Crane Farm - by David O'Sullivan
Forget a windmill in Suffolk or a manor house in Dorset, and what’s the point of a sea view when I need fresh water? The Lake District does get mentioned but I manage to quell that mutiny every time (and no-one dares mention Wales). Well, Slippery did it again! I managed to persuade my wife and friends with an idyllic location for our annual long-weekend break.
Crane Farmhouse lies at the end of a no-through lane half a mile from the village of South Cerney. There are no houses nearby so no neighbours!! And guess what? This wonderful old Cotswold stone farmhouse has its own 15 acre private lake! (Though I must point out that when Slippery Sully fishes outside Warwickshire he gets a nosebleed and becomes dizzy and disoriented)
We arrive at 2.30pm on Friday afternoon, without getting lost on the way- which is surprising for us as it’s on the middle of nowhere, but I did have Andrea as the satnag. We then had the difficult task of bagging the best bedroom before our friends followed on later in the evening. Would it be the one with the enormous bed, or the bath you could fit a small whale in. Well, after hours of indecision and soul searching it come down to a couple of basic facts- since I would hardly be sleeping in it anyway a big bed was of no use to me, and I hoped to be covered in eel slime so the bath won it!
I was out on the jetty at 4.00pm, and with all this water to cast in to, I could make as many bum casts as I liked and fish the way I wanted, and there wasn’t another soul about to annoy me. If I got fed up I could go back in the house for something to eat or drink, and just wind in the rods and leave them out there. So it’s ironic that I was just about to cast out when the caretaker arrived. “Alright, mate?” I nervously said. My pessimistic nature expects him to say “Oi! You can’t fish the lake!” and my weekend would be ruined. But instead he says,
“If you catch any trout would you please put them back?”
“Yes- No problem!” I sighed with relief. He then went on to tell me there were too many pike in there. I quizzed him about eels, and right on cue he said adamantly there were no eels in there as there was no way for them to get in or out.
“Aha!” thought I. “That means there are some monster eels in the water.” As Andrea always reminds me- Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. He told me it only got fished once or twice a year, and with that he said “The lake is all yours. Good luck!”
It’s funny that the next day, when we took a walk around the lake we found a small river running feet away from one side, 3 gravel pits within spitting distance and a disused canal on the other side of the track leading to the farm. No way for them to get in or out, eh? My @**e!
It’s getting dark, and Helen and Lofty arrive just in time to see me catch a 10lb pike on roach head from the shallow bay right by the house. Mark arrives at 9.30pm having just come back from working in Austria. Even though he was tired he was still the last one up as usual, with a can of lager in one hand and a glass of port in the other like Rowley Birkin Q.C. from the fast show- he was very, very drunk.
The group venture out to get a takeaway curry while I stay behind. I have to drink their expensive lager first, as it’s in front of my worms and cheap lager at the back of the fridge. I sit in the huge conservatory dreaming of Anguilla and I couldn’t wait to get back out there after a curry. Unbeknownst to me they have gone to the pub to wait for the longest takeaway in history. The curry eventually arrived and I hoovered it in record time, and whilst everyone else settled in for a film night I headed back out again. No moon, but plenty of stars and a cold wind made it a little uncomfortable (n.b. I am making excuses already for the inevitable) I catch a couple of perch- both at just over 2lb each and called it a night at 2.30 am only to find them all still watching films, in front of a welcoming, roaring log fire.
Got up Saturday morning to find Lofty on the jetty, on a mission to catch silver fish (or just A fish) True to form he blamed the gin clear shallow water on his failure, despite some nice trout and perch swimming around his bait and under the jetty.
Saturday night was our theme night- Heroes and Villains. I came as Spiderman’s alter ego, Lofty was Zorro, Mark was the killer from Scream, Helen came as Cruella De Ville, and Andrea donned an 80’s wig and dressed as a pirate. After a lot of food and (some)drink, I bade my farewells and fished a nice spot which drops off to 10+ foot. Another 2lb 3oz perch on lobworm was the result. Excuses again, despite being a lovely sunny day it got very cold at night. I was sick of the Plough(saucepan) and the Bear and had Don McLean singing something about Van Gogh and starry nights in my head all night. They look even brighter in the middle of nowhere with no light pollution around.
It was Gloucestershire’s stars that night,
That gave strength to my tired sight.
And safely the dreamer reached his home,
Knowing this eel-man was not alone.
I had a nice, hot bath in the wee, small hours although I don’t know why I bothered as I was back out again at 5.00am, smelling of worms and dead fish. The mist came up thick and fast all around the lake, like a Sherlock Holmes movie pea-souper, but then it got more like John Carpenter’s The Fog and I could hardly breathe. Bright sunshine followed for the rest of the day. I caught a jack of around 5lb, and a brace of nice perch, both at 2lb 4oz. (It’s funny how they all weighed virtually the same in this lake)
Accompanied by a tuneful thrush,
The morning dew wets his brush
Which dampens the canvas of the land.
God then paints the day by hand.
It was my last throw of the dice on Sunday night. I had to catch my eel. Conditions seemed much better- it was still, warm and there was no moon, and I even managed to place the baits exactly where I wanted them. It promised much but yielded little. Well, nothing actually. I had tried everything I knew (which isn’t a fat lot) and given it my best shot (which again isn’t a fat lot).
As I walked back in the dark, my head torch picked up the green reflective eyes of the rams kept in the fields surrounding the farmhouse. They started to gather together and walk towards me. But the mood I was in, this was one fight they were not going to win. I still legged it though, only pausing to raise two digits- erect and rampant- in the direction of the lake, in a final childish gesture of defiance. Andrea could tell from the look on my face when I got in, that my dream was over. I joined them for a can or two in front of the roaring fire, and the world began to look a whole lot better.
We left on Monday morning, in the rain, all agreeing it would be great to go back again later in the year- perhaps September/October time.
It would have been the cherry on the icing on the cake to be able to write this having caught an eel, but the main purpose has been to tell other big eel enthusiasts where this place is and what a great weekend you could have there. It is an incredible location teeming with wildlife- woodpeckers, cormorants, grebe, chaffinches, wagtails, squirrels, bats, buzzards, foxes, tufted ducks- the list goes on…Andrea had to remind me not to concentrate so much on what I hadn’t caught but enjoy what I had, as there is a danger in not seeing the wood for the trees (or the fish for the water). Still, what does she know…..
The Farm House
Not an Eel
Stabbed for drinking his lager
My spidey sense was dulled by lager