Sunday, 18 July 2010

A Perfect Storm

We arrived back yesterday from two sun soaked, fun filled weeks in France. Our journey back was for once an absolute delight and my relaxed frame of mind and a few glasses of Bordeaux allowed me time to reflect on a brilliant holiday. 

Mel and I were able to spend five days together alone in our house in Chalus which is a rare luxury for us. We usually have family or friends over with us which is lovely in itself, but we rarely get time to take in the beauty and serenity of the Limousin and explore previously unvisited delights. 

We had a day in PĂ©rigueux a beautiful city just 50 minutes from Chalus and a regular day out for us when in France. This old Roman city is an amazing place to spend a day amidst the public squares and winding ancient streets filled with 'saw you coming' gift shops nestled between eateries and wine shops. 

Our remaining time was spent relaxing and drinking, mostly drinking and absorbing the current status of our renovation project. The interior of the Gite is now fully boarded out, the electrician and plumber have completed the first fix and we are confident we will complete the interior at least by the end of the year. We will be renting it out to friends and family next year to test the place out with the intention of marketing and letting it out from April 2012.

The old house which was sited at the rear of our property has been demolished. In some ways it was a shame to drop such an old building but it was crumbling anyway, too small to serve a useful purpose and also dominated the garden blocking the light into our house. It was a haven for insects, bugs and bats who all seem to have relocated to the old piggery sited on the other side of our property. 

As I mentioned in my last blog, Mel is a keen runner and cyclist and I agreed to accompany her on her runs through the countryside on my bike. I didn't struggle too much but some of the hills had me coughing up a lung and reminding me that I need to get fitter as I hurtle towards my 40th birthday. 

On the Thursday of our first week, my friend Paul arrived at Limoges where I collected him for our long overdue Carp fishing holiday in the region. We have known each other since we were just four years old, he was my best man and I his. We have fished together since we were kids, graduating from Lancashire mill ponds to large lakes, moving from small fish waters to our shared passion of the pursuit of the king of freshwater fish - the carp.

The Limousin region is perhaps the epicentre of the carp fishing world. Carp have resided in the lakes and rivers of the region for hundreds of years, forming a significant part of the local cuisine in times gone by. Whilst they are still eaten with some regularity neither Paul nor I are remotely interested in their culinary qualities. For us, they are a fish of beauty, power and guile.

Over the last three years I have been able to fish a number of picturesque lakes and ponds in the area but none that hold fish of a significant size. I was lucky enough to capture a 37lb specimen on my honeymoon (no really) three years ago but Paul had not broken the 30lb barrier, those fish being relatively rare in the UK where he has done most of his fishing. 

Thanks to my friend Neil , I was introduced to a friend of his that owned a picture perfect lake of about five acres just a few minutes from our house. Alan was reticent to allow people to fish on his lake as he is concerned about the welfare of his fish but on introduction, he understood that we were just as concerned for piscatorial welfare as he is and agreed to let us fish for a day or two. He had added about fifty large carp to the existing stock about two years ago but was unsure how they had grown or indeed whether the bigger fish still existed. 

Any angler would tell you that the chance to fish an unfished lake is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to say we were excited would be an understatement. After collecting our £200 worth of bait from just over the border in the Dordogne we headed to the lake arriving on the Friday and setting up camp, my hands shaking with excitement.

After a couple of hours setting up we were almost immediately amongst the fish, each one bigger than the last. Paul was as usual the more successful angler, something I have had to live with for 35 years. However, we both caught fish over 20lbs and as the sun began to set the action became ever more frantic and by 3am I was physically shattered and wound my rods in just to get some much needed sleep.

The second day was equally idyllic, the hot weather forcing us to seek shade for short periods before returning to the fishing which slowed a little but not much. On the second night, we were treated to the sight of a distant violent thunderstorm with fork and sheet lightning illuminating the moonless sky every couple of seconds. It was a dramatic sight which caused a tingle down the spine and the air seemed charged with electricity mainly because it was charged with electricity. With more than a little concern, we realised that the storm was indeed edging nearer and from nowhere a stiff wind developed signalling it's imminent approach. 

This would ordinarily have been a good time to wind in the rods, they are made from carbon fibre and would prove an ideal conductor for lightning and of significant danger to our health. Paul chose this course of action as any sensible person would do. 

As usual, I chose a different course of action-  I fell asleep. I was awoken an hour later by two things. One the screaming sound of my bite alarm signalling a take from a carp and secondly, the intense storm over head. I had a moment to consider my next action, I could not leave the Carp towing my line around the lake and instead I dashed for my rod to the sound of laughter coming from Paul's bivvy to my left as I played the fish, lit up strobe-like by the lightning that flickered all around. I really did feel vulnerable particularly as I had neglected to put on my rubber bivvy shoes that would have at least offered some protection in case of me being struck. 

Thankfully the fish spat the hook and I threw down my rod and dived for cover as the sound of Paul's laughter intensified to a cacophony of mirth. Now wide awake, I contemplated my near death experience and was just recovering my composure when Pauls rod screamed away. 20 minutes later he landed a fish of 33lb 12oz, which we later discovered was the biggest fish in the lake having been introduced 2 years earlier at 33lb.

In the end we stayed for four days and nights catching nearly fifty fish between us. The lake owner was pleased with our pictures and records of the fish we had caught and he gave us an open invite to return any time we liked. 

We spent a further two days fishing small lakes and exploring the River Vienne for future missions. Paul returned to the UK on Thursday and Mel and I spent the last night soaking up the sunshine and drinking to our future life together in France. 

In all, a fantastic holiday and a taster for the idyllic life that lies ahead for us. For now a return to work beckons and there is money to be earned to finance the next stages of our project.

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