The River Cam - The Towpath
The River Cam is my favourite river. I have for 40 years walked and cycled along from Chesterton to Clayhithe, so I suppose I am biased but there is such variety of scenery to capture your imagination. On my visits I have witnessed all manner of wild life from the birds picking the berries off the bushes behind the towpath in the depth of winter, birds of prey, foxes and deer – fantastic. Its a funny thing, you can go somewhere and nothing out of the ordinary occurs time and time again yet at a particular spot something always seems to occur and this is the case on a certain spot on the Cam. The first time I fished on the bend just above the plough PH opposite Fen Ditton was as an 11 year old. One hot evening my Dad took me fishing. For some reason my father took me along the towpath from the Pike and Eel PH to this special spot. Quite a walk especially as it was evening. The pace of life was much slower in those days the summer evenings seemed to last much longer. It was the late 60’s and as I clutched my little fishing rod, tobacco tin full of lobworms and a greaseproof wrapped custard flavoured dough ball I could see in the distance the church and large house opposite at Fen Ditton. I remember being excited, as I had never fished here before. As we approached my Dad gazed across the river and seemed a little anxious. I looked across and could see a group of people setting up tents in a field in front of the church. To me they appeared to be wearing the same tops. My father stopped, looked and then said “lets fish here”. I looked across but my Dad shouted, “Don’t stare” “Why” I replied, kids do that don’t they! My Dad kind of half looked and half busied himself trying to concentrate on me catching a fish. I looked across again “Look if you don’t concentrate we will pack up”. They were all girls, blonde, slender and topless! I had never seen such a thing and of course as kids do I was somewhat curious and kept asking questions. “Why are they wearing no tops Dad?” Shhhhh. My Dad half-looking, half not. They are Scandinavian” “Whats that Dad?” May be this fist sight of female breast has drawn me to this spot, a sort of subliminal thing but there have been other notable occasions over the years. When I was about 17 years old CFPAS were competing against Oxford APS – an annual event and one held in the same way as Oxford V Cambridge rowing is today. The rivalry was intense; we always had a lovely trophy to present and a proper tea afterwards! The banks were lined from Chesterton almost to Baitsbite Lock. One of our lads, Lacy Anderson, was bagging up. I had never witnessed such a catch, I think it was 46 lb of Roach and to this day I do not believe there has been such a Roach catch in a match on the Cam. Yes you have guessed it, the catch came from the very spot where me and my Dad stood some years prior. The bend is quite pronounced here and on the tow path side the depth is under your feet opposite is a little cut with a single boat house which is used to house a beautiful steam river boat. The cut narrows into a ditch and it was here that I was to be caught fishing when I should have been somewhere else. Yet again in this special place. The end of the season was upon us and in those days it meant 12 or so weeks before we could go fishing again on 16th June. It was the last day of the season in March, a Monday, which coincided with my Day Release at college. – Funny thing that, I was studying for my Higher National Diploma in Business Studies at the Tech 1pm until 9pm. Along with all the other sufferers trying to gain City and Guilds for two years I toiled. Not this day! You see my first lecture was 1pm and then from 2 until 4pm we had ‘private study’ with lectures 4pm until 9pm. God knows why, it was I’m sure punishment. Most of the time we spent playing table football or in the park but after gazing out from the lecture room I was off home at 2pm an on the river by 2.30pm. I was to snatch those last few hours on the Cam before the enforced layoff. Not so! As I tackled up I could hear the shout of oarsmen, Cox and Coaches, “easy all” paddle light” “Ahead sculler”! undeterred. I set about fishing the little inlet opposite the scene of Lacy’s triumph and on the same side of the river I had seen my first topless lady. Now do bear in mind I was bunking off. Also I am of a nervous disposition and whilst I thought my employers would not get to know I had left college early my cover was to be blown. It was the Lent Bumps, race after race started up and hordes of followers screaming their support on their bikes went by on the far bank. Ok so I could put up with this but not what occurred next. A group of cameramen appeared including a guy holding one of those long furry things to sound record. Yes! The whole thing was being filmed for about Anglia our local TV station and it was going out on the news with me in full view. I could not fish and slunk home worried sick that my boss would see me later on the T.V fishing. On another occasion at the very same spot I witnessed a phenomenal event, this time in the closed season. Hundreds and hundreds of Roach and Bream thrashing around like piranha close to the bank where the tree roots entered into the water. Such was the activity of the spawning fish there were two fish flapping out of the water. Also on this bend, I witnessed my first shag on the riverbank. The bird was drying it wings in the sun. Little would I realise in all its magnificent glory spread eagled on the bank edge that some years later it’s cousin the cormorant would be the scourge of fisheries around the country. A truly magical place on the Cam where I can see Percy fishing puffing on his cigarette with his little dog Jimmy by his side.