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A Story From the Riverbank

I was thinking about some stories, I could tell at the opening of the river on Saturday and Sandy Milne's Mrs Alston Story sprung to mind. However, I was then told to talk for not much more than 5 minutes so couldn't really do this. However, I do think it deserves an airing!

The Lower Castle Water River Spey
Me Finding something funny on the Lower Castle Water

In the story, Sandy also highlights how differences between the two owners he worked for at Knockando estate. Grimey Whitelaw and Sir David Wills. Their personalities were poles apart. However, because “people”, and their personalities interest me, and Sandy being a particularly good storyteller, his tale below contrast the two characters perfectly

A few years after the death of Grimey, it was summertime and Sir David had been hosting a few friends on his then new estate, when one of his guests came back with a couple of fish. “Oh, clever you Jane, where did you find those” asked Sir David? I’m not actually sure, said Jane. It was a small pool on the middle beat, I think! You’ll have to ask Sandy. With more guests gathering around the front of the house, the Laird approaches Sandy. “Sandy, that was clever of Mrs Fleming and you finding that lovely brace of Grilse”! Where did you bump into them? Knowing full well the question would come, Sandy found himself in one of those inconvenient situations, uncomfortable with the truthful answer he flannelled. “Err, mmm, oh, we got them in the pool above Craig Neish Sir, hoping Sir David would be happy with this short answer.

Sandy, that’s just wonderful says the boss. Trying hard to edge away from the group of friends gathering around Sir David, Sandy is now having to think fast, he could feel a sense foreboding, he knew the follow up question was coming so slowly edged away, hoping to get out of ear shot, particularly of the ladies in the party, as he knew this would be Important. Feeling a hand on his shoulder caused Sandy to stop and turn back. This was the point he knew the exit strategy had failed, like storm clouds from a pending monsoon, the crowd of a dozen of Sir Davids friends now surrounded him. In a light-hearted but inquisitive tone, the question was asked; a question Sandy knew was coming and the answer to which was seriously uncomfortable! – “Sandy, What's the name of the pool, Mrs Fleming had her fish in”? With everyone now firmly focused on him, Sandy thought, my god, why me, what have I done? One of those, “wish a hole, 'quite literally', would open moments”. Has it got a name Sandy, because if not we’ll have to give it one, explained the new Laird!? Trying to be as discreet as possible, Sandy whispered, “Mrs Alston’s Hole” Sir! Pardon, who's......, what, replied to Sir David. Now wishing he had just spoke up the first time and with a louder report, Sandy replied, MRS ALSTONS HOLE Sir, they were both caught in Mrs Alston's Hole, Sir! Tumbleweed...! In that moment Sandy felt the stare of a dozen sets of eyes, some mortified, others with a "did I just hear that correctly" look, before the silence was broken by a male in the party going into uncontrollable laughter, this was followed by the whole group including Sir David, who, I’m sure by this very second was already thinking of a name change! The story contrasts the two lairds perfectly as Grimey loved the fact it was Called Mrs Alston's Hole; revelling in somewhat lurid nature of the narrative, whilst Sir David would have laughed, very much seen the funny side, but would never knowingly, wantonly or instigate such a situation. The pool name was subsequently changed to “Mother and Child” after the two Large Caledonia Pines that shadowed it. Sadly, one of those pines recently blew over in recent gales; I often wonder if it was old Grimey up to his devilment! Grimey died In the year of my birth, 1963. The doctor had told him to cut the whisky down to one glass per day or he’d not last too long. His answer to this being a whole bottle into a pint glass at 4pm, or “Whisky O Clock”! His gravestone was a simple one taken from the Clune Hill, the scene of some of his most memorable pheasant shoots. Interestingly, for a guy who had shot so many Pheasants, as the lowered his coffin into the ground, a single Cock Pheasant flew onto the gravestone next to him and began crowing. Almost saying, you were good, but you didn’t get us all!

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David Forbes
David Forbes
Feb 09, 2023

I remember so many fine summers on Knockando. Yourself showing me how to cast of my left shoulder on Lower Pitcroy Iain. You’ll remember my late great buddy Tim Hardie and Jack Horne who I still fish with. So yes I imagine wee Sandy Milne (who taught me so much on the river) would have been mortified by this episode. Such a fine Gillie, a gentle unassuming man of massive patience ( especially with my habit of shaking fish off!)

Tight lines

David Forbes

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