Summer Break Part 1: The Clyde, Biggar and New Lanark Falls
To bring the diary up to date with recent adventures, the blog will take the form of more of a travelog than a fishing diary for a few posts; hopefully the places visited will be of interest and offer a few pointers for planning future fishing trips to anyone reading this.
I missed many opportunities to make the most of the fishing on offer during my holidays but there is a sense that a return might be on the cards one day; besides, leaving yourself something to discover when retracing old steps is a healthy thing, allowing you to judge yourself against old bench marks … it’s been an interesting summer and I wasn’t really short changed at all but I’m left with a sense of unfinished business with the places I visited.
It’s been a while since I’ve had time to update the blog; summer holidays are a double edged sword when you run your own show, work has a habit of biting back when you’ve neglected it; my normal pattern of fishing and blog writing has suffered as a result but the aim now is to get the show back on the road and put the summer to rest … the start of the Grayling season is upon us now and the summer reflections need to be scrubbed off the mirror, so we can get into the winter properly (where the autumn is this year is an issue I’ll not dwell upon too long).
August proved to be a great month and we were lucky to have two breaks in the diary, thanks to an offer to use a friend’s accommodation in the Haute Savoie with just a week of notice, we were ‘forced’ to take most of August off. The first part of our odyssey had been planned back in January, we decided we should finally get around to visiting Scotland properly; it was a down to earth holiday, happy to be spending money in the UK as ‘stay vacationers’; it’s not my first visit to Scotland but this time I wanted to do it at my pace, not just flying in and out on a business site visit or for a quick skiing trip (like we did when we were young professionals, before we had kids and the world fell apart). We had booked a suitably isolated looking cabin on Eilean Shona to insulate ourselves totally from work and the daily grind, the Inner Hebrides came recommended by a trusted friend and although web searches offered sparse information, there was a hint of un-found treasure about the place (we will get onto this in a later blog post). Balancing the idea of romantic escapism with some logic meant we opted to break the journey into manageable chunks and take a few days travelling up; this proved to be a good decision, as we kicked the holiday off well by staying two nights at Cormiston Farm near Biggar (a real find that we can recommend as a relaxing home from home, perfect for short or longer breaks).
The stopover was carefully conceived, as it offered the opportunity to take the family around to meet up with my Fly Fishing Forum pal ‘Buzz’ and his clan. We arrived in Biggar on the Thursday evening and made arrangements to meet up the next afternoon; a good night’s sleep was chalked up thanks to an imposing but surprisingly comfy Rennie Mackintosh bed, pristine cotton linen and so much silence that you could slice it into chunks, all this helped to get us in the holiday mood easily … we lived a life of leisure for a night or two before really getting into the trip on our remote and wild final destination. A walk with the dog was a great way to start the first whole day on holiday, followed by a ‘Full Scottish Breakfast’. To be honest, a ‘Scottish’ breakfast was actually a bit like a ‘Full English’ but with White Pudding introduced to us (as well as fresh fruit and yoghurt, filter coffee and zingy orange juice) – it’s got to be tricky catering for travellers from all over the world(?). Harsh criticism, as the owners of the farm have the balance of country home versus high quality B&B perfectly balanced … the place is superb, professional to a level that would put many an international hotel to shame, whilst almost feeling like you’re staying with friends; we will return!
The Scottish mornings in late August are perfect; crisp and bright, light coming from everywhere, the landscape is broad and rolling, whilst still managing to come at you from every angle – sheep and ginger long horned cows are happy grazing in lush fields … all was well and we were lucky to have such a pleasant morning, there was an edge of harshness hanging in the atmosphere but summer was still holding it’s own; when it comes to weather I’d like to draw some comparisons; Wales is wild but intimate, it’s weather is pretty mild and a bit like what we experience in England except wetter. Scotland is more like parts of Scandinavia than many other parts of Great Britain, having to deal with a harsher extremes and with wild and rugged characteristics; dog walking is the same the world over though and whilst it can sometimes be a chore, it gets the blood moving first thing as it should; to be able to enjoy such a lovely setting made it all the better. The breakfast was a welcome follow up, fueling the inner engine for an energetic day ahead; with ablutions sorted and another night to look forward to, we were free to set off for a morning out at the Falls of Clyde at New Lanark, I won’t dwell on this except to say they are spectacular. With our tourist bit under the belt, we headed over to Buzz’s place. After a bit of Sat Nav faffing, we arrived in a quiet little hamlet to find children chasing around … we parked on the drive of a fine-looking Scottish homestead and Buzz came out to greet us. Instantly the kids were busy getting to know each other and whilst we were wary of asking Buzz to leave his tying table for just a while, it was great to finally meet up; we then proceeded to distract him for the entire afternoon. The children got on swimmingly and the adults could sit back and watch them unleashing their energy, we all gave into any pretence of any work being done and spent a lazy afternoon drinking tea, munching large chocolate cookies and chatting. The kids ran around the local woods, they found their level together and then returned to play with the pets … the young ones sprayed each other with water pistols, whilst the grown ups waxed lyrical and enjoyed some glorious sunshine.
