In the very early days of Wholehope, I explored the Cheviot Hills together with my brother George, Charlie McGonnigal and many other pals. As a result of these wanderings, we became good friends with many of the shepherds living in isolated farmhouses such as Rooklands, Milkhope and Uswayford and we began to hear tales of mysterious ‘midnight fishing trips’.
As you can imagine, our interest was aroused and Bert, one of the shepherds, promised to take us out some night when the conditions were right. We saw Bert many times during convivial nights in the Rose and Thistle in Alwinton, but the special conditions that were apparently necessary for this kind of fishing never quite came together. Arriving at the pub one Friday evening during heavy rain, and with the mist right down to the ground, we were therefore a bit surprised when our man opined “tonight is perfect” for the proposed escapade.
After a few preparatory pints, we took the field path over to the Alwin Burn, then up the valley to the Rookland burn (called Rookland Sike on the OS map). In normal conditions, this burn is about three feet wide and nine inches deep, but this particular night it was a raging torrent, with water filling the banks up to the top and foam spilling over the bank sides.
Using powerful torches, we followed the burn steeply uphill, lighting up the pools and looking under the boulders, but not a fish did we see until the last pool just below the house. Suddenly, our man said “there’s a good one see its tail” — all we amateurs could see was the water, foaming and roiling over the rocks, but Bert had already tied a wire trace onto his walking stick and, while we held him by one hand and the back of his soaking wet tweed jacket, he leaned precariously over the pool.
In seconds, a six-pound salmon sailed over our heads and up onto the bank side and, with a mad scramble, we dived onto the fish before it flopped back into the water and carried it in triumph up to the house. Bert’s wife was still up and we sat in front of the peat fire with our host while she cooked and served the trophy for our supper; the King of Fish never tasted better.
Later, we took our sleeping bags out to the hay barn, reflecting on a really exciting escapade and finally convinced that the tiny Cheviot burns hold really big fish; you just have to know where to look!
In those far-off days, all shepherds and foresters and other outdoor workers were expert at ‘guddling’ trout (and salmon too!), and visitors to Wholehope were certainly not backward in this regard – as the following photos show. I’m sure that there is some sort of ‘statute of limitations’ law applying to possible poaching offences after more than fifty years, but I won’t ‘name names’ on the photos, just in case! Back to index