Fishing Lines: A broader church on the riverbank

Click to follow
The Independent Online

An ancient church, hidden in a copse, nestles on the Thames at Boveney, between Windsor and Maidenhead. When goods travelled by water rather than lorry or train it was a place of worship for the rough, tough riverboatmen, called bargees.

Boveney church was built around the 12th century. You can tell it's a very old building by the slivers of flint pressed into the mortar, a technique of the time known as galletting.

The quay where the bargees moored is long gone. But at that exact spot I caught my first Thames fish (a 5in bleak), so I've always had a soft spot for Boveney church. Sadly, very few people live nearby, and boat traffic these days is more concerned with reaching the next lock. The church has recently been adopted by Friends of Friendless Churches*, a terribly sad name, who are trying to raise £200,000 to stop it going the way of the bargees.

Still, if the Environment Agency's latest wheeze proves successful, maybe Boveney church will be revived as a mosque. The government department who oversee fishing are spending £1 million to diversify our riverbanks by encouraging black and Muslim women to take up the sport.

The aim is commendable. Only five per cent of Britain's four million anglers are women. Just seven per cent are under 18, and those from ethnic minorities are described as "very few". The EA want to give a "taster session" to about 30,000 people a year. In Wales, for example, they are taking Muslim women and children on free trout-fishing trips.

People from Swansea travel by coach into the countryside, where they learn how to set up tackle, cast a fly and, presumably, how to whack a trout on the head. The women on the latest trip all wore hijabs and were equipped with outsized goggles "for health and safety reasons".

Nica Prichard, 68, of Newport, who led the trip, said: "Their faces just lit up. The ladies and their children loved it." A similar scheme in South Yorkshire has drawn a similar response. Mahmood Hussain, of South Yorkshire's Young Adult Forum, said: "Fishing has proved really popular and has opened a new path for these girls."

But is it going to work? In these sensitive times, I must watch what I say to avoid being the subject of a fatwa (or fatwan in my case). But Nica must be one hell of a teacher if he imagines Muslim women will now pile on the No 29 from Swansea every Thursday and head for the Teifi.

For a start, they wouldn't even be able to celebrate an exceptional fish in time-honoured fashion, a libation from the captor's flask being traditional in such cases. And if husbands insisted on coming along, how would they manage with the ruling that any lower garment must be above the ankles for men? Just imagine ploughing through head-high nettles.

Much as I'm in favour of getting more people fishing, I suspect that traditional Muslim garb would make catching anything somewhat harder.

*020 7236 3934,