Peter Carter, eelman extraordinaire

I enjoyed catching up with Peter Carter today, the country loving eelman, and the only person in the UK to still carry out his trade the traditional way with willow eel traps which he makes himself.

His shop in Outwell, Cambridgeshire is stacked with fascinating memorabilia for country lovers and attracts interest from around the world. I was there a few months ago when he was filmed by a Japanese film crew, and he has been recorded several times since and is in big demand as a speaker.

Pete, who hated school and struggled in all subjects except art at which he is extremely gifted, is a brilliant raconteur and soon has his audience riveted and in stitches. He is one of a dying breed, sadly, and I know of nobody else with his humour, wit and knowledge about country life because he lives it and loves every minute of it with every breath in his body. He knows all the secrets from the rivers and wildlife and his talks are not to be missed, but don’t expect him to dress up. He might have just woken up from a snooze under his favourite willow tree and will be wearing his famous leather hat and working gear which makes the talk all the more authentic.

I follow Peter’s updates on Facebook and he recently commented on his new found stardom, saying: ” did after dinner talk to top company bosses last night, they said they had a top golfer do talk. he charged £3000 for talk. they said i was so much better, they want me back for 3 rd time.. think i might charge that lol.”

That doesn’t surprise me in the least.

I’m delighted to learn that Pete has been invited to play a special role in the forthcoming Olympics, which he announced to his Facebook followers: “during the torch carrying of the power olympics i have been asked if i would carry on my punt the torch held by a disabled child in front of a perade of boats through Ely in august..i said i would be honoured to..”

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, as anyone will tell you who met Pete last weekend at Ely’s Eel Day where Peter is naturally the star.

“in last five years ive started doing talks, done tv, radio, met the queen, now to carry power olympic torch,,whats next round the corner?”

Pete’s story is all the more poignant as he could be last traditional eelman in his family’s history after 500 years, unless his teenage daughter Rhiannon decides to take it up.

*If you fancy eating eel, this is Pete’s recipe, though his wife and daughter eat them:

“Skin ‘em, chop em up, wrap em up in flour and then fry em in butter. Then it’s like eating chicken off the bone. Texture’s like chicken. It’s very meaty with a slight fishy taste. They are very good for you, there’s no fat in it at all, because an eel is just all muscle so it’s very very good for you.”

*The story of how eels arrive in the Fens after a 4,000 mile journey is fascinating. In Pete’s words:

“They start off in the Sargasso Sea where they’re born as little flat fish and they head off from Mexico way, so… Americas… They drift across from the Gulf stream and in thousands and when they finally arrive they’ve grown to about 2 inches long, they are little elvers or glass eels and then they’ll come on to the Fen and they’ll live on the Fen.

“The big eels will live until about 80 years old before they go back, but most about 20 or 30 years, and then they head back. But they change, they don’t eat any more. It takes about four- and-a-half years they reckon, to get back. And they eat their own stomachs so when they get there, there is nothing left and they have their young and die. Then the next lot make the journey.”

And eels are extraordinary in that they can travel across land too.

Btw, if Pete is speaking at your event, I happen to know he is partial to home made cakes, so do have a bake in before he arrives.

The University for the Creative Arts have recorded this lovely video about Peter and his extraordinary life. Watch it and see why Peter really is so unique.

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