Author: G. Jefferies
On 16 June 1980, Chris Yates smashed the UK carp record with a 51.5 lb. leviathan from Redmire Pool in Herefordshire, England. For years as young inbetweeners in the late 80’s the awe of super sized carp remained an elusive fantasy with captures of significantly smaller fish restricted to all things under 5 lb. Big fish were the stuff of dreams, full of magic and unattainable mystery; at least until we found Crakemarsh Pool. An old estate lake sat in the grounds of an ancient abandoned manse crumbling in neglect and despair. One of those places that oozes history in surroundings filled with pre-history, barrows and Roman settlements. Where time bleeds into the present reminding us of it’s unstoppable march forwards deleting the past. The Hall itself seemed to have been there forever; extensively rebuilt in 1815 around an impressive staircase; a relic from a former 17th century house. Home to Lady Sheppard, then the Cavendish family with US troops billeted there during the second World War. By the time Yates did battle at Redmire the Hall had been abandoned and part demolished leaving it’s bones rising into the sky and roots lost in the undergrowth. Tales of hauntings were legion; although these were mostly hearsay and stemmed from nocturnal anglers in solitary vigils staring at a lake that settled into a dereliction in keeping with the Hall.
So came the night of monsters.
The day was one of those halcyon school summer holiday ones; looking back many were. When life will never get any better and the immortality of youth burned brightly. Even the rain days held magic, watching spray fizz through an antiquated fishing umbrella. The oldsters used mystic knowledge to ensure we remained.
“Fish is already wet young ‘un.”
Invariably they were retiring to vehicles at the time but over zealous enthusiasm never looked upon this as anything more than coincidence.
On this particular evening, sunlight was just clipping the tops of a copse on the west edge of the lake sending part of the water into darkness. The east side, where we now stood, held a shallow bay filled with lily pads with bright pink lotus flowers basking in the evening sun. Behind tractor engines were busy cutting hay, filling the fields with a golden dusty haze and scenting the air with the aroma of sweet fresh cut grass. It would not be long before the orange orb in the sky would pass beyond the trees and into the gap between stands where it would slowly sink beneath the horizon to be replaced by it’s lunar cousin; near full and ready to turn daylight into the domain of the nocturne. Already things were growing quiet. The wind had dropped leaving the lake still and filled with contemplation. To our right the bay curved into an arm leading towards the Hall where a small stream trickled into the main expanse of water. A jut of land separated this from another larger bay on the far side while to the left things thinned as another tranche of water led to a grilled outlet where the stream continued on it’s way; seemingly uninterested that above the ancient water course a lake had been dug.
It was now that the pads began moving.
“There” Steve was pointing at three megalodons cruising amidst the greenery.
Our free offerings of floating bread began to disappear. Taken gently with jaws opening just sub surface creating a vortex dragging the contents above into an abyss. Maybe not Yates sized but twenty pounders at least and the biggest fish we had ever seen. Mouths open in disbelief the adrenaline began it’s work turning legs weak and stomachs filling with lepidopterans. More bread was flicked out. Neither of us were aware the tractors had died, or that road noise under the dwindling sun had ceased. Even the chattering of Canada geese down by the stream exit dimmed as eyes became glued upon the disappearing freebies.
Time appeared to slow and curses were mouthed at the retiring sun throwing impenetrable reflections and glare onto the water in front. All too soon the shapes were lost and the pads ceased to move. It was now, somehow, dark. The beasts had taken two hours of life away in a moment while the world around had carried on; leaving us in temporal suspension before dumping us into the future. Suddenly the idyl had turned sinister. Our gear was on the outcrop of land between the two bays on the right. Slyly, the moon was casting silvery light onto it. Right on the end, where land met shallows and just before the causeway of bullrushes that ran toward the inlet. It felt like a trap. “Come here” said the spit; and yet the path to the right took us toward the skeletal Hall. Again the moon was playing games and shedding false light onto the arms of stonework rising above the surroundings. Oddly it looked more obvious at night than during the day when the undergrowth seemed to claw it back and conceal all. The water giants had claimed the rush of excitement. The manse was creating something darker; aided and abetted by the silence and illuminated by the eye in the sky. Even the geese were in a noiseless revery. Little wonder anglers went mad here and tales of the macabre filtered into overnight vigils.
