In 1925, celebrated Scottish writer John Buchan published his second novel, John Macnab, which sees three high-flying men – a barrister, a Conservative cabinet minister and a banker – suffering from boredom. They concoct a plan to cure it. They inform three Scottish estates that they will poach from each two stags and a salmon in a given time. They sign collectively as ‘John McNab’ and set about dispelling their ennui. Over the years the challenge has evolved into something more modern that does not involve illegal poaching – catching a salmon on the fly, shooting a brace of grouse and taking a stag – all between dawn and dusk.
I have read John Macnab at least three times, and it still excites me to this day. I think I was aged 18 when I first read it. At our place in Inverness – Glenmazeran Estate – it is possible to achieve a Macnab. In fact, I have managed to doit six times over the past 20 years. Most of my successful Macnabs were unintentional, which sounds rather blasé, butI think most people would say the same. It usually happens in September when I had gone fishing very early in the morning and got lucky. This leaves the rest of the day to get the other two quarries in the larder. Trying for a Macnab is exhausting – the things you think are going to be the easiest never are. If the planets align and there’s water in the river, the right wind for stalking deer, a good hatch of grouse and you’re successful, the feeling is euphoric.
The Macnab challenge pits dexterity, unpredictable quarry and most of all luck against the clock. Every minute of the day must be precisely planned. There is no room for error. A cast-iron schedule supported by people who really know the river and the hill makes it more fun and offers a better chance of success. The rest is simply down to the forces of nature.