Fish, Fauna and Flora
In post war Kinnoir, supplementing the diet with the “fruits” of the forest was commonplace and fishing or trapping rabbits for the pot were considered normal weekend or evening leisure activities by many. The fields, forests and streams of Kinnoir absolutely teemed with small game so the opportunities to enhance the level of protein in the diet were everywhere.
Of course not everyone chose to hunt down live “critters” but the land could yield many bounties either in the form of wild fruits or of cultivated vegetables from the ever present kitchen garden! So either way, the good folks of Kinnoir were well provided for if they chose to put in some effort – as everyone did in those days.
Souce Wikipedia Commons- The Young Poacher by William Helmsley
One of the finest eating fishes in Scottish waters is the Brown Trout and the burns and streams in Kinnoir were home to many. They tended to be small in the burns rarely reaching half a pound in weight but a couple of those fried in a hot pan made a delicious meal.
Catching those small trout was easy enough as they could rarely resist a wriggling worm on a hook and most were caught that way. Even smaller ones often hid under the banks of the stream and, with a bit of practice, you could bring your hands together under the bank until you could feel the trout and then grab them in a method known as “guddling”.
For bigger trout an expedition to the River Deveron was required. The section of the Deveron which flows through Kinnoir was private water but we were under the impression that, as long as we were fishing for trout only, this was quite legal under Scottish Law. (A quick Google search reveals this not to be the case – at least under current law -but there was no Google in those days so we followed the principal that “ignorance is bliss”)
The River Deveron is a highly prized salmon river and the town of Huntly used to issue relatively low cost fishing permits to residents of the town and surrounding area so when it came to salmon fishing, Huntly Water – as it was known- was the place to be. This included stretches of the Deveron, Bogie and Isla all of which regularly yielded good salmon catches.
Fishing permits are still available for the Huntly Water but are slightly more expensive than they were in the 1950s
Guddling for Trout.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Stevenson and his excellent TourScotland Blog
The reason salmon come to the rivers, of course, is to spawn and they will do their level best to return to the patch of river where they themselves hatched into life. Consequently, they can often be found in the tiniest of streams – often not more than a ditch – especially at the end of October. What instinct drives them to access such impossibly small spaces we do not know but year after year they can be found exhausted, half out of the water in the smallest of headwaters but determined to fulfil their reproductive duties.
Of course by the time they reach the headwaters they are no use or human eating but the cat often enjoyed a boost in its diet around that time of year!
Wikepedia Commond - King5
Less attractive than trout or salmon but still plentiful in the streams and burns of Kinnoir are eels. An eel will often take your bait when fishing for trout and, as such, become a nuisance. We used to believe that you would never catch another trout after an eel had been on your hook and the only way to overcome this was to change your tackle. I have no empirical evidence that this is true but then neither have I ever caught a trout after an eel had been on the hook!
Often confused with the eel but smaller and not actually part of the eel family is the lamprey. Lampreys in the streams of Kinnoir are typically about two to six inches long. They hatch in the small streams and live there, often buried in the mud, until they reach adulthood and migrate to the sea. This migration can happen in ones or twos or, occasionally, in shoals of literally thousands depending on the conditions at the time.
Both river eels and lampreys are edible but, compared to the attractive pink flesh of a fresh brown trout, are a less attractive culinary option.
River Eel - Wikipedia Commons
Lamprey- Wikipedia Commons
Attitudes towards hunting and blood sports have changed dramatically over the past sixty years. In Post War Kinnoir, trapping rabbits or shooting pigeons was considered all part of country life. They were both considered pests so reducing the population was seen as a way of protecting the crops as well as a welcome supplement to the human diet which was typically very short of meat.
The coniferous woods that had been planted by the Forestry Commission provided an ideal home for both rabbits and pigeons but both of them liked to stray outside their home patch looking for tasty morsels to eat. For the rabbits, there was nothing finer than sneaking into a vegetable garden late at night and sampling some of the young lettuces and cabbages that were being nurtured there.
Pigeons, on the other hand, rejoiced in descending on a patch of corn (oats) that had been flattened by summer rain and within no time at all stripping all the ears of grain from the flattened stalks.
