It was about 10pm on Friday night when I looked at my mate, Nic, and said something along the lines of;
“Look at the state of us. We're standing here, looking like tramps, tired and stinking to high heaven, yet we've both got massive grins right across our faces!”
Nic is a neighbour, friend and regular fishing buddy and we'd just spent a memorable week at Manor Farm Leisure in Worcestershire. I'd been asked, in December, to take Nic away for a week's fishing. This was to be his 40th birthday present from his wife, Bev, and she wanted to him to have the time of his life. Not being an angler herself, it was left to me to pick a venue. No pressure there, then!
I thought about carp fishing in France and even fishing in tropical climates, but the additional cost and travelling time led me to conclude that we should stick to the UK. Besides, I wanted Nic to catch a fish that he'd never caught before and the word 'barbel' kept appearing in my head.
I'd actually come across Manor Farm Leisure years ago, when I first started Anglers' Net. I even built them a little website, which remains virtually as it was back then to this very day. The offer of a visit had always been there – there were no strings, no “come and review our venue”, or anything like that. The offer of a caravan was extended to me as a 'thank you' with no pressure.
However, having visited Manor Farm Leisure, I couldn't leave it at that. Over the years, I've received various emails from happy Manor Farm leisure customers and now I know why.
We arrived on the Saturday, after a hassle-free three hour journey. The venue was easy to find, thanks to my new Tom-Tom, and we were actually there a bit early, so headed into Evesham to grab some bait and provisions. The Bait Box in the High Street was our first port of call and, as with most tackle shops, it was a treasure trove of angling goodies and advice. As this was the 14th June and the new river fishing season was approaching, we were also informed that they were now open on Sunday mornings, for bait, mainly. Then it was on to Somerfields for a few groceries and back to the camp.
As we were still a couple of hours early (can you tell how keen we were?!), our caravan was still being cleaned, so we parked up and went for a stroll. Manor Farm Leisure also cater for touring caravans, so they also have a small shower/toilet block. After a three hour journey and a couple of cans of Coke, this was a welcome relief....in every sense of the word! Adjacent to the loos, there was also a wash room for your dirty linen and bait storage facilities. It was obvious that they were used to catering for anglers.
Next, we paid a visit to Wendy Byrd, one of the four family members who run Manor Farm Leisure. Having had their house flooded last year, Wendy and her husband, David, were living on site. Their house, and usual 'Enquiries' point, is just adjacent to the site and was undergoing renovation. Wendy was extremely helpful, giving us some pointers regarding the fishing and the site and, after years of email-only correspondence, it was nice to meet her and find her exactly as I expected her. Well, apart from the broken ankle that she had, but that's another story!
Back at the caravan, which was now ready for us, it was a case of unloading the tackle and baggage, before heading off to check out the fishing that was on offer.
I should take a moment to describe the caravan that we were in, as it really was something else. In fact, I was so impressed with it that I rang home to tell my wife, who simply doesn't stay in anything that isn't made of brick.
“The words 'luxury' and 'caravan' don't go together,” she informed me.
I then started to describe the caravan to her and could almost hear her mind changing over the phone line! Firstly, this caravan was huge – it boasted three bedrooms, one double and two twins. Okay, the single beds aren't as big as ones you may have at home, but these were plenty big enough to sleep on. I'd always thought that 'beds' in caravans meant a chair that folded out. To have three bedrooms was amazing.
Double glazing and a proper radiator in every room meant that we wouldn't go cold, whatever the weather threw at us. Add on top of that a shower room that was twice the size of my en-suite at home, a separate toilet room, fitted kitchen with gas cooker, fridge, sink and dining table and a lounge with a T.V. and you can see why I liked the place. Oh, and I was extremely pleased to note smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Little did I know at that point, however, how little time I'd actually spend in the caravan!
Twin Single Bedroom
A Fantastic Kitchen!
