GEN­TLE­MEN’S REL­ISH

Rory Knight Bruce rev­els in the re­flec­tive tran­quil­lity of salmon fish­ing in Scot­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat -

THERE can be few more gen­tle prospects in Scot­land than look­ing across the wa­ters of the Tweed at Kelso to the low, shim­mer­ing crenel­la­tions of Floors Cas­tle be­yond. Dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, C.J. Ap­per­ley, in Nim­rod’s Hunt­ing Tours , called the river the Rex flu­v­io­rum, and H.V. Mor­ton in InSearch of Scot­land , that mas­ter­piece of travel writ­ing, de­scribed the small town, with its square, churches and shops, as be­ing of French ap­pear­ance’’, which it is.

Nei­ther, how­ever, ex­pe­ri­enced, as I did, the pin­na­cle of a fish­er­man’s ca­reer: to be given a day alone on the Up­per Floors Beat, which is owned by the Duke of Roxburghe and lies a glo­ri­ous 2.5km of dou­ble banks be­neath his ducal seat. Si­lence and seren­ity en­gulf a fish­er­man here, where to cast chest-deep within the flow­ing wa­ters of the Tweed is heaven.

The pre­ferred months are Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber (on ac­count of the large num­ber of salmon), when fish­er­men con­gre­gate to try their hand and pa­tience along the length of the Tweed, from its small be­gin­nings near Mof­fat to the wide port bar of Ber­wick-Upon-Tweed. But the Up­per Floors Beat, which can be taken by four rods each day, or the Junc­tion Pool, nearer the town (owned by House of Hardy), should be the dream and des­ti­na­tion of ev­ery true ri­par­ian.

Such op­por­tu­ni­ties are lim­ited and, to be in with a chance at Floors on any of their beats, it is nec­es­sary to stay at the Roxburghe Ho­tel, 3km out of Kelso, owned by the es­tate. This is no hard­ship as the gra­cious es­tab­lish­ment, with its li­brary, award-win­ning chef Keith Short (hag­gis bread a spe­cialty), airy bed­rooms and lawns, in­spires tran­quil­lity.

Ge­orge Mack, the gen­eral man­ager, has been here for al­most 20 years. He pre­sides over a rhythm among all staff that is at­ten­tive, un­ob­tru­sive and thought­ful. Sports­men, fam­i­lies or cou­ples cel­e­brat­ing a spe­cial oc­ca­sion would be equally at home here. It was a wel­come sight to see guests el­e­gantly changed for din­ner, women in pearls and men in cash­mere sweaters.

There is also an 18-hole cham­pi­onship golf course un­der pro­fes­sional Craig Mont­gomerie. He joined me with my guest, noted Scot­tish golfer, artist and car­toon­ist Hugh Dodd, for the front four holes on the first day of my two-day stay. Both our games ben­e­fited from his en­cour­ag­ing and clear ad­vice. Dodd, who has a 16 hand­i­cap and lives on the golf course at North Ber­wick in the for­mer home of early pro­fes­sional golfer Ben Say­ers, pro­nounced this a very good in­land course, with long holes and a spec­tac­u­lar land­scape.

I could not rec­om­mend enough an hour (or a day, if you are feel­ing flush) with Mont­gomerie be­cause, even in our short time with him, our games as play­ers im­proved with his knowl­edge. In the end, nei­ther of us were a dis­grace to our game or the course, en­joy­ing a fine ca­ma­raderie and some ex­cel­lent shots.

So it was with the fish­ing, where to be put un­der the su­per­vi­sion of Up­per Floors Beat ghillie Colin Bell and his as­sis­tant Richard Dono­van is to learn from their ex­pe­ri­ence of the river gained from many years. I fished from the bank and a boat and, most ex­hil­a­rat­ing of all, by wad­ing far out into the Tweed.

From Bell I learned of his love of Lindisfarne, the Chris­tian is­land not a half-hour away on the Northum­brian coast, and tales of the many fish­er­men who have re­turned year af­ter year, sev­eral in their 70s, to this ma­jes­tic river.

There is a stone fish­er­man’s hut and of­ten, later in the sea­son, guests are wel­comed with a log fire in the morn­ing and have a bar­be­cue lunch. The woods above the river sound with pheas­ants, and the river is so undis­turbed that ot­ters and deer are fre­quently seen.

Be­yond are the Eil­don Hills, the 45m Water­loo mon­u­ment at An­crum and Smail­holm Tower. The last is one of the many re­minders that this was once the ter­rain of cat­tle raiders or reev­ers, but this fer­tile land is now presided over by set­tled es­tates and work­ing farms.

I did not catch my fish and there­fore was de­nied the hon­our of plac­ing my name in the game book be­neath the Duke of Roxburghe and his daugh­ter, both of whom had caught fish three days ear­lier. But I caught my breath from the pace of life.

I left the river with feel­ings of won­der and hu­mil­ity, rested and sorry for the wrongs of the world, some of which have been my own. For just one day, they stayed on the river­bank. The Spec­ta­tor www.roxburghe.net www.tweed­side­tackle.co.uk www.fishtweed.com

Rod awak­en­ing: From left, a fish­er­man tests his skill and pa­tience on the tran­quil River Tweed; an an­gler casts for prized Scot­tish salmon; the Tweed snakes past Floors Cas­tle at Kelso

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