And, of course, crows were a perennial problem for farmers and there was a steady war against the crow population who, despite constant attention from the farmer, proved very resilient. Consequently, every farm would have a shotgun and many other individuals would keep one as well on the off chance that a pigeon or pheasant would fly close and present itself as an easy target!
Farmers would also display a dead crow here and there as an effective “scarecrow” so the dead crows were strung up and set in the fields to discourage their kin.
Wikipedia Commons - Eric Kilby
Wikipedia Commons - Evelyn Simak
Deer were also often seen in the forests but these were rarely hunted as few country folk had a suitable weapon to shoot a deer.
But lots of other small animals co-existed in the fields and forests including badgers, hares, mice, voles, squirrels, stoats, weasels, foxes, adders, newts, partridges, sea gulls, “peesies” (lapwing) and many others.
Finally, there was the spring ritual of seeking out frog spawn. Each March we would set off into the Mungo wood and find lots of small ponds (some of them quite deep) which were almost covered with frog spawn. Samples of these were captured in the traditional jam jar and carried home to be transferred to an old sink or basin and then watched over daily as they hatched into tadpoles and eventually metamorphosed into small frogs. At this point we let them go but where they went after that we never knew!
Wikipedia Commons - Evelyn Simak
As mentioned earlier almost everyone had a vegetable garden. Country folk relate to the land and to the growing of crops so the vegetable garden was a natural extension of their daily lives. Potatoes, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, green beans, onions, sprouts, leeks, lettuce, parsley, beetroot, gooseberries and strawberries were always popular and all could be grown outdoors without protection. With a cold frame or greenhouse cucumbers, tomatoes and marrows could be grown successfully given a fine summer!
A special mention has to be made of the humble rhubarb plant. It was always the first fresh fruit/vegetable of the year that could be harvested from the garden and was popular for that very reason. Traditionally, the rhubarb plant would be covered with a bucket in early spring to protect it from frosts and to encourage (force?) it on to be available as early as possible!
Wikipedia Commons - Anders Sandberg
As summer progressed a variety of wild plants and fruits became available in the hedgerows, ditches and roadsides. These were picked with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the folks of Kinnoir but as kids growing up we would try almost anything unless it was known to be poisonous.
Wild raspberries, both red and yellow, were very common from July and were picked for jams, jellies and deserts. Later in the year brambles (blackberries) were available especially near the railway lines. Geans (wild black cherries) could also be found from September but these tended to be most prolific on mature trees and very difficult for youngsters to reach. (That did not stop us from trying, though). Blaeberries (blueberries) were less common but could be found in open patches often co-existing with heather higher up the hillsides.
Wikipedia Commons - Mako
Not edible, but very popular were Horse Chestnuts. These were picked from the ground after they fell or encouraged to fall with a judiciously targeted stick thrown as high as possible into the tree. The nuts were then liberated from their husks and dried carefully (and sometimes soaked in vinegar to harden them). The nuts then became renamed “conkers” and were the weapons in the annually popular conker competitions where, with the nuts dangling from the end of a string, the object was to break your opponent’s chestnut while keeping your own damage free.
Incidentally, there were some magnificent examples of horse chestnut trees in Kinnoir, particularly at Loanend Farm. The trees sported beautiful white candle shaped flowers in spring and then developed to produce lots of spiky husks inside which the treasured conkers would mature.
Wikipedia Commons - Johann Addicks
Wikipedia Commons - XcalPab
Wikipedia Commons - Graham Horn
Fungi grew in abundance especially on the shaded forest floors but Toadstools were more prolific than mushrooms and, with so many doubts as to which were poisonous and which were edible, most were left alone!!!
This short story merely scratches the surface of the fantastic variety of trees, bushes, plants and wild flowers that exist in Kinnoir and that only a stroll along the roads and paths in summer can reveal.
Wikipedia Commons - Pannage
Any contributions to this short saga of the bounties of Kinnoir would be very welcome. Please add a comment below in the message box if you have a story or memory you would like to share.