Humbled by rampaging river's speed and beauty

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The Independent Online

I stared down as the river lapped against the bank.

"Do you think," asked Ally, "that the river is rising or falling?" I stared down as the river lapped against the bank. Alistair Gowans knew, of course, but he was testing me. I ummed and ahhed, betraying my country-girl genes; Ally then said, ever so slightly exasperated: "well, were you standing in water a minute ago?" I looked down at my wader-clad feet which had been on dry land just two minutes before. The rising water of the North Esk in Angus, Scotland, was now at my ankles!

"You always need to keep an eye on a river," Ally sagely told me. "If you're ever in doubt about whether the water is rising or not, get a stick and push it into the bank near the water's edge, then go back to it to see if the water's reached it." This I did about an inch from the edge. Then I turned and walked up the bank to get my waterproof, which I'd thrown off in a moment of hotness. This took me all of 15 seconds, but when I went back to my stick it was now two inches under water. The river was rising dangerously fast and, further upstream, we had two colleagues wading.

When you're busy wading, it's much harder to notice if the water is rising, and you can find yourself cut off from the bank, unable to pass through channels you safely waded across just minutes before.

This, coupled with the sheer brute strength of a river, shows that when she floods it can spell disaster for a wading fisherman, so it was imperative we made sure the other two knew what was happening. The air was freshening. We raced up the bank which was now, in parts, more difficult to pass than it had been just half an hour previously.

"She's blown," shouted Ally to Mark Bowler and Pete Warren, "get out." The boys scrambled out and we made our way back along the bank, all of us humbled by the strength of the river. "God I've heard about this," said Mark, editor of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying, "but I had no idea a river could rise this fast." In 15 minutes it had risen one foot, it was to rise in total by over two feet by the time we left, just an hour later; the result of heavy rain the previous two days.

We looked at the river. It looked beautiful, but terrifying. Great channels of muddy water hurtling along, churning up huge frills of white. A whole tree trunk that had once innocently lain on the river bank was now part of the river and came flying along (another danger if you find yourself wading when a river blows, the debris that gets picked up). We were all a bit gobsmacked and very glad to be watching from the safety of the hut as we drank posh coffee and ate too many biscuits. A lesson had been learned.

Undettered, Ally got out his Angling in Tayside fishing guide (available from the tourist information centres listed at www. angusanddundee.co.uk) "Where next?" we pondered, knowing that any river in these here parts would probably be as un-fishable as the North Esk now was. As the water of a flooding river rises, you have about a 15-minute slot when the salmon are more disposed to being caught.

But then as the water starts coming through the salmon start moving, and anyway, they wouldn't be able to see your fly as the water of a river in spate is too muddy. Luckily we'd managed to get a few hours salmon fishing in earlier that morning on the lower half of the Dalhousie Estates' beat of the North Esk, which you can fish for just £30 a day (May to Aug call: 01356 624566, email: dalhousieestates@btinternet.com).

Back at the hut, Mark and Ally got out their Ordnance Survey maps whilst we picked off a dozen giant stoneflies that seemed to have made their home on Mark's jacket. Then we set off in Ally's Land Rover, a vehicle that we were to test to its limits in the hours to come. Part two in a fortnight's time...

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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