Once the car was unloaded, we headed off to walk along the river stretches to see how they looked. Manor Farm have three stretches of river on the Warwickshire Avon and we headed straight for the main stretch, as this was where we intended to fish. It's a beautiful stretch of river, with high banks, plenty of overhanging trees and fast-flowing water (mind you, when you usually fish in Suffolk, any water that moves seems fast-flowing!). Such is the reputation of this stretch, that one angler had already bagged a swim for the 16th, a full two days before the start of the season. Mind you, with a motorhome that even the likes of Mariah Carey would probably approve of, it wasn't as if he was roughing it!
A Swim Typical On This Stretch Of The Warwickshire Avon
Our next port of call was the Windmill Lakes Site. This is just along the road and is Manor Farm's own six-lake purpose built fishery. It caters very well for 'match-style' anglers and a number of the lakes are regularly used for competition fishing, with match weights exceeding 200lb on quite a few occasions! Each lake is well stocked and slightly different in both appearance and the general size and type of fish that it contains. The Windmill Cafe is also on site, providing a range of freshly prepared food and drinks in the mornings.
Although we'd travelled mainly for the river fishing, it would have been rude not to wet a line or two, so we drove round to the Bottom Pool and spent the next six hours catching no end of carp up to about 7lb in weight. I'd decided to give method feeder fishing a go, so mixed up my own recipe and had a whale of a time. It's funny how, even in a densely stocked water, carp can still play games with you. I'd mastered catching them on maize and decided that I needed to catch them by other means, assuming that it would be easy. Having spent twenty minutes glueing maggots to a piece of cork in order to create a 'Medusa rig', I was to find that I wasn't as clever as I thought, as the wiley little carp robbed my method mix every time and left the maggots untouched!
Our 'neighbours' back at the caravan site were match anglers, so it was good to speak to them about the venue, as they could compare it to others. It appears that the Windmill Lakes are held in very high regard and seen as well worth an annual pilgrimage to, as these anglers had been before. When speaking to Wendy, she showed me their booking chart for this year, with repeat bookings shown in red – nearly every summer booking was highlighted as such. That just shows how much people enjoy their holidays there.
We spent the 15th in much the same way as we had the previous day and were blessed with glorious sunshine. What a start to our holiday and, with the promise of even better things to come, we went back to the caravan and prepared for the glorious 16th .
A Typical Bottom Pool Mirror Carp
Nic Proving To His Kids That He Wore His Father's Day Badge...AND Caught A Fish!
Our original plan was scrapped; we'd planned to be there at midnight in order to cast a line as soon as the 16th arrived. However, due to our lack of barbel fishing experience and the nature of the high banks that we may have been fishing, it was agreed that a dawn start would be a better option, so we set the alarms for 3:30am, grabbed a beer or two each and both tried to pretend that we were 'cool' about the whole thing and not as excited as a pair of 10-year olds. We'd also checked the main river stretch and it was busier than we'd expected, so we decided to try the Pump House stretch, which was just ten pegs and not as fast flowing. Our inside information told us that, while the hardcore barbel anglers prefer the main stretch, the Pump House section was just as likely to produce barbel. To be honest, we weren't fussed – we'd decided to catch anything that swam and then move to the main stretch later in the week, when things had quietened down.
In my opinion, the Pump House section is as pretty a stretch of river as you'll find anywhere. We fished the only double swim, as it would give us a chance to natter and take photos. Our only company was a flock of sheep on the far bank, who came to the edge to take a drink occasionally, the buzzards that looked so impressive circling above us and the glider pilots who took off from a nearby airfield. As somebody who enjoys the peace an tranquillity of fishing in the countryside, I could relate to what these pilots were doing. It must have been so quiet up there.
The river offered us some great fishing, with bream and roach aplenty, as well as some perch and a fair few chunky hybrids. Then, all hell broke loose. Nic hooked into his first barbel of the week, rather unexpectedly, and, after a short but frantic scrap, it smashed him to pieces and went steaming off upriver like a torpedo! 1-0 to the barbel and one rather dazed looking 40-year old!
