Paul Adderton steps out into the wilds of Glen Lyon to find the king of the hill: a trophy red stag.
Glen Lyon is reputed to be Scotland’s longest, loneliest, and yet loveliest glen. I first became acquainted with Glen Lyon in the mid-70s as a young trainee programme maker with Scottish Television. I was a member of the crew making a documentary in the Weir’s Way series with the late mountaineer and broadcaster Tom Weir.
A few years later I had the pleasure of filming in this Glen once more, but this time I was no trainee. I had now risen to the dizzy heights of producer and, having become a keen stalker, I was interested in listening to some of the tales from stalkers who lived in the glen. These stories, the excitement of the chase and the beauty of the surroundings, made me long to stalk there. I had to bide my time before an opportunity arose, but the day did come.
I was lucky enough to secure a couple of days on Roro Estate, roughly 18,000 acres, marching with Megganie, Inerwick and Chesthill – other well-known sporting estates in the glen.
The first morning dawned fine, with a light westerly wind. Given the topography of the hills, however, and not knowing the ground, I would have to wait until my meeting with Grant, the stalker, to find out what the plan of action would be. The river Lyon, from which the glen takes its name, sparkled in the morning sun and the canopy of autumn colours that adorned the trees along the single-track road would test any artist’s palate.
I met up with Grant at the lodge and, after a short visit to the range to check the zero on the Mannlicher, we set off up the hill. The wind was somewhat fresher now, and it had more of a chill, but my ears warmed to the sound of roars that came on the wind from a near corrie. The binoculars soon picked out a herd of deer below the skyline; Grant pointed to another small herd, and I spied one more on the other side of the burn.
“There’s plenty of water in the burn just now, and it’s a wee bit on the high side for us to cross and stalk those deer. We’d be best staying on this side today.” Grant informed me, as I drew out my telescope to have a closer look.
“Have a closer look at the small herd below the skyline there. Is that a stag among them chasing a hind?” He instructed.
Sure enough, his keen eye and many years on the hill meant he had it right. I glassed the hill in the direction he pointed, leaning against the Land Rover as a rest, and there he stood. A majestic mature stag, the master of his harem – woe betide any would-be challenger. I watched him parade among his hinds, displaying his fine set of antlers above a dark mane that covered his neck. He came to a halt and gave a roar.
“It’s a fine stag all right,” I said to Grant. “He has a good head and he’s holding about a dozen hinds.”
“Aye, he’ll do. We’ll have to be careful and watch those three young stags though,” Grant said, as he lowered his binoculars. I hadn’t even seen them, their tawny coats blended so well with the hillside.
We left the Land Rover and headed up the hill to get above the deer we intended to stalk. Even though Grant could give me a few years, my urban lifestyle and office work brought my lungs to near bursting. With the gain in height as we climbed the hill the glen took on a new appearance, with Grant pointing out the various features. There was the Ptarmigan Ridge out to the northwest; Meall Corranaich to the south; the old shielings below, a reminder of the glen’s history and the infamous highland clearances; and to the southwest, the mighty Ben Lawyers. Glassing the hill once more, there were more deer to be seen with a fair amount of chasing, as this was the peak of the rut. To me, this is the best of what stalking has to offer: the magnificent highland scenery, the ever changing light as the clouds float by, the roar from a distant stag carried on the wind, and the spectacle of an eagle or a raven soaring high in the sky.
We had stalked for over an hour, reaching the top of the corrie, and were now a little above our stag. Grant walked on, cautiously aware of the one or two smaller stags that were quite close to ours. He stopped all of a sudden, knelt on one knee, and raised his binoculars. As he eyed up the situation I took in the view beneath me, admiring a rainbow that had just formed in the glen.
Suddenly there came a loud roar from in front. Grant turned round and told me that our stag, with his hinds, had moved somewhat further down the hill, and was approachable but for a staggie lying down a couple of hundred yards in front of us. We dropped below the skyline and proceeded to stalk into the deer, carefully avoiding the young stag, which was now about four hundred yards in front of and slightly below us. Listening to the volume of the roar, however, I would have thought we were on top of them. The rifl e was now out of the case. A 100-grain .243 round was quietly chambered into the Mannlicher and the scope caps on the Zeiss were removed. We started to crawl as a hind came into view. The situation was becoming more intense the closer we got.
Reaching a slightly raised grassy hillock, Grant peered over and, after a quick look, ushered me forward. “He’s to the right, about 180 yards away. What do you think?” With my heart beating like a drum I peeped between the stalks of grass – I could now see him close up. He didn’t stand for long, crossing over to a hind that grazed too far away for his liking. “He’s a little too far for me,” I told Grant. He reviewed the situation and carefully wormed his way to a rock a few yards further on, with me in tow. This was much better, and I positioned myself to take the shot with the stag now 150 yards in front of me, standing broadside on. With a good rest and plenty of time, I was confident of the end result. The bullet found its way to the mark, and the stag lurched forward and fell to the ground. At the initial report of the rifle the hinds looked back at the stag, before moving off up the glen. All was not lost of him, however, for some of the hinds will surely be carrying his prodigy among them. Duly bled and gralloched, the hard work began, as we dragged him down the hill to the waiting Land Rover and then on to the larder.
That was my first stalk in Glen Lyon, and was to be the first of many a happy stalking holiday in this glen. Grant has since retired and the new stalker Roddy, who also manages a flock of over 1,000 ewes, has settled in well and learned the lie of the ground with ease. So much so, that in his second year he managed to get me onto my first Royal.
I remember that first in day in the glen as if it was only yesterday. Lonely, perhaps, but for the company of the deer; long yes, for the waiting I have to bear between each visit; but most definitely, to me, the loveliest glen of all.