Sunday 28 November 2021



The first frosts of winter are biting as I write and the most glorious season of the year is falling slowly to the ground. Thank heaven that the natural cycles of life continue, in spite of man’s best efforts to destroy our planet. 

‘COP26’ has just passed and left me and many other caring folk disappointed, even angry, fearing that the reality of all the world’s leaders’ decisions is ‘COP-OUT’! Some good decisions were made but will it result in action? As our amazing Queen eloquently said “The time for words has moved to a time for action”. I pray that at least some of the promises are honoured.

Anyway, I’m not going to bang on about the politicians’ failures now, that can come later because celebrating the beauty that surrounds us in our gardens is a much needed antidote. 

Sue and I are very lucky to have our little wildlife garden and I’m sure we are not alone in noticing how colourful this autumn’s trees and shrubs have been. 

All the pics that follow were taken on our patch during the last few weeks and illustrate just how delightfully mild the weather has been this November, so we’re still blessed with butterflies, bees and hoverflies visiting our asters, dahlias, salvias and hebe’s.


Being a gardening beginner, I find it fascinating to learn about the origins of our colourful plants, the hebe for instance being a native of New Zealand, South America and even the Falkland Isles. 


Still flowering outside at the end of November, even after the frosts the red admirals and peacocks are finding they provide lots of nectar as last minute sustenance before they hibernate in our old sheds and log piles. 



Also vital to the late season pollinators are the ever popular dahlias. Natives of the high hillsides of Central America and Mexico [it’s their national flower], there are forty two species and long ago, the Aztecs grew the tubers as food, a crop that only died out after the Spanish Conquest. There were attempts to farm them in Europe but those plans failed, a relief as we can’t admire them if we eat them! 

This one is Bishop of Canterbury. We had originally planted that all time favourite, the Bishop of Llandaff but the slugs eat them, so we planted this one in a pot and it’s been blooming wonderful for months, only ceasing to attract carder bees a couple of weeks ago. 

The blousier bloomed dahlias are spectacular but the single flowerers like the ‘bishops’ are the ones that provide a banquet for hungry buzzers. They love ‘em! 


Regardless of where plants come from, we like planting the garden so it provides food for wildlife, such as our colourful cotoneasters. 

When the migrant blackbirds arrive from Europe, they home in on any tasty snacks, though the red berried beauties come from further afield, the mountains of southwestern China and the Himalayas. 




Our robins joined the party recently and have almost stripped the plants bare already, so fingers X’d the winter isn’t cold enough to leave them short of food. 

Our ripening grapes proved attractive to the many red admirals but once the squadrons of blackbirds arrived, they were scoffed in no time, though not before we had harvested some bunches for our wine. Sue has prepared the brew with added brandy and it’ll be ready for quaffing in six months time, by which time the blackbirds will be singing and when we’ve tasted it, so will we. 


Our dahlias have closed for the winter, unlike the sparkling salvias that remain open for business, the cobalt and sapphire jewels so uplifting as the days shorten into winter gloom. This one is called 'Blue Butterflies'.

Flowering long into the autumn, these beauties are vitally important to our carder bees, providing a last supper before they hunker down together, two hundred or more protected from the chill in their dense grass nests. Note to self - don’t ‘tidy' the garden too much, if at all!  Red admirals love nettles, so leave them be.

As all passionate gardeners will know, there are hundreds of different salvias, nearly a thousand throughout the old world and Americas, in central and eastern Asia and the Med, even high up in the Andes mountains. [This wind swept red bush isn't a salvia of course but anathrophillum desideratum with a Patagonian Andes background].

First named 'salvia' in Roman times, the meaning is‘to feel healthy, to heal’ and being the largest genus of plants in the sage family, along with rosemary, maybe the Romans knew about the culinary delights and health benefits of the common sage and other herbs in the kitchen. And us humans aren’t alone in eating them, for as already mentioned, many salvias are meccas for pollinators, one of our favourite salvias being ‘Amistad’, still flowering outside at the end of November, even in this Arctic blast. 

Apart from salvias and dahlias, I guess the most admired of the autumn ‘show-offs’ are the maples or Japanese Acers, the majority of the 132 species hailing from Asia, with others flourishing in Europe, N.Africa and N.America. 

