A century ago, the presence of an angler on a train with a creel over his shoulder and rods in hand would have been a familiar sight. For generations, the railways offered an escape for the urban angler; a chance to explore a greener and pleasanter land and find some peace by the water. And anglers were a target audience the railway companies went out of their way to attract with special ticketing arrangements and marketing materials such as Anglers Guides geared specifically to travelling fisher-folk. One such guide even gave a swim by swim description of waters that could be reached from London by rail! 150 years ago, the rail network itself had spread to every corner of Britain allowing ready access to the lakes, broads, rivers and canals of the nation.
In ‘A Train to Catch’ Jon Berry writes of his attempts to follow some of these angling journeys. In this ‘post Beeching’ era, with the rail network a pale shadow of what it was, it is a quaint and slightly quixotic quest! Jon sets out from his home in Swindon and travels the length and breadth of Britain. The trips take place over 3 years during his holidays, again imitating the anglers (or rather journeys) he is writing about. It also seems somewhat appropriate that Jon’s journeys begin and end in the town where many of the great steam engines that would have carried the anglers he is trying to emulate were built.
Despite the limitations of a now depleted network, Jon puts in some rail miles and remains reasonably faithful to his quest, only rarely having to resort to road to reach his final destination. His angling by rail odyssey takes him far and wide, from Looe in Cornwall to the North of Scotland, Lowestoft to Wales and many points in between.
The book is a mixture of history, anecdote and reminiscence, written with good humour and is quite ‘chuckle-some’ in places. I particularly liked the old railway maps illustrating just how extensive the rail network was in those days. There are snippets from old adverts, pictures of old railway inns, extracts from the angler’s guides, a cartoon from punch, colour plates of his trips – in fact all the usual plethora of tid-bits you come to expect from one of Jon’s books – meticulously researched as ever! It all adds up to a most pleasing narrative.
The fishing itself is somewhat secondary – but I guess that’s sort the point. It’s not the being there, it’s the getting there that’s important – even if it does garner a few disapproving stares form odd Thames Valley commuter! Having said that, Jon does cram in quite a variety of angling, from shark fishing off the Cornish coast, trout fishing in Derbyshire and pike fishing on the Norfolk Broads to a grand tour (of sorts) of Scotland. Some enterprising TV executive really ought to make it into a TV programme!
Medlar Press (25 Nov 2011) £20 Hardback
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Chris Plumb, February 2013