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Mottisfont troutI visited the famous Oakley Beat yesterday, on the River Test. I guess this sentence need a little explanation: the Test is a chalk stream in Hampshire and one of the foremost fly-fishing rivers in the country (for trout); a beat is a short section of the river that you can hire (at considerable expense) to go fishing; and the Oakley Beat is famous for being where FM Halford, the father of modern dry fly fishing, fished in the years leading up to WW1. You can still find the thatched fishing hut that he built (now restored by the National Trust as part of their Mottisfont estate) at Oakley. He also dabbled in photography, and in particular with the Lumière brother’s colour process of Autochrome, which used tinted potato-starch grains to make images. This was before the days of Kodak and Agfa. Some of his autochrome prints are inside the hut. The Oakley Beat is fascinating, existing more in the imagination than on the ground. It is a pocket of warped reality, bringing to mind the passage in Interstellar where he goes through the wormhole to find time and space doubled back upon themselves. Another image that comes to mind is that of the Japanese tea garden, in its combination of manipulated space and intricate ritual. I certainly didn’t expect to find all this on the Test. Thanks Neil for showing us around, really captivating: and sorry FM for such a poor reproduction of your autochromed trout!

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