Opinion: Fun, frustration and tall stories

It is the time of year to catch up on fencing, spray out hedge backs and nettles and clean out yards.

Calves born over winter and this spring are safely down the fields with their mums. Last year’s calves are fully engaged in the hurly burly of life in the bull yards, and more importantly, tucking into their barley rations.

Ewes and lambs have been back and forth from the fields for worming and dagging out. I am amazed how quickly the sheep can muck up their backsides after the short back and sides they receive before leaving the lambing pens. The incontinent lot.

John’s attentions soon rid them of those claggy lumps dangling from their rear ends. Instead, they all end up on his boiler suit. That day it has the washing machine all to itself.

The silage yard stands empty save for sheets of polythene stretched up the sides of the clamp. Hopefully to ensure an airtight fit for the grass cuttings once they have been compressed. 

All we need now is the magic call from our silage contractors. Then for several days it is all go as the grass is cut, wilted in the field and then brought home. The yard will ring to the sound of the reversing horn of the teleporter running back and forth over the heap as it compresses the grass. Oh, the nostalgic sounds of summer.

That is, of course, if the weather is right. And for the next few days we require sunshine to keep the ewes fleeces dry for clipping. Those heavy fleeces when dagging the sheep out gave us a timely reminder to avoid that annual casualty – the ewe who manages to roll over on her back in a handy grip and suffocate herself when she can’t get up.

At one time, John would shear the whole flock in one go, with his brother helping to catch the ewes, wrap their fleeces and stuff the wool into the sacks.

In even earlier times, John would go missing virtually all day in early summer (in between milking of course) as part of a local clipping gang. “To shear sheep you’ve got to be strong in the back, but not in the head,” he used to quote at me as he came home bent double with an aching spine.

So with all the main jobs caught up on, and the rest in waiting, this is the time of year we take some time away from the farm to go fishing. 

Geoff, John’s brother, and Andy, our gamekeeper friend, come to look after the stock, house and dogs. We are very lucky as you cannot just walk away from a stock farm. Our fishing trips to Scotland with friends are an opportunity for fun, frustration and tall stories.

For the past few years, we have been based at Gualin Lodge near Durness in Sutherland. But for many years before that we were members of a party at Gobernuisgach Lodge near Altnaharra.

Both estates have access to Loch Dionard, a fabled venue for some very fishy tales on our holidays. Such as the salmon that rose by the boat in the middle of the loch to take both Blue Zulus (flies not tribesmen) on offer from fishermen casting from opposite ends of the boat. Or the impromptu piercing offered by another friend hooking his companion through the nose. Luckily he was a doctor and not squeamish or averse to removing the fly by brute force.

Cross winds on the loch can catch your line and hurl it skywards. One friend, fishing close by a buddy on the bank, saw his line whipped into the air by a sudden violent squall. Just as quickly, the wind changed direction, and as the line dropped, the fly neatly hooked his friend’s braces at the exact time as he had got into a fish.

The successful fisherman ran down the bank with the salmon stripping line off the reel. Close behind him, running as fast as he could across the bank and tussocks came his companion, giving him as much line as he could take. One catch considerably outweighed the other.

But however exciting matters become while on the water, the cardinal rule is never to stand in a small boat whilst casting. Especially after that first exhilarating moment of hooking a fish.

Hanging in the dining room of Gobernuisgach Lodge, or it was when we were last there approximately five years ago, is a painting of a fisherman in a small boat. Who is standing up while playing a salmon. Over the years it infuriated Mr Bell, our senior party member and a Lincolnshire farmer, who sadly has since died.

He would sit at the head of the dining table with the image of the catch directly opposite him. “That painting illustrates the height of foolishness when fishing, and is an irresponsible subject for in a fishing lodge,” he would exclaim at virtually every evening meal.

So his daughter Helen took note. An accomplished amateur artist, she decided to paint the fateful conclusion of this risky piscatorial manoeuvre. The fisherman in the water. Arms flailing. Rod and hat floating downstream. A fishing disaster.

It hung below the original painting as a dreadful warning to all fishermen. And this fisherwoman too.

When Peter the ghillie rows me round Loch Dionard, and if my line goes tight, I shall stay firmly in my seat.

Bobbi and husband John own the 81ha Lowther Farm near York. They have a suckler herd, a flock of sheep and arable crops. Two daughters, three grandchildren, three dogs, assorted poultry, an overgrown garden and country pursuits also take up their time.

From sheep dips and stockings to slowing down and Sanatogen

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