Season 1873

The accounts in the early spring were very cheering. On the 1st of April Black wrote to congratulate us on excellent prospects, not a bad bird had he seen since we left in September. There was a grand breeding stock, and he anticipated splendid shooting.

But it was not to be. On the 15th he writes reporting birds looking badly diseased, and on the 30th writes again that a third of the birds were dead.

It was sickening news, but there was hope yet, as a fair breeding stock was left, and the disease appeared to have spent itself, the birds nesting fairly well.

At the beginning of July disease again broke out, and with greater virulence, young and old birds falling before it; but David begged us to come, of course, in August and shoot down all we could, and so sweeten the ground for those that remained by stamping out all that was possible.

Disease prevailed over nearly all Scotland; amongst others, Glenmarkie was very bad. We did not put any birds on the table, and I sent none to my friends. What few good-looking birds there were went to London, and the scarcity through the country may be imagined when I say that they made 19 s. a brace.

Bag.Dalnawillan and Rumsdale.
Grouse 151 brace.
Sundries 24     "     

My chums were pretty miserable, and so was I. It was a bitter disappointment. No word from D. as to taking a gun for the next season, and in about a week or ten days they both went south. However, I had to make the best of it, and, leaving my family at Dalnawillan, I went into Sutherlandshire trout fishing for a fortnight with my son Douglas, and after that we all went home.

Caithness, in those days, was the worst mapped county in Great Britain. There was a good estate map of the Ulbster estates, and the maps were pretty reliable for a few miles from the coast. Sutherland, belonging mainly to one proprietor, was well mapped.

On Dalnawillan we had a loch—a long walk across very bad ground from the lodge—that held, both in size and quality, the best trout in Sutherland and Caithness, but not plentiful; the best I ever did was eighteen fish in a day, but eight of them weighed 9-1/4lb., the largest being 1-3/4lb., and that was the largest size they ever reached, and, generally, a day's fishing meant eight or ten, with the half of them the larger size. A predecessor of mine at Dalnawillan assured me that many were got up to 3lb. and 4lb.; it is marvellous the falsehoods men will commit themselves to as to size of fish—men perfectly reliable in other ways.

The gillies talked a good deal about a loch in Sutherland, not far off our march, where the fish were nearly as large and good, and very free to rise. That sounded very nice, and needed to be experimented, and my son Douglas and I said we would take it on our way into Sutherlandshire.

In those days the lochs of Sutherlandshire were free to the angler, and for some years the Duke made it a condition in letting shootings that it should be so, and as the bulk of the lochs were difficult of access, and anglers few, there was no friction; and in the summer months there were generally two or three rod men stopping at Auchentoul Inn, on the Helmsdale Strath.

In the old Scotch fashion, the inn was part inn and part shooting lodge, and in this case Sir John Karslake's keeper kept the inn, so everything was well regulated, and caused no annoyance to Sir John or his deer. Sir John was always courteous and pleasant.

Auchentoul Inn was twelve miles cross country—and very cross country—from Dalnawillan, and we sent our portmanteau to Dunbeath, sixteen miles, thence by coach, sixteen miles, to Helmsdale, and there to wait a chance lift up the Strath, eighteen miles, to Auchentoul.

We also ordered a machine from Auchentoul to meet us at Forsinean, ten miles by a decent road.

Willie Hunter, one of our gillies, vouchsafed to pilot; he had herded sheep at this Loch Sletil, and knew all about it. The ordnance maps now tell us that it is seven and a half miles from Dalnawillan, across a very bad piece of moorland and flow.

We left Dalnawillan at 8.30 a.m.—that is, David, Douglas, and I, and Hunter as pilot; a nasty, wet, drizzling rain; encased in macintoshes, wet outside with rain and inside with perspiration, and after two and a half hours tramping and slushing over the wet moors, Willie pulled up, and in a very confused manner stated that we ought to be at the loch; "anyhow, it used to be here," said Willie.

Well! I know the loch used to be just here.
"Well! I know the loch used to be just here."

A council was held to determine the present location of this wandering loch, and a deviation of half a mile to the right put us upon it. Willie returned.

After a rest we donned wading stockings, and put rods together; it would be 12 o'clock by the time we began; we had some nice fish, largest 1lb., but our wading stockings would not put us into sufficiently deep water for the larger fish; but we saw enough to convince us that the loch was not overstated.

We fished away, and packed up about 6 p.m. to make our way across the moor to Forsinean.

Again we missed our way; we took the shoulder of Ben Sletil too high up, and it was getting dark when we struck the road, as it turned out, a mile on the Auchentoul side of Forsinean. Of course no machine.

It was raining; it had rained the whole day, and looked as if it meant to rain for a week, and we took off our macintoshes to lighten the walk—we could not get much wetter. Presently we met a shepherd, who told us Forsinean and the trap were behind us, and, telling him to send the trap after us, we tramped the hard road the whole nine miles, arriving at the same time as the trap that followed.

Our portmanteau did not arrive till next morning, but the innkeeper found us dry flannels and a good supper; it was then 10 o'clock.

C. was very hopeful that grouse matters would quickly mend, and stuck to it for another season, and after that I was left with the whole cost of the affair for the following season, and seasons after that, which, with rent, keeper, and expenses, was not less than £700 a year, and nothing to shoot either, which was the worst part of the business.