The afternoon passed quickly and we said our farewells but the day was still young in fly fishing terms; Buzz and I had formed a plan for the evening … Buzz collected me from the B&B at 6.30pm for a ‘boys own’ trip out on the nearby river. A few hours on the Clyde was a bonus event to end a decent day; fishing was not really the main aim of the trip and we were in the notorious flat spot of the season – however, this venture was always known to be packed tightly into the journey en route to our destination and something of a recce visit, so we gave it a go any way.
I was lucky to be able to call on Buzz and he had sorted me a day ticket without me even asking; in hind sight, it’s certain I was with the best person to show me the local waters, there is no way I’d have managed to get out fishing if just passing through under my own steam, meeting up with someone with local knowledge cuts out a lot of time-wasting in terms of scoping and getting out to fish. I’ve heard the Clyde is not an easy river to fish (in August especially?) but we set about trying to coax a fish or two with the dry fly none-the-less … to be fair to the aspect, it looked very promising, at our first point of contact with the river we saw fish rising on top of some fast riffling water; perfect territory, clear water and oxygen rich water in a lovely tree lined setting. We were situated near the bridge in Lamington, the fly life was prolific compared to most of the spots I visit down south and midges were everywhere. The fish have an abundance of food sources to choose from, so are well educated diners, which might go some way to explain Buzz’s focus on perfect fly tying.
There were free rising fish but my efforts to coax them were not much to write home about … Buzz didn’t manage to interest any fish at this location either so we moved on a fair distance and picked our way through deep foliage upstream, chatting away whilst also viewing some good-looking but difficult to access water; after a while we reached a prime spot and slotted back for a while. Buzz’s advice was that we should wait on the bank for light levels to fall.
He certainly knows his river and it did look like a decent venue to produce fish, sure enough, when the sun began to tone itself lower and head off towards Dungavel Hill, it was as if someone flicked on a switch … fish began to rise again and Buzz demonstrated how it was done fairly rapidly, with a fair few fish brought to hand with little signs of any excess effort. I was left trying to find my rhythm, this was not due to any lack of decency from Buzz though as I had suggested that we have an evening fishing the way he would fish by himself; there’s more merit in learning from observational fishing, with someone fishing naturally in my view, I don’t expect to impose on people and be guided by fishing friends to the detriment of their own fishing; similarly, I don’t expect to unlock things first visit either.
I spent most of the evening messing with my set up, feeling uncertain of how to tackle things and generally screwing things up … the darkness wasn’t going to wait for me and soon took hold of proceedings. Meanwhile the fish switched into top gear, as if to say ‘come on, sort it out’, we were fishing into the night and the day just wasn’t long enough after all, so the pursuit continued into almost total darkness. As the night took hold I began to get in a better rhythm, by now I was just happy to be out in a new river. Any true fishermen will know that relaxing into things is paramount and my spirits rose as I suddenly felt fish tug at my fly, the local fish were beginning to warm to me – admittedly I needed to learn how to swear as aggressively as a Scot’s man but with a little training that wasn’t too difficult. The fish still messed with me though before eventually allowing me into the fold; I had missed many takes but they were communicating and I began to get to grips with things as I struggled with the diminishing visibility; a change of mindset and a switch to one of Buzz’s excellent high viz Balloon Caddis flies was what was needed to give me the necessary confidence; I could just about make the fly out on the surface against the black mercury but things felt right.
Feeling fish hit the fly took over more than trying to spot them rise, striking at any hint of a rise in the blackness was the tactic and I finally managed to catch myself a small brown … nothing to shout about I’ll admit but it was my first ever Scottish trout; us fly fisher folk are a fickle bunch, with many seemingly irrelevant bench marks but this one was a precious thing to me. The little jewel took a fair amount of effort to extract compared to the ones I coax out of my home environment but like most things hard won, I was bowled over to have opened my ‘Scottish Account’; Buzz overlooked my incompetence in far too decent a way by saying ‘once you’ve caught a fish out the Clyde you can catch them anywhere’.
Now to make my excuses, the river is different in character to the ones I’ve been accustomed to in Wales and the South West and it’s a venue that I have a lot to learn about, as my first taster, it was an enjoyable short evening visit with the added benefit of some great company, who also just happened to come with a huge amount of local knowledge; I am left with the feeling that there is much more to offer from the Clyde and I will need to return to study her in more depth at some point, perhaps in the spring next time. It’s poetic justice that a Sassenach shouldn’t have it easy on his first fishing across the Scottish border but I’m not complaining, I was quite happy with my lot.
I should make sure I introduce Buzz properly … Mr Mark McGee is a specialist in all things ‘Clyde’, in both summer and winter, you can rest easy that there’s someone safe at the helm when being introduced to the area … ‘Buzz’ ties the meanest of flies and offers guiding services upon request to a select few (click on Buzz Fly Fishing ), if you’re heading that way you should look him up, there is no-one better to show you around.
Tight Lines, Splash.