This blog will talk about my
first fishing lesson on Alderney
Fishing in the name of research
WW1 on the island of Alderney
The Alderney Fishing Festival
Continuing my series of blogs to thank various places and people who not only helped me with my research but made the experience so pleasurable, I return to the beautiful island of Alderney. You see, I wanted my chapters ion Alderney in my novel Ancasta, about life on the island during WW1 to be as authentic as possible.
Alongside reading about the effect on the island of a whole generation of young men going to war and being in such close proximity to the French coast I soon realised that an important aspect of the islanders’ bid for survival would have been fishing. The everyday islanders would have thought twice before venturing off the coast of France in fishing boats because of possible submarines, but would certainly have fished off the rocks and the breakwater, in fact there is fishing tackle from that era in the Alderney museum and photos of men standing in line on the breakwater fishing for mackerel. One of them had this massive rod and as they caught a fish they’d flip it up to their brother or son who was standing waiting on the next level platform.
I knew nothing about fishing myself, but I was pleased to be in touch with a man on twitter whose family has lived on Alderney since the nineteenth century. First tweets about fishing shot backwards and forwards between us and then DM’s (direct messages to those who are not familiar with Twitter!) In the end the maximum 40 characters defeated us and we exchanged emails and have since become good friends. Vic certainly gave me a flavour of the favourite places his grandfather and father took him fishing, what they caught and the different methods they used. He explained spring tides and neaps until I think I understood, and gave colourful accounts of his fishing exploits and fond memories of his childhood on Alderney.
How do you describe someone fishing when you know nothing about it?
What were the sights, smells and sounds associated?
How did it feel to scramble out to and stand precarious on a rock for a couple of hours, while the sea swirled below?
Many questions filled my mind and needed to be resolved before I attempted the chapter.
I was planning my next trip to the island that October and so I got in touch with Mark who owns the fishing tackle, outdoor sports shop at the top of Victoria Street and and gives fishing lessons. I explained my quest to him and asked whether he would mind taking out a novice such a myself. He was delighted to do so!
On the day of the lesson we met Mark down by Crabby Bay, shared the tackle between us before scrambling out to the rocks beside Fort Doyle. With the Swinge restlessly swirling around the island of Burou to our left and Fort Doyle to our right I watched Mark as he prepared the rod, line and bait. We discussed the sort of bait my character might use and that they would probably have used feathers in those days, all the time I was alert to vocabulary which described the action, scene and senses. I jotted down notes, but most of all I captured the ambiance of the experience to aid my memory.
As we waited patiently for a bite I noted my thoughts, the panoramic scene around us, the changing nature of the sea and sky, Mark’s actions, his stance, the feelings of anticipation and yet timelessness. It was quite an experience. I asked the occasional question as they came to mind and gradually I was lulled into a sense of peace in the moment.
The excitement of our first bite brought me out of my reverie and I was thrilled when mark landed our first mullet, handling it with almost reverence as he explained how quickly the glistening colours fade when the fish dies. I was quite in awe of the experience. More in tune with the cycle of life and enjoying the opportunity to paint the sea scape in words I settled back on my rock but did not have long to wait before we landed our second mullet of the day, then nearly lost it. Slippery things fish!
On our next visit to the island it happened to coincide with Alderney’s annual fishing festival, a time when men compete to find the best outcrop of rocks, the vantage point where they might catch the biggest fish of the week. Trophies are fought over (metaphorically) and in the evenings groups of men sit in the various cosy and welcoming hostelries, including The Divers Arms, discussing their successes and the giants who got away.
This year it is the week commencing 13th October, so if you love to fish, I cannot think of a better place to do it than the beautiful island of Alderney. If you do, say hello to Mark. I’m sure you’ll meet him as the week progresses.