Upstream Dry Fly

Dry Fly Fishing

A trout-fishing haven on the Avon. Country Life Magazine. Aug 17th 2016 By David Profumo

30th August 2016

Not far from Stonehenge, and deep in chalk
country, through Saxon
villages and past dwellings of
thatch and flint, flows the Wiltshire
Avon—one of eight British
rivers of that name (it derives from
afon, the Welsh word for river).
Over the years, I have fished here
at Heale House and on the nearby
Piscatorial Society water—where
Sting’s guard dogs mounted a foray
from the far bank—but perhaps
the most exclusive stretch is that
belonging to Wilsford Manor.
The Editor and I were invited
along for opening day and were
royally entertained by the owner,
Miles d’Arcy-Irvine, and his wife,
Lydia. Although now extensively
remodelled in their own elegant
style, the house has an aesthetic
history that is notably colourful.
Built in the 17th-century style
by Detmar Blow for the Glenconner
family, it became the
home of that flamboyant artist
and epistolist Stephen Tennant,
one of the Bright Young Things
of the inter-World War years,
who held court here to chums
such as Cecil Beaton, the Sitwells
and his lover ‘Sieg’ Sassoon.
Stephen was the pasha of overblown
taste and a poseur of some
distinction. His writing paper was
pink embossed with pink; he
decorated the manor with lobsterpot
lampshades, silver-painted
lavatory bowls and a personally
designed zebra-skin pouffe. At one
stage, there were 16 gardeners.
‘Mr Stephen’ languished in bed
for the last 17 years of his life, wearing
leopardskin pyjamas and face
powder, expiring in his dilapidated
Bohemian bower in 1987. According
to his lively biographer, Philip
Hoare, the place had to be exorcised
when workmen encountered
a male apparition.

Although he angled as a youth,
Mr Stephen became too exquisite
for such matters. At Wilsford
today, there are still gilded youths
with a taste for the outré and
refined—beautiful brown trout,
some of which are, in fact, not
so young, as all the larger fish
are released. These canny old
stagers will haunt your dreams.
‘The record here weighed 17lb,’
said our host, as we nervously
knotted on our leaders.
April showers and high, tinted
water dogged our first attempts.
A few reluctant Olives straggled
off and it was too early for the
Hawthorn. My Parachute Greenwell’s
was ignored, but a couple
of fish responded to a small Yellow
Humpy in the tantalising run
below Dutch Bridge and I managed
a nicely timed three-pounder
in front of the hut just as our
host was arriving for luncheon.
When, in my ebullience,
I offered the Editor some
unsolicited advice about a particular
lie beneath a willow,
he responded sulphurically
through his miasma of Partagas
smoke: ‘Ah, yes—the sage of Perthshire.’
I trust this will not prove
my farewell column.
In the afternoon, we were guided
by our friend Howard Taylor
(through whose firm days here
may be arranged). He is a companion
who combines expertise
with irony and we both took
several more fish from the
upper reaches. Miles was kindly
insistent that we return to see his
beats at their glorious best and,
accordingly, at prime time in early
June, we revisited the river.
Scooting me down to Big
Meadow in his buggy, Miles showed
me the gravel lair of a known
monster. ‘I tried for him all last
season and now he’s even bigger,’
he said. It was close and overcast—
ideal for a hatch of mayfly
and, indeed, as I looked
upstream—where the light was
high and hazy and the water like
furled silk—I could hear the
‘clock’ of a feeding trout.
I’ve been fishing our chalkstreams
since 1966 and I wonder
whether, at such times, Earth does
have anything to show more fair
—the waterscape plump with
chlorophyll, kempt, but not excessively
barbered, variegated, curvaceous
and pleasing to the eye.
Small wonder such bucolic bliss—
the ‘peace of the Edwardians’—
has inspired writers from Ruskin
to T. H. White and it is fitting that
Lord Grey of Falloden (Foreign
Secretary at the outbreak of the
First World War and married
to Stephen’s widowed mother)
should have rewritten here his
Fly Fishing, that gentlest of our
piscatorial classics.
This water is lightly fished and
it must rate as one of the rarest
stretches on which you can rent
a day. There is a good head of
streamlined wild brownies and
it’s been a long while since anything
else was stocked. These
trout are no pushovers. They are
resplendently marked and some
have grown to the size of a decent
salmon. I’ve caught a few doublefigure
trout and I know what they
look like in clear water. I saw
at least two during our day, but
failed to entice one. You would
be well advised to fish with
a powerful tippet and keep your
wits about you.
We enjoyed a fabulous alfresco
lunch—cold Wilsford trout, accompanied
by a rosé the hue of Mr
Stephen’s correspondence paper—
and, all afternoon, the fish came
up to Danica duns. When I left this
chalkstream idyll at 8pm, Editor
Hedges was awaiting the spinner
fall at Deadman’s. I’m just not sure
where I can get a pair of those
leopardskin jim-jams.

For further information about
fishing at Wilsford or to book
The Dower House where the author
stayed, telephone Howard Taylor
on 01425 403209 or email