Standing in a brief gleam of sunshine beside a glittering salmon river with hills rising in purples, browns and golds all around me, I wondered why on Earth anyone would chose a Caribbean beach over a Scottish glen.
It may have rained every day, and been spectacularly unsuccessful from a sporting point of view, but, for me, you can’t beat a week’s stalking and fishing in Scotland for complete relaxation. Perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that mobile phones barely work, the ancient television set in the corner refuses to show anything other than static and daily papers are seldom collected, but such a week is an absolute tonic for mind and body. (Except for one guest who, having been bitten by a tick, spent an anxious few hours looking up the symptoms of Lyme disease. Fortunately, she is still healthy.)
I was staying at Glencarron, a grey-stone lodge up the valley from Loch Carron and about an hour’s drive from Applecross, a tiny village famed for views of Skye. The daily routine of a cooked breakfast, a full day on the hill, a long soak in an enormous Victorian bath, a G&T by the fire, a three-course dinner and cards or ping pong to finish is a fail-safe recipe for a heavenly break. One day, I and three other intrepid sportsmen set off to climb the glen to the ‘wee lochie’, apparently stuffed full of fish and only 45 minutes from the head of the loch. I can only conclude that if instructions ever contain the number 45, they are not to be trusted. Some hours later, during which we had had both blazing sunshine and torrential rain and had breasted ridge after ridge, we finally saw the gleam of water, shining silver like the promised land. The whole idea of the trip had been to fish, but as we gobbled our ham rolls in a hailstorm, watching the waves reach Atlantic proportions, we decided discretion was the better part of valour and headed back down again – a journey characterised, naturally, by bright sunshine. At least it gave us the opportunity to pose atop a conveniently positioned rock, and sing John Peel and Jerusalem at the tops of our voices…
The frequent rain led me to develop a new sporting look, prompted by my fear that the wet would render my hearing aids useless, a look dubbed ‘the French Lieutenant’s Woman meets the Glen’ by another guest. I simply wrapped a warm green and gold patterned pashmina Grace Kelly style over my head, then added a flat cap on top. It may not win a modelling contract from the Really Wild Company, but at least I stayed marvellously warm and dry!
I had two days stalking, but sadly both times proved blank. The first day, we bumped for miles along the glen in the Argocat, an astonishing vehicle that still terrifies me-I blame my irrational fear on being tipped over in a golf buggy when I was 12-and scanned the hills in vain. There were plenty of beasts, but none shootable, all hinds and young stags. The second time, we did find a shootable stag, but he was on a particularly open part of the hill and spied us before we could get close.
Ironically, as the day had been cut short, I and the rifle of the day, James, set off to Applecross to climb the munro at the top of Applecross island, and joked how ironic it would be if we saw a suitable stag. Naturally, we did, a huge, old 10-pointer who, being lame, really ought to have come off the hill. We didn’t conquer the munro in the end as low cloud meant we could only see about 10ft and, as the path has a sheer drop on both sides, we decided to sit on a rock to eat our sandwiches and admire the view – we could just make out a vertical cliff plunging into the pass below.
Our time on the river was equally fruitless, but equally enjoyable. Three of us fished for seven hours one day, and only caught one tiddler when we were towing our lines behind the boat on the loch. Admittedly, fishing with trout rods and flies on a salmon river was unlikely to yield a record-breaking catch, but we did think the lake would be more successful, especially as a fellow guest was pulling them out every few minutes, according to him. We demanded photographic evidence…
Food is crucial element of such weeks, and we were hugely lucky to have Ed Hackett-Jones, stepson of the host, Philip Hope-Cobbold of Glemham Hall, working his magic in the kitchen. A real foodie (http://countryfoodie.blogspot.com) and wine expert, he produced a terrine worthy of a Michelin star, melt-in-the-mouth roast venison, warming soups and delicious apple pies.
Not to mention the enormous Stilton that did the rounds every night, just in case there was an empty corner. We all felt that, far from working it all off on the hill, we had actually put on weight by the end of the week. It took some time for the crowds of London to drive the clean, pure atmosphere of Glencarron from my mind. A week in Scotland is a necessity of life, and I will never let a year go by in which I don’t escape to the Highlands for heavenly food, company, sport and scenery.