When I was growing up my family went on holiday to pretty much the same places every year; Cornwall in the summer, and a fishing trip to Scotland every Easter. So Scotland has become a very nostalgic place for me. Every April we would road trip up along with my uncle and my grandparents. My grandpa was always such a keen fisherman, and it used to make him so happy that we were all together for this one week a year indulging this great passion of his.
I think my friends all had such a different idea of what actually goes on during a week long Scottish salmon fishing trip… there are no maggots on the end of a line and definitely no napping in the sun waiting for a fish to bite… In general it is cold, windy and rainy (no great surprise there for Scotland in April) and there can be hours and hours of persistent fishing with absolutely nothing occurring other than fingers going completely numb. Sometimes we would go all week without catching a single salmon. But the excitement of when someone did catch something would more than make up for all of the hours spent trying.
As my sisters and I got older and things like uni and Gap years occurred, the annual trips sort of fizzled out and although we were all very sad about it, we have been left with some incredible memories. I think these holidays are one of the reasons why we are all so close now, and we can all look back fondly at the time we spent on the banks of the RIver Spey.
My oldest sister Sam has since become a gamekeeper and has been a regular fisherman (not sure if fisherwoman is actually a term used so I’ll have to call her a fisherman!). I can’t say I envy her choice in hobby as I am not a fan of prolonged periods of time in horrendous weather waiting for something to happen that quite possibly won’t happen at all. So when she announced that she had booked for us to go back to Scotland for a few days to try Wheelyboat Fishing I was a little bit apprehensive. And when I saw the weather forecast I was even more apprehensive, but I knew that this was something I would have to try.
We were staying in a gorgeous hotel, The Collingwood Arms, right on the border of Scotland and England, which was just a short drive from the river. We met my sister’s friend who happens to be an extremely talented ghillie, and made a plan for the next couple of day’s fishing over a gorgeous dinner and a few drinks.
The plan changed however when we saw the horrendous weather on the first morning; arctic temperatures, a strong easterly wind and some drizzle, and we then discovered that access to the river was a washed out slippery mud track (not suitable for my Golf). I presumed the fishing would be abandoned, but oh no… I was bundled into a 4×4 and taken to the river….. and I was greeted with this…
Wheelyboat Fishing basically involves a small rowing boat that has been adapted so that you can wheel right onto it and fish from the comfort of your wheelchair. For some reason I had visions of the boat being able to pull up to a nice jetty and I would casually wheel myself on, but I was so so wrong! The river banks are quite steep and very grassy/muddy/slippery so the ghillies had made a little ramp and platform for access to the boat. I saw it from the car and I was absolutely petrified.
But I realised I had to man up and get over my fear. I was with my big sis and two expert ghillies who I completely trusted to look after me, so I did it! I left the warm car and got manoeuvred down the bank and into the boat, and we were ready to go.
By the way, the first thing my mother said when she saw my photos were ‘Well fashion obviously went out of the window’, and yes it most definitely did… But I don’t think even Victoria Beckham could have looked good in those conditions. I was wearing 6 layers on my top half, 3 of which were various coats, and I had a hot water bottle, but I was still pretty cold!
I can honestly say I had so much fun in the boat. It was strange how quickly I forgot about the whole wheelchair thing, and instead was just transported back to when I was about 12 (the prime of my fishing career!!) Catching a salmon at this time of year can be quite difficult as there aren’t that many around, but somehow at the end of the first day I managed to hook one.
Everything that is caught is released back into the river (and no harm is done from the hook), so after a quick photo with my little fishy (it was about 5lbs, which is small for a salmon), we let it go, and called it a day. I had survived over 3 hours in the boat, and was so chuffed with myself!
The next morning we went out again, and I caught 3 more salmon before we decided it was just too cold to stay out any longer.
On the drive back down south I thought about how awesome the last few days had been. I had done something that I had never even considered as being possible since my accident, and I had been really brave! And the only reason that it had been so successful was because of the people I was with. The two ghillies, Peter and Calum were so incredibly trustworthy that I knew that I could have complete faith in them. Their job is to get people out on the river catching fish, and the wheelchair was just a technicality. They got me on and off the boat without any fuss, and that’s pretty impressive seeing as British Airways can’t seem to get me onto an aeroplane without causing a massive drama.
I am so grateful to my sister for taking me away for a couple of days and making me try something new. I rarely allow myself to do anything that is out of my comfort zone because I am too afraid of something bad happening, but out Scottish mini-break is now causing me to reconsider this attitude… breaking my routine and trying something new may not be so bad after all.