Granny goes to Harrods

Granny was one of those redoubtable Victorian/Edwardian ladies. Her family became affluent in Victorian times when her father, a vet I think, came up with a pill to treat coughing horses and then gave it to children as a cure for croup and founded the Beecham pill empire.

So, they made it in trade and started the process of forgetting that.

Granny was presented to the old Queen and they lived in some style, owning the Covent Garden estate, with one of her brothers able to indulge his love of music by creating a number of orchestras during his lifetime. But Granny was never a spendthrift and many an off peak Sunday call was terminated abruptly as I was developing my answer to her question with “There go the pips dear” followed by immediate cut-off. She lived through at least 3 wars and no doubt did many good works, probably frightening some of our guys in the process.

As a boy, highlights of my life were trips to Harrods with my Victorian granny.

Lift boys in smart gear and round hats sang out the secrets of the next floor.

All seemed possible in Harrods. I dedicate this chronology to their memory.

lift boy

“Ground Floor.
Food Hall, wild salmon and venison pate specialities,
Purchasing and Leasing of Sporting Estates,
Finance for new Lodges,
Greatest Sporting Bags, Christmas Cards.”

1066 or a little before

“Amat” is a Norse word. No doubt Vikings came for the wood. Scots pine was still being floated down river and taken by ship from Bonar to royal shipwrights to make Stuart warships in the 17C. There is evidence that to get the timber out of the Freevater forest, artificial floods were created. Nobody thought of the fish of course, or the estuary, which became well and truly silted up with topsoil.

Over the ages, usage, fire, heavy grazing (“Bonsai-ing” of new growth), greatly reduced the wooded area of Carron headwaters. The open nature of caledonian forest, with its thick forest carpet of blaeberry, mosses, grass, leaf litter humus and bell heather holds water like a sponge, leaking it slowly to lower levels. Removing this eco-system ensures less beauty and less species. Up to 50% of juvenile fish feed can come from the bank in the form of bugs or leaf. The latter breaks down and is eaten by waterborn invertebrates which are then gobbled by the fish.

So less Cally forest = lower juvenile fish densities. The rainfall in Glen Beag is four times that of Ardgay (and going up, due to global warming). The steep glen sides are now deeply eroded and the whole gloomy place clothed only with poor grasses. Tree stumps up to 400m above sea level, give evidence of yesteryear.

Early 19th Century

Napoleonic wars create demand for sheep meat and wool. Croick/Blackwater one of the first great sheep stations. Soil and ground cover suffer with high density stocking. Rain runs off faster still, fish food levels and juvenile capacities reduce further.


19th Century - second half

Victoria makes the Highlands fashionable. Ardgay at one time the most northerly railway terminus. Access leads to new sporting Lodges and exploitation of fish to serve distant markets. Anglers and nets kill everything caught. Stalking leads to more deer, yet more grazing and round the short sighted circuit we go again.

“Going DOWN.
Basement Floor
White Goods, Hardware
and Relic Salmon Populations,

lift doors

If the 19th Century was bad for wild salmon, our own times have been worse. We have internationally contributed farmed salmon, genetic escapes, lice, acid rain, dense woodpulp trees, hatcheries, gyrodactylus (“lets try a few Baltic fish in the mix Ho Ho”) tarmac, phenolic acids, smart drainage to rid us of wetlands, reducing bio-diversity increasing run-off speeds, hydraulic forces, introductions of non indigenous trout who can bear disease including GyroD, commercialization of angling, maximum rod numbers. increased rod hours, inflexible seasons, unable to back off during poor natural abundance cycles and Cymag.

Man has done for Europe’s largest most famous salmon river (Rhine) with poison and dredging. Closer to home, there is the irony of a Fishery Board (FB) (to manage and foster the stocks) selling our salmon eggs and keeping the nets on, to minimize proprietors contributory rates.

The netsmen are asked to concentrate their efforts on culling the grilse, which, surprise, surprise, they do not correctly identify.

There are still salmon in the Carron solely because we are sufficiently outwith a rule that says: “The more Man inhabits the catchment the less salmon can there be”.


Calderwood remarks on stock depletion. (He might have added bio-diversity and other specie depletions, it wasn’t only salmon disappearing.) Carnegie and Dr Almond, unsuccessfully try to keep the nets off. But in 1916, Springer exploitation is racked up higher by advancing the season on a temporary war basis to feed the troops the freshest fish. Today's fishery managers have left it there, without even a 'commercial' excuse. We are down to relic numbers caught in January and February.

1956 Glen Beag

Water is diverted by tunnel to make electricity in another glen. What’s left cannot support so many fish but, the Minister’s Carron compensation (MCC) obliges the Hydro company to artificially stock annually the “what’s left”.

Uniquely, the diversion regime is controlled by a legal Agreement struck between the proprietors and Hydro whereby the original water grab is reduced, especially in summer; a “freshet” mechanism built into the small diversion dam and the MCC quadrupled in number.

All sadly think 'fishing' not 'fish' so no fish pass is put through the dam. Thus the river becomes shorter for the fish and the early run sub-species, (maybe Invercharron’s February run) unable to reach remembered redds above, are quite unnecessarily wiped out.

There is failure by all to appreciate that the dam mechanism ensures that the faster Man makes water run off Glen Beag by removing that 'sponge', the more water goes off down the diversion tunnel. Mercifully, a sweep up provision of the legal Agreement allows further negotiation should things be seen not to be working as expected.


The Carron proprietors incorrectly identify the Glencalvie Falls (GCF) as a major cause of stock depletion and want a natural feature destroyed, uugh, 'eased', to make up for what they incorrectly see as major destruction by Man of the Blackwater nursery.

