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Charlk Streams in Deepest Norfolk

August 7, 2012

“Ooo” she said “in her poshest, most reverential voice” he took me into the next room, and you just wouldn’t believe it”.

She paused for effect, surrounded by wide eyes, “one wall was just covered in the most exquisite miniatures you’ve ever seen.”

She sighed, “Just wonderful”.

I buttered another slice of toast. I was in the Brewery House hotel in Reepham (pronounced Reefam), near Norwich, having breakfast at the next table.

They’d been to Blickling Hall, I was going trout fishing.

When it comes to posh, Norfolk’s got it in spades. Sandringham, Blickling, Holkham Felbrigg, Houghton, the list of stately homes is endless. When it comes to chalk streams however, the story’s very different. They say that Hampshire chalk streams are as clear as gin and twice as expensive (or was it Veolia tap water?) In Norfolk, the water’s just as sweet, but at a fraction of the price, all you’ve got to do is find it.

So I’d googled, oggled, haggled and boggled and with additional help from Tim, the local Salmon and Trout AA representative, I found three beauties, the rivers Wensum, Bure and Nar, with neighbouring accommodation to suit.

The river Wensum (old English for winding), rises from chalk in north-west Norfolk and flows to Norwich where it becomes tidal and navigable. I’d discovered the Bintree Mill Trout fishery stretch, near North Elmham, downstream of the classic Bintree Water Mill. What a spot that is, way off the beaten track, the set for wedding parties, countless TV adverts and the classic film ‘The Floss on the Mill’, with 2 mill pools that are full of large brownies, but sadly out of bounds to you and me.

So I met fellow Tewin fly fishers member Steve (I just typed fry fishers by mistake and was tempted . . .), at the County Station beat, over a disused north Norfolk train line, with Station House and cream teas.

Hobbies chased Dragonflies high against a cloudless sky and the river wound and wandered, about half a mile of riffles and pools, streamer weed, bankside vegetation and overhanging trees. This was wild, wild Norfolk, not a manicured blade of grass in sight. This was exactly what I’d come for. And just when I thought it can’t possibly get any better, sadly it didn‘t!

We split the beat in two, Steve and I, fished long and hard. But a strong north easterly downstream wind also liked the look of the winding Wensum, and stayed with us throughout the day, keeping fly life and fish out of harms way. We saw some cracking trout, and two of the biggest chub I’ve ever seen, but by close of play we had only 1 fish between us, a gorgeous 2 pound brownie. Modesty forbids of course and I almost had another just before we left. Some days are made for photographs and wildlife, buzzing bees and yawning Labradors, and this was one of those. No doubt another day could be red letter, and I‘d love to fish it again, but tomorrow was another day and the river Bure was calling.

The river Bure rises near Melton Constable in mid Norfolk, and flows some fifty miles through the Norfolk Broads to Yarmouth and Breydon Water. I’d found the Abbots Hall Fishery stretch near the market town of Aylsham, another of Norfolk’s Georgian gems.

What a beautiful and unspoiled river this is, set in luxurious water meadows, so thick and deep there’s almost no need for trousers. This pristine, winding, twisting upper reach has the lot, deep pools, gravely runs, fluorescent weed, and wildlife a-plenty. And lots of very large brown trout, stocked throughout the spring and summer at an average of 1½lb, although I didn’t see one below 2lb.

I’d booked 2 days here, so I’d plenty of time to look and admire and chat to the odd friendly member before wetting a line

“We’re very lucky to have this” said old Bristolian, and original member Robbie, “very lucky indeed” and he’s dead right.

This really is a glorious piece of water, in another unspoiled and untouched rural setting. They say even Luton looks good when the sun shines. Try this place!

I decided to fish later in the day and spent an hour on nearby Buxton Heath, with wild ponies, adders, grass-snakes, slow worms and lizards. I saw them all. When I finally arrived at the river rod in hand, local member Ian had had three bonnie brownies, all over 2 lbs., taken on his own hand tied Hawthorns. A nod’s as good as a wink you’d think, but I’d missed the cursed boat, and they’d retired below. So I fished a nymph, ’cos when you’ve got an itch….

Now, my mate Steve swears by ‘clink and dink’, but I’m a bit old fashioned. This is probably why he catches lots more than me, why he thinks I’m all style and no substance, and why most of the time he’s right. But I can and do fish the nymph, and on this occasion it got me a beauty, just over 2 lbs of super spotted loveliness. And I dropped another. So thanks for that Mr Sawyer.