Nic then went on to lose another and, knowing for sure now that there were plenty of barbel about, went all out to catch one. It didn't take him long to hook into the third one and, having made a nervous wreck of him with its sheer power and relentless attempts to avoid the net, Nic's first ever barbel was netted. At 8lb 2oz, it wasn't exactly a baby, either, and the smile on my mate's face said it all. Here was one happy man. We'd said that we were there to enjoy the fishing and that a barbel would be a bonus, rather than an objective. For Nic to catch one on the first day simply blew us away. If there had been any pressure on us to land a barbel, it was now off.
Nic's First Ever Barbel - 8lb 2oz
I won't give a day-by-day account of the fishing, as there were just too many fish to remember. Nic ended up landing nine barbel during the week and lost five. His best was an enormous 11lb 8oz specimen and the smallest was just over 7lb. Yours truly managed to hook only two and was feeling mightily left out! The two I did hook managed to escape in dramatic style, too. One straightened a very good hook completely and the other snapped my line as if it was cotton. Luckily for me, the river was choc-a-bloc with other species and I still had the best week's fishing that I can remember.
In a way, it's a shame that the fishing was so good, as the caravan just became a place to sleep in. After that first day, we set the alarms for 3:30am and fished through to dark every day, hence the opening paragraph of this article!
We did take some time out one day to look around the rest of Manor Farm Leisure, however, as they also have an 18-hole golf course. I've never seen the point of walking around a field in order to hit a ball into a hole, myself, but Nic's a keen golfer and told me that the course was impressively maintained and very reasonably priced. He had originally planned to take his clubs with him, but in a way was glad that he didn't, as this week was all about fishing. Maybe next time.
Well Maintained Pay-And-Play 18-hole Golf Course
The caravan that we were staying in was one of a brand new batch on the site, so I also arranged to take a look inside one of the older ones. These are different, as they seem slightly dated compared to the plush new ones, but are perfectly good enough for a holiday. They also had the advantage of having two toilets in, which would be handy for larger groups of people. I think that I summed it up fairly when I said that the difference between the two types of caravan is that I would be happy to holiday in one of the older caravans, whereas I'd be happy to live in one of the new ones!
The Original Manor Farm Leisure Caravans
If you like the idea of fishing in a nice area of the country, where you stand a good chance of catching quality fish, then Manor Farm Leisure is definitely worth a look. Being a family run business, it's an exceptionally friendly and laid back environment – the fishing is there for you to enjoy, but you won't have it rammed down your neck. You'll be told where you can fish, given any advice that you ask for, and left alone to enjoy it. Without exception, every local angler we spoke to was friendly and offered advice freely. Manor Farm Leisure is also located fairly near to some decent pubs, so you can escape for a few hours if you like. As a family holiday in the UK, it's ideal. My only worry would be that if one of you isn't an angler, then there may be a bit of friction, as the last thing I would want to do there would be 'normal family stuff'. I love my wife and kids to bits, but was glad that they were 200 miles away! Families with slightly less obsessive dads in them may be able to cope, however!
At the end of the week, I was exhausted. I came home and slept for England. Usually, when I go away fishing, I cannot relax. I'm obsessed with work and worry that something will go wrong in my absence. In fact, I've often come home from carp trips early because of this. During my stay at Manor Farm Leisure, things were totally different – I completely switched off and remembered why I like fishing so much. I was back to being a kid again, not wanting each day to end and hanging on to that 'one last cast'.
You can view details of Manor Farm Leisure at www.manorfarmleisure.co.uk, or give them a call on 01386 870039. Honestly, hand on heart, the venue and the people are fantastic and I'd recommend a visit there to anyone. Also, if you happen to be in the area, please note that you can fish all of the waters on a day ticket, matches permitting.
The Perfect End To The Perfect Week - An 11lb 8oz Barbel
Yours Truly, Trying To Pretend He Prefers Catching Bream!