Annual Scottish salmon fishing holidays
For Charlie Coups, the tell-tale signs that the annual family salmon fishing holiday is just around the corner have begun...
The first clue is the kitchen table. Dotted with stray hooks, brightly coloured wings and bottles of Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails, with at least one vice clamped tightly to its edge, fly boxes sit proudly as they are gradually filled to the brim with new patterns itching to be tested on the elusive salmon that roam the rivers of Scotland.
Most fly fishers argue you can never have too many flies, but I’m afraid I disagree. You soon realise this when you are picking the debris of an afternoon's tying session out of your spaghetti bolognese. Enough is enough.
The next clue is the hallway. It's filled with endless rod tubes, waders and other gear. This week has seen a parcel a day delivered to the front door – new shirts, lines, tying materials, midge repellent, more shirts, more tying materials... the list goes on.
Soon a roof box will mysteriously appear on the Discovery, and the interior will be once again hoovered, polished and air freshened to within an inch of its life.
On the penultimate night, after my father (aka The Tackle Tart) has chosen exactly which 15 rods are essential to take (for three fishermen) and located his favourite three midge nets, everyone retires for a good night's sleep ready for the dawn start.
Sleepy-eyed but excited, our mammoth, 400-mile journey north from south Lincolnshire to our favourite fishing lodge will begin.
Such long journeys require planning. And I must say, over the years we have perfected our route (more importantly stops) to a tee. I’m sure countless other intrepid country sportsmen and their families have done so, too.
First stop, Scotch Corner for a quick coffee and bacon roll to quench our thirst and quell our hunger.
Then we nip across the A66 to reach our first proper milestone, John Norris of Penrith; what many country folk would consider to be the Mecca for country sports shopping in the North West of England.
John Norris is a family-run business that has been a popular stop for both shooting and fishing enthusiasts for many years. Now, with a booming mail order service, it is a fantastic place to stock up on some great deals as well as browse through the latest products.
Heading north for a couple hours on the M74, we reach our next destination. Important for not one, but two reasons; The Glasgow Angling Centre (which now boasts wall-to-wall rows of fishing rods, waders, and flies since relocating to new premises in 2004) and, slap bang next door, the gargantuan Wing Yip Chinese supermarket – a great place to pick up a sizeable crate of Tiger Beer, enough to last the week.
I’m convinced that The Tackle Tart deliberately leaves some essential tackle at home, all for an excuse to buy something new. Imagine a kid stepping into a Toys ‘R’ Us convincing their mother that they need the latest Peppa Pig toy – although in this case, a middle-aged man is convincing himself that he 'needs' a new Rio Scandi shooting head, with exactly the same enthusiasm.
After what feels like several hours of 'essential' browsing, we are back on the road headed for the revered House of Bruar (HOB). Their 600-head restaurant offers a great lunch menu, as well as extremely entertaining people watching. We have even created our own game: The winner is the first to spot the most garish ‘country gentleman’s’ outfit – last year my brother spotted a man wearing mustard cords, salmon-pink shirt, bottle-green cravat and a double-breasted navy blazer with gold buttons. Priceless!
My favourite room in the HOB (okay, second favourite, they have a new whisky room) is their gallery. Who wouldn’t want to spend time amongst some of the most beautiful sporting art money can buy?
Heavyweight sporting artists such as Rodger McPhail, Jason Sweeney, Sam MacDonald and Owen Williams all have pieces on display here, and I often find myself working out exactly how long it would take me to save up for my own piece of sporting art history. Answer: a while!
Back to the Discovery! A mere 21-mile hack to our final pit-stop, The Dalwhinnie Distillery.
A salmon fishing holiday in Scotland is not complete without whisky. For me, if the river is too coloured, the sun too bright, or you are simply taking a break for lunch, a dram shared with friends, family and our dear ghillie is almost as special as hooking into a salmon... almost!
A quick tip for anyone visiting the Dalwhinnie Distillery – take advantage of their tasting options. Not only can you choose up to six of their different whiskies to try, you also get a selection of specially paired chocolates for each one, handmade by Iain Burnett, The Highland Chocolatier. My favourite are the lemongrass chocolates. Sounds odd, I know, but trust me.
Slightly merrier than when we we walked in (those of us not driving), we leave for the final leg of our journey.
Driving across the moors, we stop and pick some sprigs of heather to carry with us for luck, and stop at every possible viewpoint on the way to the lodge to view the state of the river.
Several hours later we’ve unpacked the car, fettled the tackle, set up the rods and made a start on dinner. We wonder to the riverbank with an ice cold beer in hand, and it finally feels like we’re home.
What will the week have in store for us? Who knows? After all, our holiday is yet to begin...