I was fortunate to grow up in North Devon and as a teenager in the mid to late 1970’s I realise looking back how lucky we were. I wrote a short piece a few weeks ago reflecting upon the wild brown trout that were abundant in the local rivers including the River Umber that runs through Combe Martin.
As youngsters we also enjoyed the freedom to explore and fish the local coastline. In those days access to the coast was far more readily available and even were land was private a courteous request would generally secure access. In many cases free access was taken for granted as normality as it had been for many generations.
Over the years I have seen these freedoms slowly eroded partly due to the ignorant actions of the few and partly due to the ever increasing population of this crowded isle.
We took a stroll along the Old Coast Road near Combe Martin a familiar path and part of the Coastal Path. This old road provides access to several fishing marks that have been a pleasure to fish over the past fifty years. Many memories came flooding back as we walked beneath those old trees where as a young angler we paused to catch our breath after trudging up the steep steps from the rocky foreshore.
Sadly, the signs of restriction have appeared forbidding vehicular access. Physical barriers to prevent access and numerous signs stating the area is now out of bounds for vehicles. I understand that this was in part caused by an influx of people following the first COVID lockdown combined with articles in the National papers extolling the beauty of this stretch of coast.
The loss of freedoms once enjoyed have been brought about by many factors including a combination of an increased population, Lack of respect for land and an intolerance of landowners.
Access to vast areas of the coast have been lost or restricted over the years. As anglers we need to do our bit by ensuring we leave no litter and respect landowners only crossing land after gaining permission or perhaps paying the relevant toll.
This sense of loss can also be felt inland with many old lakes and ponds lost to angling. Whilst we are fortunate to have a vast number of commercial fisheries those smaller club waters have dwindled.
I revisited a local pond once rented by Barnstaple & District Angling Association. The deep dark waters were surrounded by trees their leaves resplendent in rich autumn colours. Fallen limbs disappeared into the depths and the brooding atmosphere held a certain fascination as I recalled those days of forty odd years ago when I had fished in the weekly matches held by B&DAA.
The glimpse of a kingfisher brought a flash of colour to the day. A couple of pheasants rustled through the brambles.
I read on a sign of the plans to turn the area into a holiday complex. Supposedly eco- friendly and in tune with nature. I cannot help but think that the place would be far better left alone with perhaps the occasional angler contemplating the disappearance of a crimson topped float. These neglected corners of the countryside are precious and should not be sacrificed without serious consideration.