John Bailey: River Glaven haven full of wonder

In the glorious sunshine of the last weekend, I walked as much of the River Glaven in my beloved North Norfolk as I am allowed. It's a river I've known and loved for over fifty years and I'm never happier than when I am close to it. It seems to me, in the river closed season, that if you can't be fishing the river, then the very next best thing is to be walking it.

And, as an angler, as I walk the River Glaven, the memories flood in. Every bend, every copse, every gravel run seems to speak to me of the past. Wiveton Bridge screams loss to me as I remember back to 1972 and the great sea trout that I hooked there in the gathering gloom of an April evening. That fish was to take me all the way to sluice gates at Cley and depart to the North Sea leaving me broken-hearted.

I walk the runs beneath Glandford and see in my mind's eye the carpets of dace that wove their way over the shallows in the long gone days of the 60s. What has happened to the Glaven dace, I wonder? Once they were so prolific and today, I don't see a sign. And, tragically, that's much like the roach. Back in the 1960s, the Glaven was my own roaching heaven. 1964 was a hot year for me but, I guess, 1966 – 1969 saw the roaching at its peak. Bernie Bishop claims a three pounder from those days and one or two of my best weren't far behind. As late as 1994, I saw a truly unbelievable monster in the clear water at Cley. To this day, I can never understand why I never even bothered trying to catch it. A walk like this can really make you scratch your head and weep for your mistakes.

The big, slow, deeper bends up towards Wiveton always saw big pike and the perch were really something! Two pounders used to lurk above Glandford ford, feeding on the gudgeon shoals that combed the gravels. On my walk in 2012, not a single one of these lovely little fish do I actually see...but it was the perch at Cley sluice gates that really amazed. In the 60s, the boys and I used to watch them from the road bridge, like big, striped buccaneers feeding on sticklebacks, prawns, peeler crabs and anything else the sea might bring them. They were massive, vibrant fish that left me gobsmacked and which I remember today.

Yes, my spring walk brings back to me all those decades when the Glaven was a river for every man. Of course, in the 80s especially, I enjoyed the trout fishing and relished the river restoration work I put in for the River Glaven Club. And I've always worshipped the wild browns that dot the river up through Bayfield, Letheringsett, Thornage and beyond. But, in truth, the Glaven is a generous river and should be home for coarse and game alike.

The River Glaven Conservation Group, the Stody Estate and the Bayfield Estate, for starters, have all shown consuming commitment to this charming river and there are signs it could emerge from its darker days. When I see plentiful wild brown trout, gudgeon, perch and two pound roach once again, I will know that wonders have been worked.

A river in the spring is a wonder for non-anglers as well. The colour of the willows at this time of the year is impossible to describe. The delicacy of the greens is a shade that you won't find anywhere else in nature. The bankside growth is still sparse so you can see the emerging wildflowers clearly along with the tracks of the otters and even where the water voles have been cropping. The barn owls are out well within the daylight hours and there's even a pair of egrets on a stretch I do well not to divulge. No, you don't need a fishing rod in your hand to know there is nothing like a Norfolk river in the spring.

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Way back in the introduction to this piece, I hinted that the Glaven is not mine to wander at will. This, of course, is the case with many of our rivers. Here and there, there are banksides open to us but whole lengths remain locked away and mysterious. Speaking as an angler and being selfish about it, this to a degree is a good thing. Considering it on a wider conservation front, if rivers aren't walked and if they are not understood, damage done to them is less widely known, less widely publicized and often goes undetected. Rivers are our counties' and our country's veins of life and to be denied access to them sucks the blood out of us all. Access to our riverbanks is surely all for the greater good if managed discreetly and effectively.

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