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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


10/05/2020 - A Trip Down Memory Lane

Sign at Hunton Bridge

Sitting at home on Friday celebrating the 75 anniversary of Victory over Germany, I thought back to those past days as I did so I thought of my first trip to the River Beult to Hunton on Monday June 16th 1947, the first day of a new coarse fishing season. Grandad collected me from school in his Ford 8 with its orange traffic indicators that popped out on the right or left side of the car when one needed to turn. Leaving Rochester we passed through Maidstone and arrived at the Bull Inn around tea time, parking fifty yards further down the road on a grass verge, close to the bridge over the delightful River Beult, a tributary of the River Medway.

We had come to fish the river just upstream of the bridge on the left hand bank looking upstream. Choosing an area close to some oak trees, I caught five small perch on that first visit and the memory still lives with me as if it was yesterday. The five bar gate leading into the field is still in place today, though the cattle have been replaced by horses; some oaks are looking older, the hedgerows taller and thicker and the riverside fields are an oasis of wildlife. In fact, they are greatly improved being a triple SSI; there are more birds, mammals, dragon and damsel flies than in my young days. It’s truly amazing the amount of wildlife we anglers who sit quietly beside the river see during our day.

Kingfishers are not a rarity, but can be expected to be seen zipping up and down the river, sometimes perching on a rod poking out from the reeds. In the evening we usually see a Barn Owl quartering the riverside fields, and if you’re lucky, as I have been, you might see a Hobby. Its grace, speed and agility is amazing. It can take a swallow on the wing but also takes dragonflies. Hunton has never disappointed me over the past 70 years. Yes, the Bull Inn is now a house when in the 1950’s, as a teenager, the Bull was the place to visit on a Saturday evening with the bar billiards, a jukebox and lots of attractive girls! The red phone box has gone, along with the small village shop, the surrounding countryside has changed dramatically from the days of hop fields, cherries, strawberries, apples pears, black and red currents, ripening corn and barley.

In September East-Enders in their thousands escaped their poverty to go hop-picking, living in huts, some huts can still be seen, e.g. near Hunton bridge. I don’t know what today’s children would think about living in such a small and basic hut for a few weeks, as those boys and girls from the East End did in the 40’s and 50’s, but, there were time when I was in the jungle of Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador or Venezuela, when my mind would drift back to my time spent in the peaceful Hunton countryside. Back in the 1950’s many of my summer and autumn weekends, along with school holidays, were spent camping on the banks of the River Beult at Hunton. My friends and I made many friends with the locals, both young and old. Some days we would help a local farmer for a few hours, then return to our fishing during the evening, we often fished into the early hours of the next morning.

I built up a good relationship with a local farm foreman who realised we could be trusted, so allowed us to hunt rabbits and Wood Pigeon, which we turned into a rabbit or pigeon stew in a Dutch oven. The meal was easy to prepare, so when we returned to our campsite, we had a hot meal waiting for us. We had some good shooting over a wide area and never once did we target a game bird. Sometimes we would spend two or three days doing jobs for the farm foreman, getting paid about 25p, but a small fortune then to us lads.

A Quote by Mario Puzo: “What is past is past. Never go back”. That’s not true of Hunton, the village hall is as nice as ever, no doubt greatly improved from what I read in the Hunton Herald these days. Hunton Court with its magnificent trees and parkland still looks as it did in the 1950’s, the villagers are as friendly and helpful and I hardly see any litter on the roads. On my last visit in June I spotted two boys picking up the odd item of litter. The villagers must be congratulated on the way they look after their houses and gardens. There is no unsightly large housing complex or multi-story block of flats blighting this delightful village. Long may it continue

River Beult

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Martin James Fishing
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