Caught by the River

Fennel's Priory

9th June 2012

With the new coarse fishing season just one week away Jon Berry reviews the journal’s of traditional angler, Nigel Hudson.

I met Nigel Hudson for the first time in the 1990s; it was June 15th, that much I am sure of, and we were both waiting for midnight and the first cast of a new season on a southern carp lake. Two hours before our endeavours began we gathered for a drink around a campfire. Chris Yates was to my left, our friend Geoff Green to my right, and Nigel sat opposite me. As the only smoker I sat slightly outside the circle, puffing on Marlboros and watching the spits and crackles from a Kelly Kettle. We had opened a few bottles of wine, and at some point I remarked that Nigel –who was sporting a tatty tweed jacket and matching hat – looked a little bit like Richard Walker (c.1950s Woldale-era). The drink had probably blurred my night vision but there was indeed something of the young tyro about him. Nobody else could see it, and we moved on to another topic – probably fishing, possibly football.

Nigel was a young man then- and still looks improbably young now. But, in the intervening years he has fished a lot, written a great deal, and got rather good at both. He hasn’t turned in to Dick Walker, and those familiar with his website, Fennel’s Priory, will know that he is far more in tune with Walker’s philosophical sparring partner, Bernard Venables, than with the celebrated father of specimen hunting. That’s no bad thing.

Fennel’s Priory began as a series of illustrated letters to friends, chronicling his fishing exploits. There were occasional self-published booklets too, including one from Beechmere which remains a treasured item among my angling library. As these evolved they became less a diary, more a manifesto, and the Priory is now exactly that – a way of living, rurally and simply, a fictional location in Nigel’s head but a very real one for all those who recognise the importance of tradition and joy. There’s angling, lots of it, but his writing is as much about being subsumed by nature as it is catching fish. The Priory is a good place.

Nigel has moved on from his handwritten letters. His journal is now a regular publication and his website a haven for likeminded souls. Books are planned, and perhaps then Nigel’s manifesto will reach the wider audience it deserves.

Angling writing is a curious thing – pragmatic and commercial much of the time, beautiful on occasions when it bucks the trend, and Nigel’s words are very much the latter. He may not have turned in to Dick Walker, but – in the glow of a campfire, amid the dark of the woods – he looks to me like the spiritual successor to Venables himself. And this time, I assure you, I’m not imagining it.