Situated in the village of Lifton, near the border with Cornwall, the Arundell Arms has 20 miles of water on the river Tamar and its tributaries, and employs two fishing instructors for those who wish to learn or perfect the art. It is considered by many to be the “home” of fly fishing in the West Country.
Knowing nothing of either fishing or hotel keeping, Anne Voss Bark bought the Arundell Arms in 1961 with her first husband, Gerald Fox-Edwards. In those early days, she ran the hotel on a shoestring while also working as a marriage guidance counsellor. Gerald was a dedicated fisherman, and looked after that side of the business.
It was only after Gerald’s death in 1973 that Anne decided to take up a rod: “With the extra responsibility for the management of the fishery, I needed to know more,” she later recalled. “After a few casting lessons from our river keeper and instructor Roy Buckingham, the magical moment came when I took a fish on a dry fly. After that, work became an encumbrance — all I wanted to do was fish.”
One of her proudest moments was catching three salmon on the Lyd on a fly in one morning. But her particular delight was night fishing for sea trout: “There’s a magic about it. All is quiet, you cast, suddenly a fish comes up, takes your fly, and then all hell breaks loose.”
She was born Anne Bennett in London on October 7 1928, the daughter of a barrister, Sir Wilfrid Bennett, 2nd Bt, who in 1938 decided to rent an estate in Lincolnshire. Having employed a French governess to educate Anne and her brother, Ronnie, he joined his regiment to Palestine, and the family would not see him again until the end of the war. After the RAF had requisitioned the house in 1940 the children attended schools in London and Wimborne St Giles, Dorset.
Although offered a place at London University, Anne’s heart was in acting, and she was determined to prove herself on the stage. She trained with Nancy Price, whom she described as “an elderly actress of the 'emotive’ school”, and at 17 was taken on by the actor and impresario Donald Wolfit. Under his aegis she toured in Shakespeare in England and North America, but on her return to Britain struggled to get parts.
Her father died in 1952, leaving the family short of money, and Anne decided to seek more stable employment. She was taken on by the advertising agency Crawfords, where she became interested in commercial television, rose to become an account executive, and met Gerald Fox-Edwards.
Fox-Edwards, who had served with the Navy during the war, suffered from bronchitis and pneumonia, conditions aggravated by the smog with which London was in those days often enveloped. His doctor advised a move to the country, and the couple decided to buy the Arundell Arms.
Built in the early 1700s, it had been a fishing hotel since the 1920s, but when Gerald and Anne took over it boasted few comforts. Only one of the 17 rooms had a private bathroom, and smoke from the old coke boiler often made the dining room uninhabitable. Having begun the long process of improvement and redecoration, they were able to open for the 1961 season. They went on to introduce fly fishing courses, ultimately bringing thousands of people to the sport, many of them women. The hotel has since won many awards.
In 1975 she married Conrad Voss Bark, former parliamentary correspondent for BBC Television and the author of a number of notable books on fly fishing. Although he gave lectures on fishing at the Arundell Arms, it was Anne, with her charm, purposeful efficiency and impeccable manners, who remained the guiding spirit at the hotel.
Anne Voss Bark edited a collection of essays, West Country Fly Fishing. She was also a champion of river conservation, and, with friends including the Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, was a co-founder of the West Country Rivers Trust. The first such organisation to address the problem of farm fertilisers leaching into the soil in vulnerable river catchment areas, it became the model for similar bodies both in Britain and abroad.
She was vice-chairman of the Salmon & Trout Association, and in 2001 received a Lifetime Achievement Award for services to angling. In 1996 she was appointed MBE for services to tourism.
Conrad Voss Bark died in 2000. Anne continued to run the Arundell Arms until 2008, when she handed over to her son, Adam Fox-Edwards. Advised by her son to “slow down” when she was 75, she traded her Porsche 928 for a three-litre Jaguar.
She is survived by the son and daughter of her first marriage and by four stepchildren.
Anne Voss Bark, born October 7 1928, died November 18 2012
Anne Voss Bark
Anne Voss Bark 1928- 2012 : An Appreciation by Michael McCarthy for the International Fario Club
The old saying that there’s more to fishing than catching fish was perhaps as well exemplified as ever by the case of Anne Voss Bark, the châtelaine of the Arundell Arms in Devon. Anne’s obituaries have rightly stressed her many qualities: her indefatigable building of a wonderful hotel, her own passion for angling, her unceasing work in defence of West Country rivers, and the warmth that accompanied her perfect, pre-War manners – but somehow none seems to me to have quite captured what it was that made her exceptional.
For it wasn’t her obvious offerings, elevated though they were, the comfort she provided, her marvellous food, her twenty miles of Tamar tributaries, even the friendship she so readily gave to those who came within her orbit, and I say that as someone who knew her well for thirty years and counted her as a friend for most of that time.
Rather, it was somehow the way in which she exemplified what it was all worth – I mean, what the experience she provided was worth.
At the heart of it of course was fishing, fishing these exquisite, granite spate rivers running off Dartmoor down through their hidden green combes. Every day you fished the Arundell Arms waters, the river was yours entirely, with everything that came with it: the explosion of wild flowers in April and May, the kingfishers, grey wagtails and dippers in the stream, the buzzards mewing in the sky, the otters that you knew were there, somewhere, and the shadowy, silvery shapes beneath the surface, the brown trout, the salmon, and the peal, to give the sea trout, the Arundell Arms’ special fish, its West Country name.
Fishing these wonderful watercourses was exciting and pleasurable, yet there was something deeper: it was a particularly intense way of experiencing nature. To be there in the wild river, hunting, with everything hunting around you, the birds, the mammals, the fish, the insects, was to be truly at one with the natural world, it was to live, if only briefly, at a higher level, and Anne instinctively understood that. For what she offered above all, beyond hospitality, beyond friendship, was a presiding intelligence; and this was an intelligence which saw, and which made you realise, that to come to her world, and take what it had to offer, was not just enjoyable; it was civilising.
I spent many hours on the Lyd, and the Thrushel, and the Carey, and one might think that nothing could have added to their perfection, but if I look back I know that in my time, something did, and I give thanks for it; it was the presence of the presiding spirit of these waters, poised and benign, the goddess of the springs, as the Romans would have said, Anne Voss Bark.