A day's fishing for disadvantaged youngsters at the home of Lord Northampton was attended by the Grand Master, as Michael Imeson reports
A stiff breeze played down the lake from west to east. The Arctic terns revelled in it as they soared with ease over the ruffled water and made their diving bid to catch lunch.
Dozens of fishermen, young and old, eagerly lined the banks, not so much to catch lunch, but simply to try their hand, in almost every case for the first time, at getting a fish on the hook.
One youngster and his caster caught a staggering 56 perch, roach and bream, another 50. But a lot of others didn’t get a bite. Blame the wind, said some. That is fishing, we were told by others.
It was also fishing with a massive difference: it was a Masonic Trout and Salmon Fishing Club day at glorious Castle Ashby, home of the Pro Grand Master, the Marquess of Northampton, the patron, who also sponsored the event.
And it was a day when the club’s aim of bringing fishing and countryside experiences to mentally and physically disabled people was perfectly illustrated to another most welcome guest, the Grand Master, the Duke of Kent. Both the Duke and Lord Northampton happily donned the club’s cap and meandered along the lake bank, speaking to everyone, young and old, Mason and non-Mason.
The MTSFC, which in turn has spawned the Lodge of Opportunity No. 9777, has in just a few short years extended its reach to give more than 2,000 disabled young people (and some older from day centres) an experience they will surely talk about for many years to come.
Fishing days for the disabled began in Hertfordshire and Middlesex. Now they are spreading across more Provinces. Up to the close of their season in October, the club will have organised 23 fishing days in 10 different Provinces from Essex and London to Berkshire and North Wales.
While the Castle Ashby day was mainly course fishing, the club’s roots are in fly fishing for trout. There were trout – a lake was specially stocked with 200 of them for the day, and several fly fishermen and their young charges – but only 199 of them got away!
So, with Castle Ashby literally as the backdrop on a June day, young Danny from St Neots was casting his line like a veteran in the capable hands of Steve Moule from Southgate, north London. Just along the bank was school friend Stephanie who, it has to be admitted, did have a bit of a habit of casting her line over Danny’s. But they stayed friends, and Stephanie and her caster, Gerry O’Driscoll from the Square and Level Lodge in Ealing, landed five perch.
Gerry summed up his day: 'I have worked all my life and you just plod on and you take no notice of some of life’s challenges… doing this for the children makes my day. Sometimes you go home and have a tear in your eye. Just to see their faces at the end of the day makes it very important. There are some people who take the day off work to come to a fishing day like this. We are giving something back.'
Young Michael from St Neots said: “The fish seem to like the red maggots best. Is it true that some fishermen put the maggots in their mouth to warm them up before they put them on the hook?”
Another fisherman casting his line from a wheelchair said he had enjoyed the fishing – “but I like the people who are helping us to do it.”
Club member Gary Ferris of Friendship Lodge No. 8357 in St Albans, Hertfordshire, is a golfer. Now he is also a fishing fan. “This is my 10th or 11th event like this in the last two years. I have never had a bad experience. We go home with a warm feeling because we know the children have enjoyed themselves.”
After lunch the Duke of Kent handed every participant a certificate, passed to him in turn by the Pro Grand Master, sometimes plunging into the excited crowd of participants to reach a smiling, satisfied, wheelchair-bound person. As the “young guests left in their community coaches, the Club president, Gordon Bourne, reminded us: “All our casters and helpers gain hugely from their experiences during these days.
“Many have not had the experience of witnessing first hand the problems that many of our participants face in their everyday lives, and it is a real education to us all when we spend time with them. We have all become much more aware of the great amount of work that goes on in the specialist schools and centres.”
Freemasonry’s charitable giving is well known, but the club represents the other side of our lives – the time given to worthy causes. When you’ve spent a day like that at Castle Ashby, you’d be hard pressed to find a more worthy cause!
The Club, a registered charity, is entirely organised and financed by Freemasons, and help to fund their activities is always needed. It costs around £50 per head for each participant. The club hopes to expand into more Provinces and is looking for new organisers to start the ball rolling to “catch some more smiles”.
And while the Lodge of Opportunity may be rooted in Hertfordshire, meetings will be held wherever in the country there is an interest. The Lodge can be contacted via its secretary, Warren Singer, on 0208 958 7652.
Michael Imeson is the Provincial Information Officer for Hertfordshire