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My 45 years with a fishing pub

December 8 2008

In 1961 with my late husband Gerald Fox-Edwards I bought a fishing pub. As a Londoner and an actress I knew positively nothing about fishing and little about hotel keeping. But Gerald’s health was worrying and his doctors advised country air. He was a passionate fisherman and his mecca was to own a fishing inn with a river at the bottom of the garden, so we bought The Arundell Arms in Devon.

The hotel was pretty spartan in those days with one optional private bathroom for 17 rooms and a coke boiler which smoked so badly that when the wind blew from the west, half the dining room had to be evacuated! Around the car park was the Lifton Police Station complete with cells, where the occasional over imbibing local was lodged, the local Magistrates’ Court and the Lifton School. At the back of the hotel was stabling for eight horses, which reflected the hotel’s origins as a coaching inn.

The hotel only opened during the fishing season from March to October. A week’s full board cost £20.00. The hotel was positioned on the busy A.30, the main road through to Cornwall, and the traffic queues stretched either side of the village for many miles. But it owned twenty miles of trout, salmon and sea trout fishing on the river Tamar and five of its tributaries which ran through wonderful unspoilt Devon countryside - for Gerald his dream come true. After lots of paint, a new boiler and double glazing in all the front windows, we opened on March 1st 1961 - the start of the fishing season.

The rivers in the 60’s were prolific. Clear, sparkling streams with an abundance of small wild brown trout, always hungry, which rose freely to the fly. In the Tamar there were excellent runs of salmon and sea trout. The bird life was magical with no sign of the dreaded cormorant. Most people fished for trout and were extremely skilled dry fly fishermen. A few would venture down to the Lyd after dinner for an evening’s sea trout fishing but most preferred a glass or two of port. In those days fishing was almost exclusively a male pursuit and very few women came to fish, in fact very few women came to the hotel at all.

In 1969 Cornish born Roy Buckingham, a young bailiff with the then Cornwall River Board joined us to help Gerald run the fishery. Roy had already achieved fame as a tournament caster, a skill which he put to good use as a fly fishing instructor. A former colleague of Roy’s, David Pilkington, joined us in 1976 and together they look after the fishery. They have taught many thousands to fish on the Arundell Arms fly fishing courses, and in particular have encouraged many fishermen to try the magical sport of night fishing for sea trout on the River Lyd.

My own passion for fly fishing really began after Gerald’s death in 1973. In the early years I was far too busy to learn to fish, not only running the hotel - on a shoestring, and working as a marriage guidance counsellor but also having children. But without Gerald’s guidance I clearly needed to know about fishing, so I asked Roy to teach me. I can still remember the magic of catching my first wild brown trout on a dry fly - work became a bore and all I wanted to do was fish.

There have been many changes over the years, most of them for good. The traffic no longer roars past the windows, the police cells are now the village pub, the old school a conference centre – and bathrooms abound! The hotel has developed winter sporting interests, a restaurant with a great following year round and, situated as we are on the River Tamar, the Devon/Cornwall boundary, we have the privilege of hosting many of the fishing activities in the two counties.

More and more women are coming to learn to fly fish – often they out number the men on our fishing courses (and dare I say it they are sometimes better than the men!)

Many of our former fishing pupils are now bringing their children to us to be taught to fish. My youngest grandson Thomas, aged 5, had his first lesson with David last August and caught (and put back) a ‘baby’ salmon.