Fly fishing is a natural wonder alongside royal retreat

Stewart Calligan by the River Dee. No catches but river music and a fresh pine smell.
Stewart Calligan by the River Dee. No catches but river music and a fresh pine smell.
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Fishing at Royal Deeside is a long way and a long call from my usual fishing off our picturesque Flamborough Head, but I did just that at the recent funeral of my cousin Paul. He lived on the banks of the River Muick which flows into the Dee at Ballater, Aberdeenshire.

The funeral took me six hours north and with my black suit and tie, I packed my tweeds and salmon fishing tackle.

Paul’s wife, Wilma, had arranged for me to fish the Dee the day before the funeral. Her friend, Stanley, who owns several beats on this world famous fishery would be my ‘gillie’ for the day. Stanley, one of life’s true gentlemen, met me at silly o’clock on the Dee and we drove through farm yards, woods and fields full of fine chestnut horses.

A handsome tennis pavilion came into sight in a copse of conifers which was the gillies’ hut complete with the pictorial history on the walls of this riparian delight.

Stanley explained the beats, which included the ‘Floating Log’ where felled pine was floated off down stream to Banchory. He left for his breakfast of porridge and perhaps a wee dram.

The lower beats were best for catching so I chose the Big Polveir where the river veers to the right and is in sight of the Queen Mother’s log cabin, built for her 80th birthday and reportedly recently used by Prince William and Kate for a romantic candle lit dinner.

Using Stanley’s shrimp-like fly I worked from the head of the beat a few yards at a time. I must have cast 100 times until my right arm ached. Fish from 2-10lbs leapt about but none were interested, even when a lucky cast landed in their window of vision. What a contrast to my last Yorkshire outing catching millions of mackerel to a blank day of salmon.

It was well worth it as the experience and memories of being so close to stunning nature are what thrill me - the river music, Rachmaninoff more than Beethoven; peat-coloured water over the well worn boulders, and a fresh pine smell, all set against the Highland horizon.

The magic was only tarnished somewhat by the Scottish right to roam. This ‘go anywhere you want on privately owned land’ had left its mark on these beats with the remains of a camp fire and several empty beer cans and plastic containers. They had kindly left an empty plastic bag which I filled with their rubbish and placed in the car; my contribution to the Scottish tourist industry.

The very interesting secular funeral made up for the salmon blank with a ‘This Was Your Life’ video, a wickerwork coffin on bicycle wheeled trolley and one of Paul’s sons playing a saxophone lament.

I have fond memories of a family funeral and a day on the Dee, a fitting send off for my much-loved cousin.