Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

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This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Fishermen’s parallel world

August 27th, 2016

dsc03670OTHER THAN farmers, passionate gardeners and golf course and bowling club greenkeepers I suspect the majority of us take grass pretty much for granted. We wish we didn’t have to cut it because it just encourages it to grow again.

I seem drawn to walking along the banks of the River North Esk at the moment and as the sun broke through the clouds on Monday afternoon I drove with Inka to walk down the river from the fishing hut at Balmakewan Farm.

Most of us know grass as something short, green and pointy at the end but when you look into the subject there is a bewildering variety of grasses, rushes and sedges which brighten our countryside. I did think that crested dog’s tail had a pleasing ring to it.

Along the riverbank what caught my eye were clumps of tall grasses, some with densely tufted heads and others fern-like, pale green to straw coloured and some with a purplish pink tinge. There is something calming about sitting and watching these elegant plants bending and dancing in the breeze.

Patience unrewarded
A fisherman was patiently casting, over and over, and moving unhurriedly downstream to always cover fresh water. He was happy to pass the time of day with me. Plenty of fish were moving upstream – small grilse about the four or five pound mark – but nothing had taken his offerings. I wished him tight lines and walked on.

Round the bend in the river I met another fisher. He had tried every selection in his fly box with no more success than the man upstream, and had watched shoals of salmon swim past him, waving a fin. He reckoned that fish had come into the river on the rise in water level from the rain over the weekend – but they hadn’t had time to settle.

It is a fact of life that fishermen always have a ready explanation for the lack of success they strive for – water too high, water too low, wrong temperature, fish haven’t settled. The most painful explanation to have to accept is that the fish are just not taking; which is what drives fishers out onto the water, again and again, to appease their hunting instinct.

My number two fisherman had driven up from Exeter to fish the North Esk. He was going north later in the week to fish the River Dionard in the wilds of north-west Sutherland. Travelling further and further in pursuit of his nirvana and hoping, praying, believing that he’ll make that perfect cast and hook the perfect fish!

Himalayan balsam is a non-native plant introduced into this country by the Victorians for its attractive pink and white flowers. It’s nicknamed policeman’s helmet because it resembles the London bobby’s headgear but I think it much more resembles a Victorian fireman’s helmet.

It thrives along river banks and damp watercourses and reproduces quickly and has reached the point where it can be regarded as an invasive species weed. Its high nectar content is particularly attractive to bumble bees and I stood beside a large clump watching bees busily climbing in and out of the bell-like flowers.

There was also a patch of white dead-nettle (there’s a red variety too) which I don’t often see. The heart shaped leaves look just like stinging nettles but you can handle them safely as they don’t have the stinging hairs. They are easily recognised at this time of year as dead-nettle produces small, white flowers and the stingy variety’s tiny green flowers resemble hanging spikes of seeds.

On my way back to the car I met another fisher who had come on the water. It’s always worth spending a moment to talk to folk you meet in the country. Most have a story to tell and he told me he had just returned from salmon fishing in Canada where much of the fishing is done from boats in the coastal bays and inlets.

His boat was frequently accompanied by pods of killer whales. He hadn’t been particularly intimidated by such ferocious companions. The whales were feeding on the salmon and the fishermen simply followed the whales and mopped up the leftovers.

Fisherman’s retreat
I took a turn round by the fishing hut at the Canterland beat below Marykirk and popped my head round the door. Conditions must have been right on the river for no one was in.

Every good fishing beat should have a fishing hut where fishers can wind down after a taxing day, and reminisce. There will be a set of weighing scales, a fishing book to record the fish caught and in which pool, their weight, the fly that did the damage and the weather conditions.

Ageing photographs adorn the walls, particularly of youngsters and ladies proudly displaying their first salmon.

On the table will be a bottle of the auld kirk to toast success or dispel the anguish of disappointment. And granny’s old sofa sits in the corner, the springs broken, where despairing fishers have hurled themselves in frustration at the one that got away.

Written on Saturday, August 27th, 2016 at 8:33 pm for Weekly.