Cartographic Reminiscences

No fishing today, there is just too much to do around the house. So we slog away at tidying the garden and making some changes to the sitting room. Helen has some lovely drawings which we frame and mount of the walls and that got me thinking about a couple of cardboard tubes containing posters and old maps which was last seen in the fishing room. In a corner full of rods I located said tubes and we both looked over the contents as we sipped our umpteenth mugs of coffee.

One tube had a few posters from long ago, one of which brought back happy memories and we will mount it once I find a frame big enough. The other tube held old maps, of no interest to Helen but full of meaning for me. Even as a child maps held a fascination for me, a peculiarity which stood me well over a lifetime of messing about in the great outdoors. I still own a vast collection of O/S maps from my climbing/hillwalking days back in Scotland. Once so vital to me they now live in a box under a bed and will likely never be gazed upon again.

The maps in the tube we unearthed today are totally different though. During my unfortunate time living in London during noughties I relaxed by visiting museums and art galleries at the weekend. I worked every Saturday morning but by lunchtime I was locking the heavy iron front gates of the works and heading for the train station and the journey into the city centre. There I would treat myself to a stroll around the National Portrait Gallery or the Tate, maybe the British Museum or the V&A, whatever took my fancy really. My other pastime was to haunt the secondhand book shops and stalls of the capitol. Down backstreets and into flea markets I’d roam, sometimes finding an interesting book but more often just enjoying being in these odd establishments. I particularly liked a large open air stall on the south bank which had all sorts of tat for sale including a wide range of prints of old maps. Searching through the racks of over priced prints I occasionally found one or two which I could afford and were of places which meant something too me. It was these prints that were rolled up in the cardboard tube.

There are old maps of Edinburgh and Fife where I used to live in a different life. A nice one of the North East of Scotland as it was a couple of centuries ago. Prints of the Mearns, Perthshire and even one of Oxfordshire were in the tube too but the best ones reminded me of places I fished in the past.

There is one of six small maps on one sheet of paper, each splash of pale blue showing loughs which are grouped together near to the village of Elphin in Sutherland. One of the loughs is an irregularly shaped body of peat stained water called Loch Urigill. Many years ago my mate Chris and I hired a boat and went out for a days fishing on this loch, a wonderful day of stunning scenery and game little trout. From where we left the car we had to walk across the moor to where the small boat was tied up. Lacking an engine, we spent the day alternating rowers. A breezy day of high cloud and the odd light shower, we found that the trout wanted big flies, anything smaller than a size eight was treated with disdain. Chris had nothing in his fly box that was anywhere near the right size but luckily I had some big mayflies and murroughs for use in Ireland with me. Some drifts we only rose a few fish but others were hectic with little spotted fish launching themselves at the flies. After one drift I left my flies trailing behind the boat as I rowed upwind and the fish thought this was a great job! I could only take a few pulls on the oars before another brownie grabbed the big hairy murrough on my cast. In the end I wound in the line, it was just too easy catching them that way.

We spent the whole day on that lough, laughing and rowing and bending the rods into incredibly beautiful wild trout. Rain came that evening, driving us off the water and back across the sodden moor. Beer and whisky accompanied our dinner in a pub in Ullapool that night and we slept to sleep of the righteous after a long day out in the fresh highland air.

It had been a memorable day and it came flooding back to me when I found this map on a stall on the Thames embankment. It is not a beautiful map, it is stark and lacks any detail but just looking at it brings me right back to Urigill and those wee trout tugging at the Irish Murrough.

The other interesting map is printed on very thin paper and shows some of the lochs on Orkney. Twice I have holidayed on those ancient islands and they hold a special place in my heart. The fishing was very different on those trips. I had to work hard to catch a few fish the first time around while on the second trip we caught loads of fish. Orkney is such a fascinating place that even if the trout aren’t playing there is so much else to do.


Loch Harray is a gem of a loch and every trout fisher should try to wet a line there at least once in their life. It is shallow and stuffed with medium sized trout who delight in taking the anglers flies. It may have changed now, but back in the day you could only get permission to fish the loch if you were staying at the Merkister Hotel. Once again, it was Chris and I who were up in Orkney on a fishing trip. We got off to a bad start when our tent got blown away during a gale on the first day of our holiday. I bought a new one from a camping shop in Stromness and we drowned our misfortune in beer that evening to the sounds of fiddlers in a wee bar by near the harbour. The fishing on the
other lochs was good but we had booked into the Merkister for one night so we could give Harray a try. Blessed with a lovely day for fishing, the loch gave us a tremendous days sport. I seem to recall I boated 22 and Chris managed 17 (or something like that). While the catch was good it was the whole experience of drifting over the skerries and casting to rising fish under those huge northern skies which filled our hearts.

We went sea fishing from the Churchill barrier on our last day, catching fine cod on spinners as we looked across Scapa Flow where the German’s scuttled their fleet in 1918 and the Royal Oak was torpedoed in ’39. All too soon it was time to leave but we had a two bed berth booked on the ferry for the crossing the following morning and this gave us access to the bar on the ship the night before we sailed, cue more whisky! Oh how I would love to go back and fish there one more time!leaving Stromness

I have long intended to frame these dusty old prints and who knows, maybe I will get around to it one of these days. It is on that ever expanding list of things to do but this particular task has never yet made it to the top. As I get older though small reminders of a life well lived assume an importance beyond their physical size. The maps transport me back to the music of that half drunk fiddler in the dimly lit bar in Kirkwall or the swallows scything across the rippled surface of loch Harry.

I was one of Chis’s Best Men at his wedding in Edinburgh a few years back and we reminisced at length about the days spent fishing for trout all over Scotland. Great times indeed. 

I had better go, Helen has found another task for me here!


4 thoughts on “Cartographic Reminiscences

  1. Another common interest! A wee tale from a couple of weeks ago when I had visited a hill Lochan , the previous is it being 30 years ago. Like yourself I have a stack of OS maps from hill walking and climbing the odd Munro and it was one of these I turned to when going to the hill Lochan. Alas I encountered some difficulties with inaccuracies in the terrain since the old map was produced. Nothing major but impactful when a path has disappeared! I have a lovely older OS map from the 50’s of Argyll that I think would look great in a frame.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe it is just our age, but there is something comforting about an object you can physically hold instead of hoping an app will open up on a screen for you. I guess it is just a fact that terrain will have changed over the years since our maps were produced, just think of all the mono-culture plantations for example. I knew a guy once who wallpapered one wall in a room with old O/S maps, trimming them so they joined seamlessly to give a full view of the southern Highlands. It looked amazing!

      Liked by 2 people

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