So admired are maples that tourism thrives due to Canada’s fall colours, their national flag incorporating a stylised maple leaf. They are also admired for the sap from some species producing that sweet maple syrup. 

Another colourful highlight in our garden are the American Sweet Gums whose fragrant sap provides its name ‘Liquidamber’. Aren’t they gorgeous. 

As in Canada, Japan has leaf watching traditions and customs with festivals attracting thousands of admirers from around the world. 

There are now so many varieties and cultivars of Acer Palmatum that Sue and I are tempted to add one or two new ones to our woodland garden every year but in the meantime, we simply sit and admire the spectacle that they treat us to every autumn. Good for the soul!


And with the magic of winter and the arrival of geese from far northern lands to look forward to, we have lots to celebrate, even if the problems faced by nature seem depressingly insurmountable. 

However, we have the power to help ease the problems of climate change and our gardens are a good place to start. And if all of us plant them to help wildlife, we WILL make a difference. So chin up, spring is on the way!

Wednesday 10 November 2021



It seems that even after twenty eight years, our BBC 2 series “A Passion for Angling” lives on in many folk’s memories, so Sue and I had a dinner party with friends Chris Yates and Chris Wild recently to reminisce and reflect on some of our favourite moments. It proved to be a really enjoyable evening as we re-lived our favourite moments, so maybe you’ll find their choices interesting too. 

The legendary Chris Yates needs no introduction of course, being one of the stars of the show and my fishing pal Chris Wild was also involved in editing some of the clips for YouTube and offering assistance in many ways since. He’s a luthierist and a creator of the most magnificent classical guitars. They are true works of art and better still, sound beautiful. He’s also a dab hand with a rod but I’ve been fishing a lot longer and been able to help him catch several ‘firsts’ and PB’s which is far more rewarding than catching them myself. Being a quick learner, he often seems to out fish me now, though to be fair, that isn’t difficult! 

During our dinner together, and being a lot younger than Yates and I, he gave us a very interesting perspective on ‘Passion’, so I’ll quote his thoughts verbatim because they seem to echo those of so many other enthusiasts. 

“Thinking back to when I was 13 and the autumn of 1993 when A Passion For Angling first aired on BBC2, it was the barbel sequence at the end of Childhood Dreams that captured my imagination and frequented my dreams the most. 

It is so well etched into my memory that I can play the whole sequence back in my minds eye.
I so badly wanted to walk in the footsteps of Pete and Chris, to peer into the depths of my local river and watch a shadow emerge from under the weeds and for it to materialise into the solid form of a barbel. I must have gazed into every river and stream I came across, longing for that miraculous moment when I would see one. I saw many other species but never a barbel. 

A Passion For Angling introduced me to Chris Yates, and he became a bit of a hero of mine, Bob too, but Chris also wrote books, and they became my bedtime reading, the first books I enjoyed so much that I would read them again and again. There was also that magical ‘something’ about Chris and his old tackle that also infected my early teenage mind. I knew without a split cane rod and a centrepin I had no chance of catching a barbel and so I wrote to Edward Barder, the legendary builder of classic cane rods. 

I suspect he might have twigged I was just a boy, but I did get a lovely letter back saying that I would need to acquire certain tools and glue to build a rod, and to get back in contact when I was ready. I got as far as getting the right glue, which I still have, and a certain type of knife for splitting the cane. Although the rod never happened my parents wonderfully took pity on me and one Christmas we went to a tackle shop in Christchurch where I got a centrepin. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered it was the very same reel Bob had used in the series and that was all the confirmation I needed to know I’d made the right choice. 

It was naturally imperative that I rewatch ‘Autumn Glory’ to see him catch that fabulous barbel from under the tree, and ‘Winter Madness’ when he trotted his float down the Kennet only to have Chris poach a chub from the bottom of his swim, all the while trying to work out how he was able to get his tackle into the water without creating a birds nest of line! 

