Sport: A Royal Flush
While Scots celebrate their legendary toughness—manifest over the centuries by their kicking the Romans off their shores, rejecting English rule, and relishing their proclivity for haggis—truth be told, they would rather be fishing or shooting (game, that is, not Englishmen). When it comes to their love affair with angling, no stream is more romanced than the River Spey.
The waterway is renowned for its wealth of Atlantic salmon—considered by fly-fishing aficionados to represent the pinnacle of the sport. At the heart of the river’s watershed sits the century-old Tulchan Estate, overlooking some of northern Scotland’s most stunning highlands. It is a landscape of emerald pastures, stone fences, and sweeping vistas.
Though having fly-fished much of my life, I professed (and exhibited) no mastery of the two-handed rod that my gillie (fishing guide) presented to me, because this device was nearly twice as long as most common fly rods. Within a few minutes, however, I was flogging the Spey just as kings, presidents, and captains of industry have done for centuries (King Edward VII, kings George V and George VI, Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and William Vanderbilt were a few of the regulars on the Spey).
Many of these same notables stayed at the stone, castlelike Tulchan Lodge, which is resplendent with classic, original wildlife art that gives the property a distinctly Edwardian feel. The elegant motif is in keeping with the lavish world of driven shooting so aptly featured in the recent film Gosford Park. I half expected to see Maggie Smith step through the door holding a cup of tea while wearing the wry grin of someone who knows she sits atop the food chain.
Come August, parties of the well-heeled and well-bred from across the globe will descend on Tulchan to partake in the annual driven grouse shoots. Guns will be side-by-sides with price tags ranging to $100,000 or more. Each shooter will be placed in a stone blind called a butt, and a line of beaters will then walk the moors, flushing the speedy grouse to the waiting guns. British author Jonathan Ruffer once described driven shooting as combining "the opportunities of a machine-gunner with an infinitely better lunch."
Another set of sportsmen will arrive in November for the start of the driven pheasant season, a period when Scotland’s weather can turn "interesting," as one local described it. This is the season of Barbour coats and wool sweaters. When I arrived in September, a flock of pheasants nonchalantly lined the narrow roadway leading to Tulchan, and it was all I could do to keep from making one a hood ornament on my Volvo.
The roadsides are further dotted with signs that mark historic events and places, and it is impossible to visit anywhere in Scotland that does not have a memorable tie to history—especially epic battles for independence. Ask any Scotsman to tell you the tales of William Wallace, for instance, over a single malt, and you had better be prepared to finish the bottle.
That is, unless the fishing is good.