Tales from the salmon netting on the River Spey in the north east of Scotland

1. The First Shot

March 3rd, 2008 by John Bennett
 1. The First Shot: Play Now

The old railway viaduct rises like the back of some great antediluvian beast out of the willows and alders growing along the broad shingle banks near the estuary of the River Spey. Now carrying only pedestrian traffic on a narrow wooden walkway, the imposing iron arch is a remnant of the GNSR Garmouth to Tochieneal line that ran along the north east coast of Scotland until, like so many of the country’s branch railways, it was decommissioned in the 1960s.
The salmon fishers’ bothy that sat in the shadow of the eastern end of the viaduct was, by contrast, an unremarkable structure: little more than a large shed with cresoted wooden walls and a bitumen felt roof from which stuck a metal stove pipe topped by a conical tin cowl. The interior of the bothy was similarly prosaic: in the centre of the packed earth floor stood a pot bellied stove surrounded by a motley collection of battered armchairs liberated from the nearby dump. Read the rest of this entry »

2. The Joy Division

March 4th, 2008 by John Bennett
 2. The Joy Division: Play Now

Sandy Geddes, skipper of the summer crew, walked slowly down the bank with Jake and Black Alec, holding the top end of the net and watching as Robbie and the three new recruits ran the last shot of the first week of the summer salmon netting season. When they’d rowed the coble over to the far bank they turned downstream and rowed hard to the bottom of the pool then back across to where Sandy, Jake and Black Alec met them. The Stingman landed then grounded the boat before coming down to help Robbie, Gonzo and the Puddock haul the other end of the net. After killing the three grilse they caught, the crew, excepting the Stingman whose job it was to keep the boat off the river bank with the 20 ft long wooden pole they called the sting, slung the long painter over their shoulders and hauled the boat back up to the bothy by the viaduct. Read the rest of this entry »

3. The Sikoda

March 7th, 2008 by John Bennett
 3. The Sikoda: Play Now

Sandy Geddes, the skipper of the summer crew, was running late for work, and by the time he arrived for the start of the shift the rest of the crew were sheltering in the bothy from the light rain that had been falling for the last hour or so. As Sandy drew up he noticed, parked by the bothy, a car he had not seen before.
“Fa’s car’s that ootside?” asked Sandy, as he settled into the large, battered armchair at the end of the bothy and began to fill his first pipe of the day. Jake, who was reading a copy of Exchange and Mart, looked up and smiled.
“That’s ma new Sikoda,” said Robbie, the first mate, with evident pride.
“Sorry, fit make is it?” asked Sandy, lighting his pipe, looking perplexed.
“A 1.2 litre Sikoda Estelle,” replied Robbie, repeating the addition of the extraneous letter in the car’s name.
“Richt guid cars them Sikodas,” said Jake, winking at Sandy who was about to reply when he was startled by a loud groan emanating from a pile of nets behind him in the corner of the bothy, where, when he turned round to look, he spotted the prostrate form of Gonzo, one of the students working on the summer crew. Read the rest of this entry »

4. The Rave at Rothes

March 15th, 2008 by John Bennett
 4. The Rave at Rothes: Play Now

When Sandy Geddes, the skipper of the summer crew, arrived for the Tuesday of the early shift he found the bothy in uproar. Black Alec was swearing and cursing with even greater vigour than was usual and for once even the Puddock seemed animated.
“What on earth is going on?” asked Sandy, standing at the doorway, surveying the commotion.
“Mo Johnston’s gan te Rangers,” said Jake holding up the front page of his newspaper.
“It’s a disgrace,” cried Black Alec, a Rangers fan, “he’s a Catholic.”
“He’s a Judas,” said the Puddock, a Celtic fan, “he’s nithing but a Judas.” Read the rest of this entry »

5. The Spent Hens

March 18th, 2008 by John Bennett
 5. The Spent Hens: Play Now

Sandy Geddes, the skipper of the summer crew, pulled the collar of his donkey jacket up around his ears and stepped out of the bothy door into the bitter, blustery wind. To the north, over the leaden sea, towering storm clouds, known thereabouts as the Banff bailiffs as they kept the deep sea boats in port and their crews’ pockets empty, piled up on the horizon. Sandy shuddered in the cold and retreated back into the bothy.
“Fit’s it look like?” asked Jake.
“We’ll dee ae mair shot in aboot twenty minutes and then cry it a day,” said Sandy stepping over to the pot-bellied stove which stood in the middle of the bothy, “it looks like it’s g’tae be guy roch later on.” Read the rest of this entry »

6. The Monster

June 5th, 2008 by John Bennett
 6. The Monster: Play Now

The storm raged outside the bothy, hurling sheets of rain against the wooden walls, and rattling the cowl on the stove pipe. Inside, however, the bothy was warm and dry, filled with a frowsy heat thrown off by the blazing pot-bellied stove, glowing red in the dim light of the hurricane lamps. Sandy Geddes, the skipper of the summer crew, had long since concluded that there would be no more fishing done that night, however, the crew were compelled to stay on shift, and though they would have all preferred to be at home in their beds, there are worse things in the world than getting paid for sitting around in a warm bothy doing nothing.
Sandy poured himself a little dram of the Cragganmore that he kept for medical emergencies then looked round the bothy. Jake was catching up with some much-needed sleep on the pile of nets at the back of the bothy. Black Alec was trying to fix a broken transistor radio he’d found in a bin in Mosstodloch and Robbie, the first mate, had just finished a long, rambling tale about his cousin from Auchterless who’d eaten a tin of catfood for a bet. The younger members of the crew were sitting in the battered old armchairs which lined the bothy, stunned by the heat of the potbellied stove. Read the rest of this entry »

7. The Unmentionables

June 10th, 2008 by John Bennett
 The Unmentionables: Play Now

Sandy Geddes, skipper of the summer crew, and Robbie, his first mate, were examining the Bridge pool at the end of a long, hard day’s work for the salmon fishers. It had rained heavily in the Cairngorms for the last two days and though the Spey wasn’t exactly in spate, it was well up, and the black water, rippling like the flank of a prize bull in the main ring at the Keith Show, swept under the old railway viaduct, pinning a raft of broken branches and reeds to the upstream side of the dressed stone piers.
“It’ll be gey hard work again the morn,” said Robbie, with some relish, looking over at the rest of the summer crew who were lying shattered on the grass by the bothy. Read the rest of this entry »

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