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.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

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

Method now lost to the sweep of history

September 1st, 2018

At 6 p.m. on Friday 31st August 2018, as laid down by statute, a small bit of our Scottish cultural heritage ceased, probably never to be revived.  The sweep nets on the Kinnaber beat, at the mouth of the River North Esk, were taken off the water – for the last time.

Known otherwise as net and coble fishing, it is a method of fishing dating back at least to the twelfth century and, in its simplicity of operation, has changed little in its essential methods.

A curtain of netting suspended on floats is paid out from the stern of the coble – distinctive flat-bottomed, high stemmed  boat – as it moves downstream. A rope fastened to the tail of the net is walked downstream by a fisherman on the opposite bank to the coble and both draw the net down the river. Once the sweep is complete, the coble turns towards the opposite bank and both ends of the net are drawn ashore forming a pocket which traps any salmon caught.

The date and time also marked the end of a lifetime of salmon fishing for Bob Ritchie, son and grandson of salmon netsmen and for his partner Mike Smith.  They take with them generations of knowledge which can only be gained from practical hands-on experience and which is as valuable in its own way as science-based knowledge.

Bob left school in 1960 aged 15.  The next morning, following his father and grandfather, he applied to Joseph Johnston and Sons Ltd., commercial salmon fishers in Montrose since 1826, for his bargain or contract of employment, which he received with 1/- (one shilling) to seal the bargain.  His first week’s wage was £4 -7s/1d – big money for a fifteen year old in those days.

Bob rose within the company to be Superintendent of Salmon Fishing, a post he held until Joseph Johnston ceased trading in 1999.  He and partner Mike took a lease on the netting in Montrose Bay and the Kinnaber beat.  The Bay fishings were wound up and they continued fishing Kinnaber, supplying prime Scottish wild salmon, fresh out of the sea, to London and Boulogne and Paris.

The end of the salmon fishing season meant the end too for the crew Mark Pittendreich, another from a fishing family, and Robert Meighan, Ian Pithie and Cameron Valentine.  Perhaps they may look back with nostalgia at the part they played in a traditional occupation that none of us may ever see again.

Bob never wanted to do anything else but fish – an enviable way to be able to live your life which few others in this world are able to achieve.  Come next May when Bob should be making ready the boats and the gear and the nets, he’ll miss the sense of preparation and motivation that has been central to so much of his life.

But nothing stays the same for ever – ask Bob Ritchie, he’ll tell you.

Written on Saturday, September 1st, 2018 at 8:15 pm for Weekly.