Our fishing holidays in Sutherland are considerably enhanced by the abundance and diversity of nature around the lodge we rent with friends. Even when there are few fresh fish, which there are not as there has been no significant rain, you take your pleasure where you can. In our case with walking, bird watching, observing fauna and flora and taking in the wide variety of wildlife.
Past years have seen magnificent stags gazing with envy at our breakfast fry ups through the dining room window or recoiling with horror at the sight of a haunch of roast venison on the table. A cuckoo greets you each morning, all day and, through the entirety of the night. Pack your ear plugs if you want a good night’s sleep. The cuckoo is still here but the deer have been noticeable by their absence.
At first we wondered if they had gone up on the hills, but the reason given by the estate manager is a more sinister erosion of wildlife in the area, where vast swathes of land have been purchased by outsiders and red deer systematically slaughtered to make way for large-scale fencing and tree planting operations that attract funding from the public purse. The deer are being displaced into villages and onto roadsides with a subsequent rise in car accidents. Bird life is markedly diminished.
So, with no fish in the river and no wildlife to see, a sea fishing trip to a remote part of the coast was suggested. The boat owner, a friend of our estate manager, raced his craft through choppy seas with me for one, and most of our friends I noticed, hanging onto anything they could to stop themselves falling out of the boat and into the water.
We moored up by a seemingly deserted house at the head of a loch. Our captain was more interested in showing us round the house, a time capsule of 1930s oil lamps, paraffin heaters, peat fires, shabby shabby chic armchairs and sofas with stuffing sprung out of every bit of soft furnishing, than in taking anyone fishing. For a time all of us fantasised about how it would be to own a piece of this nostalgia, but closer acquaintance with the sanitary arrangements and necessity to clean the paraffin lights and maintain the gas mantles soon dissuaded us.
The main point of the trip for him, it transpired, it transpired, was to utilise a bit of our allegedly expert help to catch some of his flock, as he wanted to gather them up for clipping the ewes and worming the lambs. A bag containing a few sheep nuts had been brought along to tempt the flock closer to the house and an enclosure. Well we might not be able to fish, but boy can we catch sheep, we thought. But not this lot. Raggy and scrawny compared to our flocks, with fleeces hanging off in shreds, these sheep were hill fit, wily and off. No fish, no deer and now, no sheep either. Only midges.