“Going UP.
("at last, so stuffy down there Granny")
Ladies Underwear
and Salmon Remedial Actions Department
Hold tight please, could be bumpy.”
("two floors UP and one DOWN")

lift doors

1993 Stephen/Carnie Management Plan

Noted biologist Dr Alistair Stephen advises that nearly 40 years of MCC is not compensating for the 'hydro damage', has been a waste of resources, possibly harmful to remaining stocks through use of incorrect genetic material, sometimes stocked on top of existing juveniles. Very unfortunately, stocking continues, frustrating Alistair Stephen’s aim, to obtain a clear picture of the “passability” of GCF.


Deliberate large scale poisoning of the Carron.


Gradual measured agreement starts for conservation of existing stocks, Bag Limits, Catch & Release, Reduced rod pressure near Falls, River closure for 8 hours per day to aid migration, pressure for Bonar Nets to be lifted, 'Fly Only' to be used.

Awareness grows of the different salmon sub-species and importance of their territories, importance of first cock grilse to Spring stocks, of allowing spawners to choose mates and spawning area, of allowing Nature to decide the Cock/Hen balance and the considerable importance of precocious parr.

1996 - 8

Local Fishery Board (FB) moves to a trained fishery biologist; the learning curve continues with Dr Bob Morgan. Serried ranks of good fishermen capable of catching up to 80% of a Spring run. In all likelihood, Carron spring stocks already at dangerously low levels; need to cosset remainder in lieu of reliance on regular artificial stocking.

E-fishing confirms Blackwater up to Lubachoinnich our best nursery, without any stocking. Headwaters need to be right to achieve a larger output of smolts likely to return as “Springers”. Dr Morgan, Professor Fleming and Scottish Native Woods suggest re-establishment of previous Caledonian forest areas, keeping animals off river banks and a curb on land drainage schemes, to reverse the rise in run-off speeds.


New Club meeting, with Dr Bob Morgan present, agrees in principle a multi-faceted improvement plan involving, conservation of “Springer spawners” and Kelts (perhaps the best chance of big fish) by re-introducing the season start to February, giving a shorter season, (unless fishing in October proves warranted by demonstrating that run timings have moved back (as N.E. Drift Netters believe).

A reversible easement of GCF with pools formed by plates that can be taken out to allow flushing of debris and replacement, re-design or repair; fitting of a portable much cheaper fish Counter to see exactly how many spawners get over GCF and under what conditions (time, pH, water level etc); a Habitat Plan to be drawn up with the FB and sources of finance tapped.


New Club improvement package not implemented; chins drop, nadir in inter-proprietor relations. Tweed buys same Counter and another in 2006.

1996 - 2006

Amat Cally forest re-generation work to quadruple present size. 60,000 seedlings from Amat scots pines supplied to re-create Freevater forest. Sheep removed from Alladale and Glencalvie, numbers slashed at Amat and Croick. Bonar Nets OFF.


Artificial stocking on Carron finally ceases, Alistair Stephen’s aim to discover 'passability' of GCF finally possible, 7 years on. The MCC award re-negotiated again, through that sweep up clause in the proprietors Agreement, is now cash.


FB report 123 pairs cutting redds between Alladale and Deanich. It appears that getting spawners over GCF, in its natural condition, is a matter of how many early season spawners, are allowed to get there alive, in good condition. Petition requests fish pass at Glen Beag. 750 immediate signatories. Plan to go public on TV, Radio and Press held in abeyance while FB research to see if a scientific case can be made for such a pass.

2004 & 2005

Excellent electro-fishing surveys. 3 consecutive years of spawning success in Glen Mor above GCF, (2003, 2004 and 2005) with good survival levels of juveniles. Voluntary C & R level now approaching 85%. FB produces its scientific Report concluding that a fish pass at Glen Beag would be a substantial benefit to the fishery.


The scientific Report is endorsed by additional scientists of note in a review stage and formally presented to the Minister’s Fisheries Committee. Carron Representatives meet with Jonathan Mason of FB.

After years of MCC award doing no good they want it spent on something scientists agree will be beneficial. They may wish to consider the Kyle Fishery Trust as their agent for annual collection, if the FB disappears under mooted government re-organisation plans.

lift doors

“Top Floor,
Leaping Salmon Viewpoint
Salmon Smolt Eco-engineering,
(SSE) Precocious parr barr”

“Gran, the waitresses are on roller skates dressed up as hens this week. Can I chase them round the Barr while you yak to SSE ?”

“OK dear, celebrate progress but be careful. Recent DNA testing showed 50 different fathers in one salmon redd. If that isn’t bio-diversity, what is ? I wouldn’t vote for Mr Churchill if he advocated that for us lot; some things are best left alone”.

Jonny Shaw, August 2006

lift boy

At least 60 years after the event, I remember someone coming shuffling past crowded benches at Lords, when Alastair Cook had just scored a century, introducing himself saying that he’d been taken out to tea by Granny and me from school. It obviously made a lasting impression but could I remember anything about that occasion, absolutely not.

But I do remember and being mortified by a Granny habit of entering a strange house and sniffing, followed by a stage whisper which was aimed at all and definitely carried “Are the drains alright ?”

She was indeed redoubtable, but not unique.

A friend has told me different stories of his Granny showing they were similar bodies of a memorable “type”. His Granny saved 1p postage by pre-writing her “Thank you letters” and dropping them on the mat as she left a house after a dinner engagement.

When she died she left instructions that her ashes were to be scattered in several places she had loved. It fell to this friend to carry out her wishes in Harrods. He wandered about the famous store trying to have eyes in the back of his head while dribbling Granny down his trouser leg in suitable Departments.

Jonny Shaw, September 2011

Number of Page Views: 277355
Number of Unique Visitors: 19271