Chess Champions
Trout & Salmon|March 2017

Jon Beer explains how an owner’s vision and the Wild Trout Trust’s expertise is transforming one of the surviving Chilterns chalkstreams

Jon Beer

IT BEGAN WITH a phone call from Nick. He would be away from home for a week, working in Chesham – but he had Tuesday free. Did I know of any trout fishing around Chesham?

I had a think. Chesham is an ancient market town at the heart of the rolling chalk hills of the Chilterns. To look at me now, festooned with Black Pennells, Endrick Spiders and Golden Olive Bumbles, you would hardly take me for a child of the chalk but I spent my first 20 years within half a dozen miles of Chesham. We drew wickets on the playground wall with lumps of chalk picked up from the ground and we paddled in the clear waters of the little stream at the bottom of the hill. And later, I caught the 301 to school from the bus garage at Two Waters, the eponymous spot where the little River Bulbourne met the little River Gade. Later still, I watched my friend Paul take a chunky brown trout on a spinner from the waters of the Gade in Gadebridge Park.

But all that was a long time ago: back then I’d seen Paul Simon playing in Chesham’s Trap Door folk club for £10. That was his fee – not the price of a ticket. Back then I had no idea of the magic of water that flowed from chalk – and by the time I did have an inkling of such things I was married with a child and a mortgage on a house many miles from any chalkstream. So all of my early trouting was on the stony upland waters of the north and west where the fishing was cheap and cheerful, if a little rough and ready. The rarefied air of a celebrated chalkstream – on the rare occasion I got a sniff of one – gave me nosebleeds and a vague sort of ache in the general area of my wallet. But Nick’s question got me thinking again of those small clear streams of my childhood country.

The Gade is all but gone, shrunken by abstraction from the aquifer and then swallowed into the silty expanses of Hemel Hempstead’s Water Gardens. The Bulbourne hasn’t been quite the thing since 1797 when the Grand Union Canal was dug along the length of the river, taking much of its flow. But in the neighbouring valley to the south there is another Chiltern stream that escaped the worst indignities of Industrial Revolution and New Towns. The River Chess takes its name from the ancient market town at its head.

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