One summer maybe a couple of years after ‘A Passion for Angling’ was broadcast, a friend and I were dropped off to fish the Hampshire Avon, ‘The’ river where these wonderful barbel were known to reside, and best of all, it was where some of the magic was filmed. It was a beautiful day, and we crept along the bank peering into every likely looking swim, and then we saw them, not just one, but a number of barbel and chub, it was just as we had seen it on TV, they were effortlessly shifting in and out of the weed, not too far out from the bank and obviously very catchable. We quietly retreated, the excitement was almost uncontainable, but we knew what to do, we’d watched Chris and Bob do it enough times, and so threw in handfuls of hemp seed and lumps of luncheon meat. With that done we set up our rods and landing net, for once we might actually need it, and then went to see how enthusiastically the barbel were devouring our free offerings, but there was nothing to be seen, they’d obviously seen this ploy before and knew to make a quick exit. 

I did eventually catch my first barbel, many years later, and it was perhaps even more magical for me than watching the series for the first time as I was fishing with the filmmaker who captured all that wonderful footage and put it on our TV screens.” 

I fish with Chris a few times each month and chat to Mr Yates every week and it’s no surprise that we all consider the sequence where young Peter catches his first barbel one of the most magical, especially when the kingfisher lands on the rod in his hands. 

How he didn’t quiver with excitement and shake it off we’ll never know but we stayed silent until it flew away downriver, then whispered our incredulity that such a moment could happen while the camera was running. We were so very lucky. 

Another delightful moment was one of the first sequences we filmed, Chris’s son Alex being required to catch a fish from the little village pond. He was only three years old but is obviously a chip off the old Yates block, catching a carp to order and having the awareness to celebrate with a shout into the camera “I’ve caught a fish!” 

Alex is now a very successful personal trainer, is married and has two children, though he makes time to be a keen birder and has remarkable skill when hunting out elusive goshawks in dense forests. 

It’s perhaps surprising that not many of our favourite moments include the catching of big fish, preferring the moody and evocative moments of seasonal change. But perhaps that is why the series was such a success, enjoyed not just by anglers but the great British public too who were blown away by the beauty of the watery landscapes at their most magical times of day and the wildlife that decorates these moments. 

How can you not enjoy the floating flight of a barn owl over the water meadows in the third programme or Chris paddling out into a mist shrouded pool to fish for tench among the lilies in ‘Childhood Dreams’. 

Chris particularly likes the sunrise gudgeon match at Redmire, its’ etherial light rousing the ghosts of departed carp anglers as they spiralled into the mist, the music of Jennie Muskett enhancing the atmosphere perfectly. The early start didn’t do a lot for Bob and Chris’s wellbeing but they survived to tell the tale and to pull off the scarecrow trick that Chris had wanted to try ever since he caught his record carp. 

Kevin the Scarecrow was one of Chris’s most rewarding sequences, the idea being that by putting a figure into the shallows and baiting it for three days before concealing himself in the disguise, this would allow him to choose the biggest fish as they fed at his feet.

The plan worked and as he lowered his bait onto a browsing carp’s nose, he hardly dared breath as it truffled ever closer before snaffling the sweetcorn. All hell broke loose as the carp tore off across the shallows but sadly, after a brief but violent battle, the twenty pounder escaped.


Chris and I love the moment when he is meditating on how the hours pass at Redmire, or do they? He says “time doesn’t pass here, it collects!” 

However, our ten days filming in that magical spot passed all too quickly but we did have time to catch four twenty pound plus carp and even I had an off duty moment to catch a golden common carp on a worm dangled under the bank, so our stay was a wonderfully unforgettable week. 

Our simple mission to make a half hour fishing film was complete but we had more than enough ‘moments’ to make a complete one hour film and it had been comparatively simple because the weather was perfect every day. Even better, Bob and Chris were good at catching fish! 

We got thinking that if a film could be made so easily in ten days then there should be no problem in making a series of six. The mistake Bob and Chris made was to agree to do so because it took us more than four years to complete the job! 

The series started showing on BBC 2 in September 1993 and attracted audiences of millions and received rave reviews. So in time, Chris and Bob were able to forgive me for convincing them that creating the series was a good idea. The fact that so many folk still enjoy the films even after twenty eight years is difficult to believe but we’ll take our reward from the enjoyment of sharing our adventures with so many others.

I’ll add some more of our dinner party thoughts about some favourite ‘Passion’ moments in a future blog but first, I want to celebrate the glories of autumn in our garden as this year has proved exceptionally colourful.

We still sell copies of the series and Sue sends them out every few days, so if you want to own a copy, just look on our website for ordering instuctions and she'll get the DVD to you pronto.