Season 1874

Neither C. nor I went near the place. Disease was gone, and so were the birds. It could have been truthfully advertised as perfectly free from disease, and lightly shot the previous season. In May, before nesting time, David hunted every beat, and found just fifty-two pairs of birds on the whole 24,000 acres.

In August he again hunted, and came across exactly the same number of broods as he had found pairs. They certainly were grand broods, averaging eight to a brood, and he managed to kill out nearly all the old cock birds, leaving but one old bird to each brood.

Dunbar was very unhappy, and, of course, I was the same, and we arranged to have a consultation, and I met him in Edinburgh, where he had occasion to be. Dunbar summed up the whole thing by saying, in his plump way, there must be no birds whatever killed for two years at least.

Glutt, in some way, was, fortunately, off Dunbar's shoulders, and on the hands of the proprietor, who had it in hand for three years afterwards, when Dunbar took it off his hands at a moderate rent.

Strathmore was still on lease, the lease expiring after the season of 1874, and, backing his opinion that no birds should be killed in 1874, he arranged with the tenants that, in consideration of no grouse being taken off, he would abate half the year's rent.

He asked me if I would take Strathmore off his hands for the remaining fourteen years of his lease. "You shall have the whole 19,000 acres, including Achlybster, for £350 a year." But I was not a jobber in moors, and already had more than enough on my hands; but, if I had been clear of Dalnawillan, I think I would have closed with him.

The railway was making, and as the Rumsdale beats are too far away from Dalnawillan Lodge to shoot them conveniently from there, Dunbar suggested that I should build a small lodge near to the proposed station, and let off 10,000 acres of the Rumsdale side of Dalnawillan so soon as the stock of birds would warrant it.

That idea suited me down to the ground, as the remaining 13,000 or 14,000 acres attached to Dalnawillan was ample for the personal shooting of myself and sons, with, perhaps, a friend; the idea was eventually carried out at the proper time.

In July Douglas and I went to Rhiconich, on the west coast of Sutherland, for a fortnight's sea trout fishing. It was a disappointment; firstly, it was dry hot weather, that, of course, stopped sea trout fishing.

In the evening the midges were something unbearable, and drove us on to the sea loch trolling for lythe. We were pretty successful, but very soon used up everything in the shape of phantoms and spinners, and had to take to small trout for spinning.

So soon as a lythe of any size took your spinner, down he went into the seaweed tangle, and many were lost and the spinner with him.

We managed to get twenty-one lythe, weighing 83lb., of which some were up to 10lb., but we lost most of the best fish in the weeds.

On our way back we stopped at Overscaig, on Loch Shin, for a day's trout fishing, ending in a very fatiguing fiasco; we had a boat and two rowers, David and a gillie from the inn.

The morning was a nice fishing morning, and we made our way down to the Faig mouth, and got on pretty well, but, the wind changing, we put across to the other shore, and fished away.

As the day wore on, the wind increased, blowing a gale straight down the loch, so we got out of the boat, and, with a good deal of trouble, hugging the shore, the two men managed to get her back to just opposite Overscaig.

There we found two other men, who had come up from Lairg, and were in the same fix as ourselves.

It was raining heavily as well as blowing.

Taking advantage of a lull of wind, we tried to get across, but when a third way across, the wind again rose, and we had our work to do to edge the boat head to wind to gain the shore without an accident.

What was to be done? asked the other party. I said that I saw nothing for it but to walk round the head of the loch. They consulted with their boatman as to this, and then said they could not do it. Certainly, they had come out with thin boots and frock coats and white shirts, as they would have done on a fine afternoon at Richmond, totally unfit to face a wild Highland night.

"We have had no dinner," says one; "of course, we expected to get to Overscaig to dinner." "Well," I said, "we have a little of our lunch left, and you are welcome;" but they turned away. I believe they thought I was chaffing them.

However, there was the choice of stopping out on the moor that wild night or footing it, and we chose what we thought the lesser of two evils.

It was a very long three miles to head the loch and the swamp at the top. The shore of the loch was very deep peaty boggy ground, broken every fifty yards with deep gullies and burns and drains, clambering down and clambering up.

It was then quite dark, a howling wind and rain in our teeth.

At last, with nearly two hours' work, we crossed the Alt Na Ba Burn, and, heading the swamp, got to the river that connects Loch Graim with Loch Shin.

But, horror! the river was in spate, and not safe to cross.

We felt dead beat, and sat down in the wet; we had a little whiskey and water, but nobody said anything; one tried to light a pipe, but the matches were wet, and so was everything else outside our skins. We tried to look at our watches, but too dark to see them.

It was getting towards midnight. We started again, keeping along the banks of the river, to look for a ford. Near the outlet of Loch Graim the river was wider, and therefore the stream not so strong, and the bottom was hard. I had a long landing-net staff, and piloted the way; the water was up to the bottom of the waistcoat—an even depth, and gravel bottom, so we were all quickly safe across. Folks will say what a fuss about crossing up to your middle; yes, but handicap it with a dark howling night, an unknown ford, and all your courage already pretty nearly pumped out of you, and it will not be found to be quite so simple as it looks.

There was yet a mile of swampy walking over moorland, in the direction of the road, before it was struck, but then we were not more than two and a half miles from the inn, and soon put that behind us.

It was 1.30 a.m. when we reached the inn; they were waiting up most anxiously, fearing some serious accident, but could hardly credit that we had headed the loch, and on such a fearful night.

I have had many long wet moorland tramps, but nothing approaching to our Loch Shin episode.

I told David to see that our gillie had a good tea and eating, and some hot whiskey and water, but he came back to say the fellow was so thoroughly beat that he had gone to bed, too tired and done up to eat or drink anything.