Follow that with a Ruby [with extra chopped green chilies], and a pint of Kingfisher at the excellent Gate of India in the old market square and you realise why men love fishing.

She’s on a yoga holiday with her friend in Turkey, and of course I’m missing her like mad, what’s her name you ask? It’ll come to me in a minute. Can it get any better this time? Well, actually it can.

I was on the river by 11.00 the following morning, another day of wall to wall sunshine coming up. Unbelievably I had the river to myself, but I think it’s like this in Norfolk, a few small associations with lots of under fished water and of course you’ve got to find it. Within 2 hours I’d lost 2 and returned one (2lbs of course), and I was beginning to feel a bit under gunned with 3 weight rod, 3lb line and small flies, but this was pretty much all I’d brought, I simply wasn’t prepared for the size of these Norfolk brown trout.

I returned to the car for lunch, collected my camera and binoculars and returned to the river, in time to see another Hobby hunting above a small wood. Considering I’d never seen one before the beginning of the week, I was treated to an aerial display par excellence, a super falcon, my own little Red Arrow, denuding the local dragonfly population like there was no tomorrow. Then it settled in the tree opposite me, just fifty feet away and I sat there with my eyes hanging out .Wow!

East London member Roger Eglinton arrived and within thirty minutes was into a free rising brownie, comfortably 2lb and as fit as any butchers dog – at last a photo opportunity.

I went back for my rod, returned and did a Roger, perhaps two and a half pound this one on a Grey Woolf size 12, the biggest fly I’d got for the biggest fish, duly returned. We caught no more, though yet another slipped the hook, and I finally walked back to the car with Roger, about 7 pm, in time to watch a ghostly white Barn Owl gliding low across the water meadow ahead. Another photo opportunity when it settled on a post for a spot of bush tucker. I decided to pop back to that centre of eastern excellence, the Gate of India for the same again please, that’s how good I felt!

The river Nar was my final destination, which rises chalk fed in Hitcham and runs 15 miles through Narborough to meet the river Gt Ouse at Kings Lynn.

This was to be the icing on a very fruity cake. “It’s just like the Test” I read on someone’s fishy blog, very pretty with lots of feature.

When I’d mentioned this to Robbie on the Bure, he shook his head “It’s been canalized” he said, “with high banks and restricted access”, and sadly he was spot on. It used to be navigable from Denver sluice to the flour mill in Narborough and all credit to the Narborough Trout fishing clubmembers, who inherited and improved it. A series of groynes and deep pools now create good habitat for brown trout, and other species too, but you feel exposed on the bank, and it’s better to slip down to the water’s edge where you can. Wading per-se is not allowed.

A mighty downstream blow made fishing from the bank all but impossible, so I waited until the evening, chatting to bailiff David Burrows who presented me with half a dozen beautifully tied nymphs, size 20 and 22.”I use these when it’s tough” he said.

In the event I tried one with apprehension, it was clear that there were few wildies in this stretch, just the usual crop on Norfolk biggies, from about 1 ½ lbs. With nothing coming off the top, and a surprisingly strong flow through the pools, I relied upon Sawyer’s Killer Bug (“it’s a maggot” said David when I showed him) to take the first two fish, and then Grey Woolf when the mayfly finally showed. I realised only later that day tickets are only allowed 3 fish, 2 only to be retained, so hands up it was the best fishing on all 3 rivers, but I returned each fish.

In conclusion, I had one of the best weeks fishing breaks I can remember.  Norfolk’s chalk streams offer outstanding value, and if like me you love real countryside and the chance to spot exciting wildlife, in splendid isolation, this really is the place for you.

 Stephen MacSweeney


River Wensum £25.00 a day, max 2 tickets. Terry Lawton 01603 872393, or email

River Bure £18.00 a day, 2 tickets per day only, expected to be members of the S&TA Trevor Taylor 01362 850935, or email

River Nar £20.00 a day, 2 tickets only, except weekends when it’s 1 only. Expected to be member of the S&TA. Jim Peppitt,01328 878355, email

Eastern Region S&TA representative Tim Gaunt-Baker, 01553

Also provides guided fishing if required.


The Swan at Hillborough: 01760 756380 – £47.50 B&B pp

The Old Brewery House at Reepham : 01603 870881 – £55.00 B&B pp

Marsham Arms at Hevingham:  01603754268 – £65.00B&B pp


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