History of Dove Cottage – Dove Cottage Fishing

Fishing the River DoveThe cottage and fishing rights have belonged to the current owner’s family since 1931. Izaac Walton and Charles Cotton are reputed to have fished this water and the twin arched “Viator’s Bridge” at Milldale is mentioned in the seventeenth century classic “The Compleat Angler”. Further upstream in Beresford Dale is the famous fishing “Temple” allegedly built by Charles Cotton for Izaac Walton.

The cottage and fishing rights were purchased in two lots by the owner’s paternal grandfather, Ernest Manners in 1931 and the combination of the fishing rights now comprises approximately 1,084 yards of single bank fishing and 3,697 yards of double bank fishing.

Mack MackenzieErnest appointed a former Superintendent of the River Tweed, Donald MacLeahy Mackenzie or “Mack” as his new river bailiff. Mack was responsible for restoring the stretch of river by rebuilding old weirs, creating new ones, planting weed and constructing the Trout Hatchery just upstream from Dove Cottages. Mack used to bring the stock fish on from fingerlings to 12″ fish on a diet of minced cockles, mussels & liver – all prepared on the kitchen table using a hand mincer!

The remains of the trout hatchery can still be seen today and Mack is chiefly remembered as the sole originator of the “Double Badger” fly that is still used to great effect on the river.

There is not a great deal of history available for the period from 1940 to the 1960’s although the cottages and fishing were passed to Ernest’s widow Ada in 1944. Ada lived at Neatherseal Old Hall near Burton-on-Trent and she later married Neville Usher in 1960. They spent many happy times staying at Dove Cottage, entertaining friends and family.

Neatherseal Old HallThe bailiff at the time was a fearsome looking man called Bill Glanville who owned an equally fearsome alsation called Sheba. Provided you were not a poacher, Bill and Sheba were a friendly combination and he would often regale us youngsters with tales of how he took on gangs of poachers at once, with a little help from his trusty guardian.

Following Ada’s death in 1979, the cottages and fishing were passed down the family line in trust to the owner. In 1992, she embarked on an ambitious restoration project to try and recreate the sort of fishery that might have existed in Mack’s day. Having consulted all the experts and using her own detailed knowledge of the river, the owner employed Messrs Derwent Treescapes of Matlock to carry out the first repairs of the banks and weirs. Aside from some obviously flood damaged stretches of bank, the river was in quite good condition. Repairs were carried out to the weirs using stone from the river, often from just below the weir itself. We tried to employ traditional methods where possible and certainly never considered the use of cement or concrete. Building weirs was something akin to dry stone walling but made a little trickier by the constant flow of water.

repairing weir on river doveWorks were finally completed in 2001 after a couple of set backs caused by severe flooding. As the stretch is part of the Dove Valley and Biggin Dale Site of Special Scientific Interest, it is unlikely that we will be allowed to carry out the same amount of work again. This is particularly true now that the site has been designated as a candidate Special Area of Conservation under new European legislation.

Aside from the rare flora on the riverbanks, the river itself is well known for its population of native white clawed crayfish. This species of crayfish is under threat from the imported Californian Signal crayfish which carries a virus harmful to the native strain. In a survey carried out in 2000, this stretch of the river showed the highest population of native crayfish throughout the survey site. Proof, if it were needed, that our works have at least done something to halt the decline of the native crayfish.

fly fishing river doveMayfly are also another good indicator of the health of a river. In our case, we have been fortunate enough to enjoy prolific and consistent mayfly hatches over recent years. This is despite some bitterly cold winters, flooding and indifferent summers and results in excellent, if a little too easy fishing in May and June.

We also have a good stock of grayling in the river and contrary to what happened in the past, these are always returned unharmed. Like the mayfly, grayling are sensitive to changes in habitat and water quality and we are always pleased to note their presence in the river.