Contrary to my image as a worldly urban sophisticate, at heart, I’m a bit of a country boy. Long suffering regular readers will recall my love for my cottage in Norfolk. So when my childhood friend Ben rang and said “do you fancy a couple of days fly fishing on the Usk?” I said yes.
If, like me, you have no idea where the Usk is, then I shall enlighten you. It’s in South Wales. By a stroke of serendipity I was in Cardiff that day, doing a ‘smile and wave’ at House of Fraser. It was the last branch that I visited on my year long roadshow, following our conversion from HoF own bought, to concession. Like the other stores, the sales have increased massively and I always find it uplifting to meet the teams, who are so passionate about the brand.
Being so close, I could hardly say no. I left enough time to visit Garry Evans, the renowned fishing tackle shop of Cardiff (as they boast on their website), to find that they were, seriously, insane about fishing. Mark, my salesman, had fishes tattooed all the way up his arm, and boy, did he see me coming. “Ah, from London are we?” he said with the same glint in his eye as when he spies a vast carp lurking in shallow waters.
Laden with waders, rod, reel and endless flies with arcane names like Dusky Bishop, and Summer Nymph, I caught the train to Abergavenny, and thence to Crickhowell.
The Usk is a wide, fast flowing river of almost indescribable beauty. I was as much taken with the scenery and wildlife as with the fishing. I’d only been once before, on a boy’s trip to the lakes, where I had been epically ripped off by a mini cab driver; embarrassed myself massively at the pub quiz; lost £100 at poker; tipped my mobile into the river and didn’t catch a minnow. So my hopes were not high.
Ben has been fly fishing since he was six. Paradise for him is standing in a cold river up to his armpits in the pouring rain. Within the first ten minutes he caught a two pound brown trout, and then proceeded to catch another six. By the end of the day it was feeling like a re-run of The Lakes saga as I hadn’t even had a bite. Ben took pity on me, and guided me out to the deepest part of the river, way out of my comfort zone, and then proceeded to help land a whopper. I was so happy.
But one was enough, and the next day I was content to watch the heron, and the otter, and the kingfishers. And an old friend up to his chest in a cold river.
When I returned to the office on the Monday, universally, everyone commented on how relaxed and rested I seemed. We all have such hectic lives and despite our promises to ourselves every January 1st that ‘this year will be different’, inevitably, it’s not. We’ll never the find the right work/life balance, but to occasionally shift it in the right direction is very valuable.
Image by Malcolm Bell