Chalkstreams, Fly-fishing, France, Rewilding, Urban rivers, Writing

French chalkstreams: Taking the urban angle

Urbantrout Aa 1

A few weeks ago I got back from a flying visit to the Pas de Calais with my fishing pals Jeremy Lucas, Keith Wallington and Jacques van Niekerk, and published a short account of part of our visit on my Urbantrout blog

Steep chalkstream headwaters with constant year-round flow can only mean one thing… historic harnessing for hydropower. Which also means that the valley of the upper Aa offers more than a few opportunities for the kind of post-industrial edgeland exploration we love best (and which other, less epicurean fly-fishers, may pass by on the other side!) 

At Ouve-Wirquin, for instance, now a sleepy rural town of less than 600 inhabitants, the Aa flows past (and under, and through) an industrial complex which was once a paper mill, then became a welding factory, and was finally abandoned for decades before being converted into a motor museum showcasing the pride and joy of les Brigades de l’Aa – a meeting of motoring and industrial heritage in a place that nature was already rewilding for itself…

Whether we’re talking about gradient, environmental management or even ticket prices, these enchanting little waters of the Artois plateau don’t always bear much resemblance to the usual English definition of chalkstreams.

In many ways I think it’s more accurate to describe them as high-gradient rivers playing fugues around the idea of chalk and limestone chemistry – but they’re utterly fascinating, and I’m hoping to write much more about them in due course.

In the meantime, if you’ve not read it yet, please do click over to and check out my urban fishing report from the River Aa at Ouve-Wirquin