Stalk­ing sto­ries in mists of time

The Oban Times - - Community News -

THE ENGLISH ro­man­tic poet, John Keats, was prob­a­bly not a deer stalker, but he cer­tainly caught the at­mos­phere of the hills in his poem about au­tumn and of it be­ing a sea­son of mists and mel­low fruit­ful­ness.

The stag stalk­ing sea­son is now un­der way and the high west coast hills are well and truly wreathed in mist this year.

The sports­men have ar­rived, heav­ily-tweeded and Bar­bour clad, some mel­lowed by fine din­ing, oth­ers red-faced and com­plain­ing of gout, Euro­pean bankers, young sprigs, mus­cles honed on the play­ing fields of Eton, pea­cocks in green wellies and colour­ful stock­ings, all happy to have their plas­tic cards bent and keen to be led to the slopes by young stalk­ers and cur­mud­geonly old ghillies eased out of re­tire­ment for Septem­ber 20, ‘the day of the roar­ing’.

Ho­tels, lodges and cot­tages are full, game deal­ers are vy­ing for cus­tom and the lo­cal pubs, restau­rants and craft shops are do­ing a roar­ing trade. Per­haps it should be re­named ‘the day of plenty’. And why not? There is a long, lean win­ter ahead. SINCE stalk­ing be­gan, it has gen­er­ated a cul­ture of fine prose and won­der­ful sto­ries. Al­fred Cochrane, the crick­eter, wrote a poem in the early 1900s called ‘North­ward Bound Once More’ which cap­tures beau­ti­fully the train jour­ney from Lon­don Eus­ton to the High­lands in what later be­came known as ‘the Deer Stalker Ex­press’.

Does your heart still beat with the old ex­cite­ment As you wait where the Scotch ex­presses are? Does it an­swer still to the old in­dict­ment Of a fond de­light in the sleep­ing- car, As it did when the rush through the au­tumn night meant

The Gate of De­sire ajar?

Oh! the years, the years, they be rusty and mothy; Oh! the flesh it is weak, that once was strong; But the brown burn un­der the stone falls frothy And the mu­sic it makes is a siren song; Then the pony’ll take you as far as the bothy, And that’ll help you along.

There are tales too of the supernatural. A favourite was of a young High­land ghillie who found a fairy stuck in a peat bog.

He res­cued her and was granted one wish that would last for the rest of his life. As the young man wanted to go to sea, the fairy granted him the favour of a con­tin­ual wind at his back.

On the oceans the gift, given at the time of sail­ing-ships, proved so boun­ti­ful he made a for­tune. He re­turned to the High­lands and bought a deer for­est. But, alas, when­ever he tried to stalk deer they scented him as the wind was al­ways at his back!

Lord Malmes­bury, Queen Vic­to­ria’s For­eign Sec­re­tary, leased Ach­nacarry Deer For­est from Don­ald Cameron of Lochiel from 1844 to 1859.

In his mem­oirs, he men­tions a mon­ster in Loch Arkaig which ap­par­ently was well-known in Lochaber long be­fore Nessie made a name for her­self.

John Stu­art, Malmes­bury’s stalker, said he had seen it twice and de­scribed it as hav­ing the head and hindquar­ters of a pony and be­cause of the shape of its back it could not be a species of fish.

Lord Malmes­bury of­fered to shoot it caus­ing the su­per­sti­tious stalker to say, ‘Per­haps your Lord­ship’s gun would mis­fire’.

Not sur­pris­ingly, wild deer and wire fences do not mix. In Glen­hurich, near Stron­tian in west Lochaber, a stalker was out on the hill with a guest, a re­tired colonel, who as it hap­pened, had not ex­celled him­self on the tar­get be­fore­hand.

As they were walk­ing along a ridge they heard an un­usual me­tal­lic noise ahead of them and found a stag trail­ing a long length of wire which had got wrapped round the poor beast’s antlers.

It had to be shot caus­ing the guest to re­mark to the stalker af­ter­wards, ‘I know you don’t think much of my shoot­ing, but there is no need to be teth­er­ing the stags for me!’

I don’t know why sol­diers in gen­eral are such rot­ten shots. Per­haps it is be­cause they are more used to spray­ing their tar­gets with au­to­matic ri­fle fire. The colonel in this case was so bad a shot that, on one oc­ca­sion af­ter loos­en­ing off sev­eral rounds with­out hit­ting any­thing, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing ghillie was heard to mut­ter un­der his breath, ‘ You ******, you couldn’t hit Ar­gyll­shire’.

KEEN: young stalk­ers and cur­mud­geonly old ghillies wait­ing for shoot­ing guests at For­est Lodge,


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