15 January 2003

Ullswater Our Beck and a Fishing Tale

OldEric says :-) It wasn't our beck really; I just called it our beck. It was a place we played, where we fished, we even got our water supply from the beck. Our beck was only a short beck; it started high up on Barton Fell above and to the left of Hadley’s cave. The beck tumbled fast down the steep fell side running at an angle across the fell then down the lower slopes and into the yard of Lady Lowther's Thwaitehill Farm then through a cattle drinking trough across the farm paddock past our house, across the road and emptying into Ullswater Lake where the yacht club is now located on Seat Farm. Just a short beck.

As I said we got our water supply from Our Beck. The water intake was high up on the fell side above the track, which runs past Hadley’s Cave and just below the scree line. A small pool had been hollowed out in the bed of the beck and the intake pipe had been inserted below the water line with a filter on the intake end to filter out debris. The water intake was put high up on the fell to give good pressure to all who used it and the water was pure up here with no contamination and with little risk of sheep droppings or dead sheep draining into the beck. The Herdwick sheep roamed free up here on the open fells.

It was in Our Beck I caught my first fish. I would be about eight I think. We knew there were fish in the beck's lower reaches and one day I decided I would try and catch one. Peter Embley arrived. We had neither line nor hooks so I found some string at home and I fashioned a hook from a bent pin until it was the right shape and fastened it on the end of the string. The line wasn’t very long but neither was the beck very wide near Sharrow Lodge were I lived. The beck was channelled here across the field to prevent flooding the lower part of the field and was only two feet wide. I stuck a worm on the bent pin hook and popped the line into the beck. After waiting a while and nothing happening we went to explore forgetting the line.

On our way back and remembering the line we went to have a look. The line was stuck in the side of the channel in a hole between the stones. I pulled the line and the line stayed stuck. I gave a mighty tug and the line came free and on the end of the line a writhing black shape. We got a fright but quickly realized it was an eel. I grabbed the eel and looked how to get the hook out but the hook was well down in the eel's mouth. Neither of us were game to put our fingers in there, to our young eyes those teeth looked sharp. What to do? I got out my knife; you know the one with lots of blades for different things and a spike to get stones out of horses’ hooves. Peter grabbed the body end of the eel and I grabbed the head end with my hanky and I cut off that eel's head. After the deed was done Peter let go of the body and I dropped the head on the grass and we both stood aghast as we watched the eel's body still writhing and nearby the eel's head its mouth opening and closing. What had we done? After a while the mouth stayed closed and I wanted rid of that head so I tossed it into beck. Meantime the body had stopped writhing and was still. I gathered up the eel and put in my bag and took it home. I showed my mother the eel and I remember she did'nt say much, she did'nt throw up her hands in horror, she was a farmers daughter and well used to such things. She got a plate and curled the eel on the plate, put a cover over it and placed in the pantry.

About three days later I came home from school. I had thought a lot about that eel during the past three days but hadn’t wanted to see it. I could still see that writhing body and the head with its mouth opening and closing. But after three days curiosity got the better of me and I asked my mother to see the eel. My mother a lady often of few words looked at me and said simply "Dad and I ate it". I was thunderstruck and mulling this over for a while and I finally I asked "but why?" and she answered, "it would have gone bad".

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