After a fraught few weeks following the SD stalking trip to Sutherland, with some great highs (another couple of stalking trips north of the border) and some serious lows (my father being diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer), I've finally got round to posting a formal thank-you to Malcolm and John for their hospitality and generosity in organising this trip.
I was part of the first week's intake, stalking alongside Bob, Gez, Clive, Terry and Trevor. By the time I arrived in Sutherland - a very long way from anywhere at all - Trev' and I had already been stalking en route in both the Galloway Hills and on the Glen Prosen estate north of Perth, so I was slightly dreading three days of dashing around more hill sides!
I won't repeat all the details of other people's stalking triumphs, but will just mention a few highlights:
1. The highly entertaining, generally obscene and always very funny antics of 'the other house' - occupied by the SD's very own band of incredible witnesses. It was like being in the middle of the stalking wing of the Tetley Tea Folk, with much lowering of the tone by honorary northerner, Fester.
2. The fact that Clive managed to get his stag and drag it off the mountain whilst in the middle of a bout of flu - I'm worried that the effort may have actually killed him as he's not been heard of since?
3. When Trevor said he didn't know what all the fuss was about in extracting a deer from amongst the stumps and debris of the clear-fell re-gen' area - 'It can't that hard...' and then having to haul his 170lb stag (the heaviest of the week) out between three blokes. You might say they had a bit of a sweat on by the time we met up with them!
3. The fact we left two stag's heads wearing sunglasses outside our cottage door for two days and the cleaning girls didn't bat an eyelid.
4. The massive effort Terry and the incredible witnesses put in to get his very nice stag and carry out his witnessed stalks - he must be running out of wall space by now, as he'd already picked up another trophy en route to Sutherland!
5. Watching Leagle-eagle wrestle a rabbit carcass for 45 minutes, trying to part said rabbit from its skin. Also, getting the chance to blast a Scottish hilside with his .30/30 lever action with open sights.
6. The effort Malcolm (ably assist by the uberdog Todd) put in to get me the Sika hind I wanted for the freezer. It was sod's law that all of the hinds seen the previous day in that stretch of the old Caledonian Forest has buggered off. This was not helped by a 15 minute delayed start to the stalk as we rushed back to the cottage to fetch my bolt - doh . However, the stalk ain't over until the fat lady sings - one nice Sika hind was grassed at the last moment, albeit after a slightly unconventional stalk!
7. Gez's superb Sika stag and his sheer pleasure at shooting such a great beast.
8. Bob's tenacity in chasing his deer and his very good grace at being the only member of the party not to take a beast. I'm not sure I'd have been so laid back or sanguine having covered the ground that Bob did over three days. Bob - I still think you should have stalked into that trophy Sika stag a mere 1200 yards up that near vertical mountainside (with me watching you and Wadas from the comfort of level ground )
If you get the opportunity to go on the SD trip next year, grab it with both hands. It's a busy week and you may not fit in all the stuff you want but you'll have a blast - it's seriously good craic . Thanks once again to John and Malcolm for their efforts!