The trek back to the safety of the spit began with torchlight trying to locate the path through nettles and undergrowth that somehow seemed taller and more dense by night. An owl hooted in the distance and was met by the bark of a fox. Nothing came from the Hall except intense shadow below and illuminated ruination above. Each step seemed eternally long. The ground opened with rabbit holes and ruts. In daylight these things seemed inconsequential. At night the entire place was rich in conspiracy. Even the air was chilling, reminding us that in twelve hours, should we not cease to exist, things would be safer. By now we were at the closest point to the ruin. To the left was a jump over the stream and we were on the peninsula. The moon upped it’s game as clouds moved on. Stars twinkled above and a track opened to the right amidst shoulder high vegetation. Tantalising saying
“go on, the Halls not so bad. Have a look. Not scared are you?”
We looked at each other. I was rather hoping Steve would say not tonight. On reflection I suspect he was thinking the same. As it turned out neither said anything so the path won. But for torches the way was masked in shadow and hidden from the lunar prankster by elderberry, gorse and brambles. Filled with dank earthy smells and dew dampened nettles. It started well. Rather broad, walking abreast we began with shadow falling in behind and quivering torches picking out patches here and there in front. Voices shrank to hushed whispers. Why I have no idea unless it was some subconscious effort not to wake the ghosts…or worse. Step by step the ground grew soggier, the vegetation denser and the path narrower. Single file. Unseen branches dragging across cheeks. The Hall lost amidst the ever thickening undergrowth. It felt like the closer we got the more reluctant the grounds were to let us in. Then we heard it. A shattering crash disrupted the silence. Resonating in the darkness. No doubt the revenants were waking. Pigeons spattered through the bushes to either side, disturbed from their roosts; ducks mewled in protest and a large black rat scuttled through the torch beam. It was enough to turn adventure into retreat. Running in the dark with torchlight bouncing an eerie path flickering over the ground, bouncing off leaf and twig. The sound of rustling coats and gasping of steamy breath. The stream was hurdled and the spit reached before we stood in front of the tackle, wheezing in the cold night air; sanctuary. It seemed that the ghostly noise had woken things up. Far out in the lake a carp crashed on the surface, the geese were muttering and the air seemed less opaque and more in the present. Time had begun again.
Line spooled off and the weighted silver foil makeshift bite indicator flew upwards disappearing into some reeds. Steve bent into a carp and the rod arched over ready to take on something that eclipsed all things before. Five minutes became ten. Worsened by the night and the uncertainty of playing a mighty adversary of the deep. At exactly three twenty two the rod straightened, the game ended and a straightened hook was reeled in.
We sat in silence until dawn began to stir. An unspoken obituary for the lost fish. Reflective on the nights events. In fishing, revisiting a secret undisturbed spot in which a mighty foe is defeated is often a beaten down relic on the next visit as the less conscious seek to chase down the magic. This place did the reverse. The path to the Hall became less public the deeper in you trod. Almost as if many had begun the very same journey but turned back and fled before the end with very few venturing deep enough to flatten the herbaceous guardians.
So it was the Hall and it’s lake held onto the unknown; their secrets intact.
Monsters still lived here.
Two decades later my very good friend Steve battled another monster. This time it was real and he lost. He passed away a few years ago. Nevertheless he still lives on in the memories and it was a privilege to have spent this night amidst the shadow of a Hall which I understand has been renovated and, presumably, exorcised. With it, no doubt, the monsters are all gone too. May they all rest in peace.
© G Jefferies and Fictionisfood, 2016. All rights reserved.