Meet ‘The Ghillie”
We’re up before dawn, over coffee Little Tim says he'll take the opportunity for a day’s rest at the cottage. I set to, frying a mountain of meat products for breakfast. I perhaps should have mentioned that of the three of us I am the only one without a military background. Big Tim had the time of his life in the Army and although his service was shortish he can, and will, recount every knock, scrape, and horrible meal as though they were the highlights of human history. Little Tim’s service was; airborne, longer, more distinguished and something he’s moved on from. A military sentimentalist’s breakfast: I’ve got three kinds of sausage, bacon, beans, toast, mushrooms and fried tomatoes on the go when Big Tim announces a fondness for powdered egg. He ate it in the army. I’ve heard of it, I thought it was the kind of thing people ate in WW2 prisoner of war camps, and assumed it hadn't been made since the 1950’s. To prove me wrong he produces a large bag of what looks like powdered loft insulation, it’s a sort of vile looking yellow dust and announces that Little Tim is the worlds leading practitioner of making ‘scrambled eggs’ with it. My cynicism is uncontained. Little Tim is quick to disassociate himself from the wonder-food that is powdered egg, but does rustle up one pan full of what looks a lot like damp ground up loft insulation, Big Tim’s delight is almost uncontained. Little Tim and myself eat a few mouthfuls to be polite. That's another one ticked off the bucket list.
With our sandwiches packed and us wrapped up against the weather Big Tim and I head out of the door to meet The Ghillie. The mud outside the cottage is frozen into sharp black ridges, the steps traitorous with ice, but the dawn is breaking on a stunning vista. The hills are greens and browns washed through with purple, then flecked with snow. Rifles in the back of the motor we set off to the farmhouse. If you’ve ever been ‘the sport’ i.e. the paying sportsman you’ll know that the next hour is probably what will define our stay. We have to meet the Ghillie. He will size both us and our capabilities up and plan our shooting accordingly.
Ghillies, Keepers, or in the modern parlance, Highland Professionals, are central to the sporting experience; they get you on to the hill, get you within range of the beasts, gralloch (Gallic for gutting) and then get you and the beasts safely off the hill at the end of the day. They are hard as nails and honor-bound to keep up a gruff Scotsman act while you're within earshot during the hours of daylight. Around the fire or in the pub they are raconteurs of the old school, accomplished naturalists, crack shots with rifle and gun, they fly-cast like the gods themselves, often they've been on many of the other bucket list hunts, to Africa and Alaska. As there isn't much else to do in the evenings they hold rivalry's with their contemporaries on the next estate that border on blood feuds. If you've taken the trouble to go there in the first place they know that you think they've got the worlds best job and will never stop rubbing it in. It’s a thought that keeps them smug and warm while trudging up the glen in the pissing rain for the thousandth time that week.
Words of Wisdom for the Traveling Sportsman. There is a piece of advice given to those being trained as leaders of men at Sandhurst Officer training school (the UK’s equivalent of WestPoint), which is also a good pointer for all travellers visiting the UK, and it’s defiantly true for Sassenachs and other foreigners venturing north of the wall. “If you are treated with any kind of deference at all you’re fucked, if they take the piss without mercy you’re in with them, or will at least be tolerated.”
We pull up in a farmyard and mooch about looking for the Ghillie. No answer at the cottage so I wander down to the kennels, there’s a fella feeding the dogs. I call out a greeting and receive that dismissive nod that is the hallmark of customer service north of the wall. After a while he wanders over. Big Tim reintroduces himself and yours truly, and tries that simplest of bonding ceremonies, one that usually overcomes cultural and linguistic barriers. Wherever in the world you go sportsman all speak rifle calibers.
Big Tim [ bright and cheerful] “I’ve brought a 7x57, a .308 and, a Ruger No. 1 in 25-06”
The Ghillie [with eyes that scour like the wind] ‘Aye. Is that right? Where you put ‘em is quite important too’