Things were different half a century ago, says Robin Rolfe, from the rifles we used to the vehicles we drove to the attitudes we had.
I’ve just come back from Inverness, through streams of traffic and a 45-minute tailback to get over the Kessock Bridge. While in the never-ending congestion, my thoughts idly went back to my visits of half a century ago.
It was a long day’s outing from the west in those days. My little 1936 Morris 8, which cost me all of £17/10, would valiantly chug up the Great Glen to arrive in the big city of Inverness and park in front of the Station Hotel. Straight into Robbie’s bar. There Robbie would give us all the news – who was in town, and any messages left for us.
One day I had a stalking pal come up from the English hunting shires. He had never been north of the border before, but after a while wandering bemused by the sporting stores and suchlike, he turned to me and said, “This is a real man’s town.”
In fact I think the town hosted three gun shops: Graham’s, Gray’s and Macpherson’s. All sold guns bearing their proud names. Then we had the famous taxidermist Maclay, who in the season must have handled hundreds of trophies. Today one of them in good condition will fetch a sizeable wad of money.
The streets would throng with keepers, stalkers and shepherds from all over the Highlands on cattle market day. The keepers and stalkers easily recognisable in their estate tweed. One thing they all had in common was the highly polished shoes, be they black or brown, usually shod with triple tacks and flaps over the laces. Nevertheless the ubitiquous Commando sole was beginning to take over.
A popular rifle in those days was the Parkerised .303. There must have been dozens of ex-military rifles of this calibre being snapped up by gunmakers, tarted up before selling them as a very serviceable rifle. Sporterising, I think it was called. I made do with a .22 Hornet Brno before graduating to a Mauser 66 .243. If my memory serves me correctly, the Brno cost £33 new.
In those far-off days not long after the war, all manner of adapted vehicles were finding their way onto the hills. Quite a few are still there, I think, as they were not the most reliable of kit. Then came the halflinger. We had a demo. But sadly it did not get past the first drain. A great disappointment. Then, I think, came the ubiquitous Argocat. Far removed from the modern machine. But they did the job. Nevertheless some readers must remember the early single chain ones. Pretty good on the whole, but prone to shear pins breaking or more rarely the single chain parting.
These interludes always seemed to occur when the rain was blasting in from the Atlantic or the well of the machine was laden with hinds on a cold winter’s evening miles out on the hill. My God, one soon got to know the foibles and intricacies of the machine. I believe in modern parlance it would be called a good learning curve. Maybe not.