John Bailey: Poringland Lakes can act as inspiration to our society

John Bailey enjoys his day at Poringland Lakes. Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey enjoys his day at Poringland Lakes. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I mentioned last week that I was preparing to set off to a Family Fishing day at Poringland Lakes.

It amazed me to think that it had been three years since my last visit. Even then the area, studded with water, was something of a haven, an emerging paradise. Three years down the line, it was gobsmacking to see just exactly what nature and man in tandem have achieved there. It's hard to know where to begin to describe the transformation.

The site is only five acres but it seems much larger now that it has matured. There are ponds, wetlands, wildflowers, wooded areas and glimpses of beauty, here, there and everywhere. Of course, the lakes are enjoyed by anglers young and old but the site is also a sanctuary for the residents of Poringland and those that live round about. The website talks about this natural jewel being an oasis, a secret Eden, if you like. I know if I lived closer, I would simply haunt the place.

Rod Witham was his usual generous self and showed me round before the children began to fish, ably instructed and helped along by all the volunteers.

There is building absolutely everywhere in the area and houses, shortly, will press against the very boundaries of the site. In short, over the decades to come, this green area will become more vital for children, families, wildlife and those who appreciate it. It's an extraordinary vision and one that should inspire every one of Norfolk's expanding towns and villages. We need houses for shelter and supermarkets for food but, equally, we also need those quiet areas where we can breathe and regain touch with our essential humanity.

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I don't know how many children, parents, volunteers and instructors there were around the waterside last Wednesday but it seemed like a cast of thousands so great the energy and enthusiasm given off. Those that think angling is a snooze should have witnessed the scene and sensed the bubbling anticipation and excitement. The fishing did not disappoint. Floats bobbed, dipped and disappeared all round the lake from the very off. Rods were bending, reels were screaming and kids were laughing and shouting. There were dramas and disappointments, tears and triumphs.

At one stage, I looked round and it was hard to decipher who was enjoying the occasion more, the kids or the adults! That, surely, is how things should be. Fishing is a passion for both sexes, for all ages.

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As an aside, I was interested in the carp being caught. To me, they looked like lean, pewter grey commons of the old wildie type that once proliferated here in Norfolk. I'm not exactly sure the heritage of these Poringland fish but it could be that the wildie strain has found a sanctuary here. Also, tucked in an idyllic part of the site was a smaller lake, recently constructed, home to several score newly stocked crucian carp. I've mentioned the Norfolk Crucian Project before and it seems that Dr Carl Sayer has been busy here at Poringland. Wildies and crucians in adjoining ponds? How good can life get?

For legal reasons, I suppose, the children were assembled before the fishing began to listen to a long talk about health and safety. That's the world we live in now, I know, but it saddened me to realise that children today have lost perhaps the most essential element that people of older generations enjoyed. Freedom. Ask anyone over the age of 40 about their memories of summer holidays and freedom will figure large. Freedom to roam dawn till dusk. Freedom to cycle for miles with gangs of friends. Freedom to fish, play cricket, footie, to climb trees. Freedom to learn, to face challenges, to express yourself. I looked at these excited, enthralled kids and realised despite all their material benefits, their own personal right to roam has over the last 20 years or so been completely restricted. It made me sad, it made me realise that what we adults had, these kids will never enjoy.

But that's the world we inhabit and the Poringland initiative is the very, absolute bests that children today can expect. Days like this give children the chance to savour what the natural world is truly about, in reality, not watched on a screen. Everyone involved with this Poringland initiative should be truly, deeply proud of what they are doing.

And never think girls don't like fishing as much as boys. A couple of weeks back I took 10-year-old Heidi Gallant with me to catch her personal best tench. She and father Matt, sat side by side, hour upon hour. She was there from eight in the morning until five in the evening, her eyes never straying from her float. She had one bite, one tench approaching six pounds in weight and sighed deeply when it was time to leave. I've seen tens of thousands of anglers in the course of my life but never a truer one than little Heidi.

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