish a pond that is part of our club licence. In fact, the club has recently not only leased this water that they had for a number of years, but has actually bought it outright.

This lake has become known for its Carp, but more interesting for me is that it has also become known for its Tench, and some big Tench at that.

We arrived around lunch time and found a number of anglers already there and disappointingly, one or two were in the ‘crack’ swims that we would have liked to be fishing.  We had a walk around the lake to see any signs of feeding fish. there we still a couple of great looking spots, so we opted for these.

Sport was surprisingly slow and many patches of bubblers did not amount to a bite. I did however manage to catch a number of Roach, and  a Bream of which I cannot recall the last Bream I caught? so it was nice to be reacquainted.

At around 19:00 I had ran out of bait completely. Frustratingly there were still a few patches that showed signs of feeding fish here at there that I had been baiting up during the day. I noticed a single grain of corn that I had obviously spilt while baiting up lying on the ground. I’ll give this a try I thought. Hooked on the corn and cast out towards the baited swim. Within seconds the float went under and initially I thought that it was yet another Roach. The rod bent hard over, I was into something good. The fish was powering it’s way towards every patch of lillies and snags that it knew. It took all my efforts on the light line I was using to stop it and steer it out into open water. I could not get this fish to the surface. It had stopped running so my thoughts immediately turned away from a Carp and began to think that this was a Tench. Still fighting for every inch, I eventually got the fish to surface and was met by a flash of dark green as it turned and nosed down to the lake bad again. This battle ensued for a good five minutes before I managed to get it over the net. Unbelievable, right at the end of the day, and with only one grain of corn remaining.

A Different Start To The Fishing Season

It has been a different start to this years coarse fishing season. Due to commitments, I had cancelled my plans to visit Wessex. A slight change to proceedings, but I still had my local pond that I could get to.

02:53 brought the first sign of the approaching dawn with the first Blackbird song. A bit early I thought as they began their song from nearby chimney tops. Not however our resident Blackbirds that did not rouse until just after 05:00, which I took to be my own alarm call.

Arriving at the pond after startling a few cows when I made my way through their field, I found that It has changed dramatically since the last time I was here in 2017. It’s full of weed. Weed of all types – excellent!

This weed would put many anglers off fishing here, but it is perfect for the fish, and is great for fishing in.

The Carp were still spawning throughout the morning. I did have my sights set on catching a Tench, but this was not to be. Broken on 4lb line a number of times made my change tactics and fish straight through on 8lb line onto a Carp hook. This worked, and soon I was attached to one of these ‘zoo creatures’ that reside in this pond. Not big but gave a heck of a scrap.

I stayed on until around lunchtime when I had run out of bait. Not another sole was at the pond today. I guess everyone was put of by all the weed.

WWI at Beamish

Every year people come from far and wide to the Beamish Steam Fair. Unlike many other fairs; at Beamish the engines are in their proper settings, and not just standing motionless in a field to be admired. They are worked and driven around the Museum constantly. This year, the Beamish Steam Fair focused around World War One, with many vehicles and displays from this era.

Apart from the fantastic steam engines, there were also displays such as wood cutting using a steam powered machine – very interesting.

Along with the larger steam driven engines, there was a great show of steam cars and military motor bikes. Not to mention the poor chap who had the task of riding a penny farthing bicycle across tram lines and down the cobbled streets of Beamish under his own ‘steam’.

Spring Equinox

It is the spring equinox today; and although I have heard the blackbirds sing for a short time, it is the first time this year that I have seen them take up the highest part of the land, (tv aerial) and begin their song in earnest.

It is probably in rejoice that the snow has finally departed, and the first really warm day of the year has warmed their feathers.

An Odd End To The Fishing Season

It was an odd end to the fishing season this year. With the river high and coloured I ended up at a pond. Which at this time of year is not on my agenda, but it still meant that I was fishing.

Very lucky with the weather too. Rain was forecast, and although I did get light showers, the worst held off until the evening where upon it came down in rods.

Now the season is over I can look forward to spring and planting up of the allotment. Oh, and of course, the beginning of a fresh new fishing season in June.

And So It Continues

This batch of snow has meant that we could not get the car out of our street, and the first year in many when I didn’t own a 4×4. Subsequently, I have not managed to get to the allotment for some time now. Concerned with the amount of snowfall, I was conscious that the greenhouse roof might not be able to withstand all that snow, and collapse under the weight.

There was only one option – walk! It is a fifteen minute drive to my allotment, so I had quite a walk ahead of me in some really quite bad weather. Naturally, I took a flask of tea that would be me reward once I arrived. The snow was quite deep in a number of places and was almost as deep as the height of my flask; and far deeper than that where the snow had drifted.

I need not have worried,  when I arrived at the allotment I found that the wind had probably kept most of the greenhouse roof clear. There was very little weight on it, I was very relieved,. A couple of sweeps from a broom took off most of the ice and snow. Although the thermometer in the greenhouse stood just above freezing, it seemed really warm inside. So much so that I had to take my jacket off while enjoying my reward of hot tea ahead of my long walk back home.