A Visit to The Arundell Arms at Lifton a longstanding Country Hotel with a rich history for shooting and fishing

The Arundell Arms at Lifton is a longstanding Country Hotel with a rich history for shooting and fishing. When I saw that a new Orvis outlet was opening there in mid-March a visit for Pauline and I was undoubtedly in order.

After one of the wettest February’s on record and an exceptionally wet start to March the 2024 start to the salmon season has been very much  a non-starter. And as we drove through Devon crossing the Torridge and Tamar enroute we noted the muddy and swollen bank high rivers. There would be no fishing for a few days at least.

We arrived at the Arundell Arms mid-morning and walked into the new Orvis store to be greeted warmly by David Pilkington. A gentlemen I had not previously met but a name that is synonymous with West Country Fly Fishing.

David Pilkington joined the Cornwall River Board as a trainee bailiff at the age of sixteen and joined the team at the Arundell in 1976 as assistant river keeper and fishing instructor. We chatted with David about his years at the Arundell and inevitably reflected upon the catastrophic collapse in salmon and sea trout numbers. Like many anglers of our generation I feel that we perhaps share both a deep rooted sadness at what we have seen and an acknowledgement that we were lucky to fish through such wonderous days of abundance.

A wide range of salmon, sea trout and trout flies suitable for West Country waters were available  and I inevitably succumbed to temptation purchasing a few salmon and trout  flies. I just hope they appeal to the fish as much as to me! An impressive rack of Orvis fly rods and reels were on display, clothing waders and tackle adorned the opposite wall all exuding quality that was reflected by the price tag.

After chatting with David we engaged in conversation with the Arundell’s new owners. Simon Village and Arabella Munro. They took over the Hotel in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic a challenging time to embark upon such a venture for sure.

Simon was undoubtedly well versed in the Hotels rich history and traditions and recounted the glorious days when the Hotel was under the stewardship of Conrad Voss Bark and his wife Anne Voss Bark. The Arundell Arms is one of few remaining Country Sports Hotels left in the West Country. I recall with fondness the Carnarvon Arms and Tarr Steps Hotel  on the Barle in Somerset and several other establishments that were once thriving hubs of country life.

Simon and Arabella’s passion for preserving this rich cultural heritage was evident as we chatted about the river, its fish and its fishers. These Country Hotels with fishing and shooting have over the years hosted many with wealth and influence upon the land along with many of anglings greatest writers. Unlike many large country historic houses that are now preserved by the National Trust or run as theme parks these establishments still maintain a real beating heart of Country life and tradition.

Whilst the demise of salmon and sea trout is undoubtedly very sad. The thriving wild brown trout and grayling give hope for a bright future at the Arundell. Twenty two miles of glorious river meandering through the border lands of Devon and Cornwall.

After booking Sunday lunch we headed to the famous Cockpit to grab a fresh coffee before trying out one of the new Orvis rods on the lawn. The cockpit was once used for the barbaric sport of cockfighting. In recent years it has been the Hotels rod room and location for pre fishing briefings. There is a great deal of research carried out before these rods are released and it was a joy to have a few casts with a rod of undoubted quality.

Pauline and I enjoyed a delicious lunch in the Hotel Bar as warm spring sunshine beamed in through the windows. A smouldering log fire, Spring flowers, Suitably piscatorial pictures on the walls along with cheerful friendly staff made it a perfect way to spend a Sunday lunch.

Suitably refreshed we headed to Arundell’s Tin Hay Lake half a mile down the road. The lake is an old flooded quarry its gin clear waters providing superb fishing for stocked browns and rainbows. Today Orvis and Arundell team members were offering expert tuition to a mixture of experienced anglers and keen novices.

We chatted with members of the Orvis team and local anglers. We also conversed with Luke Bannister maker of fine split cane rods, we delved into the joys of fishing and how those magic wands that deliver flies to the trout are instruments of delight. I pondered upon the worth of rods with price tags upwards of £1000. My own analogy was to liken the difference between a cheap run-around car and a Ferrari. The distance can be covered just the same with both cars as a trout fly can be delivered with equal effect to the wily trout. And so the question we are left with is not in relation to the catching of fish but more the delight in using tools that ooze that essence of quality that cannot always be seen or quantified.  The difference between a true diamond and cubic zirconia ring perhaps.

We also drifted briefly into the toxic world of modern politics and the fight to clean up the nation’s rivers. There is certainly a growing and united movement of protest about the state of our rivers.

After a pleasant and engaging conversation we headed off for a walk along country lanes. The road took us over a bridge that crossed the River Thrushel a tributary of the River Tamar. The hedges and riverside banks were brightened with the carpets of yellow celandines. Daffodils were still in bloom but past their best an indication of increasingly early springs.

The river was alluring despite its turbid brown colour its gurgling sound adding a pleasing symphony to the spring day.

The country scene is one that will linger in my minds eye until the day I depart this earth.

         After a pleasing and engaging day at Arundell I have plans to return later in the Spring rod in hand to explore waters that to me are uncharted. I will of course call into the store for some sound advice and maybe a fly or two recommended by David and the Arundell team.


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