Fly Fishers' Republic

Leaping to Freedom

July 25, 2006

by Bruce Sandison

Leaping to Freedom

Scotsmen easily jump vast distances. Our ankles are like coiled springs, the result of centuries of practice avoiding our enemies, and we wear the kilt because it gives our shanks freedom of movement in dangerous situations. Unlike loin-strangling breeches, the free-flowing kilt allows us to hurl ourselves unhindered over cavernous ravines. As our pursuers gape helplessly in awe at the sight of our manly nether regions in full flight, we escape by leaping the void.

The most famous ‘leaps’ are tourist attractions: Randolph’s Leap over the River Findhorn near Relugas in Morayshire; the Soldier’s Leap across the River Garry at Killiecrankie to the north of Pitlochry; and Macgregor’s Leap over the River Lyon in Glen Lyon, a mile up the glen from the village of Fortingall ‘the fort of the strangers’.  Visiting these chasms, I am astonished that anyone should have dared to jump them. But I suppose it’s amazing what being pursued by a bayonet can make one do.

My wife Ann and I pondered these matters a few years ago as we stood on the edge of Macgregor’s Leap, wisped by damp spray from the peat-stained river. “Listen,” I said, “why don’t you have a go? I’ll get down to the water’s edge, count to three, then you jump and I’ll take a photograph. It will make a great shot.” Of answer came there none, but I clambered down anyway. From below, the leap looked even more daunting, an empty space arched over a raging torrent, an invitation to disaster.

Find the River Lyon on OS Map 51, Loch Tay, second series, Scale 1:50,000. Macgregor’s Leap is at Grid Ref: 727476. There is no signpost but the location is obvious. Park off the road on the grass verge and follow the sound of the stream to find the north side of the Leap.

Glen Lyon is the heartland of Clan Gregor and they were known as ‘the children of the mist’; so-called because of their astonishing ability to nip out of said mist to remove anything not securely nailed down and then disappear back faster than anyone could mutter ‘mayhem’.

In 1603 James VI, safely ensconced on the throne of England, decided to sort out his ‘misty’ children once and for all. An Act was passed authorising: ‘the extermination of that wicked, unhappy race of lawless lymmaris, callit the MacGregor.’ The clan was hunted like animals; men summarily shot, women branded and their children sold off as slaves and cattle boys to Lowland and Irish farmers.

In the fourteenth century the inhabitants of Glen Lyon were even less fortunate: the Black Death, bubonic plague, killed them all. They lie buried at Fortingall where a tall stone in a field marks their resting place. Close by in the churchyard, is the 3,000-year-old Yew tree, reputed to be the most ancient tree in Europe, alive and well when Pontius Pilate was allegedly born at Fortingall.

The River Lyon is born as the Alit Mhic Bhaidein burn on the west shoulder of Creag Mhor (1032m) to the north of Tyndrum in Argyll. The head-waters of the stream have been impounded for hydro­electric power generation purposes, thus forming Loch Lyon. After leaving Loch Lyon, the river flows east down Glen Lyon for a distance of some 30 miles before joining the Tay 2 miles downstream from the village of Kenmore.

Fewer salmon are taken now than in pre-hydro-electric days, but the river can still produce salmon of up to and over 201b in weight. The Lyon is also noted as a brown trout fishery. The best of the salmon fishing is in the first 6 miles of the stream. Salmon are held in the lower river by the steep-sided, wooded gorge above Fortingall which acts as a temperature pool. Salmon rarely reach the upper beats until April, and, depending upon the severity of the winter, sometimes not until May.

There are 60 pools on the river, many of them named by Peter Dewer (of Dewer’s Whisky) who fished the river during the middle years of the last century. Some of the most productive are: Junction Pool, Limekilns, Suspension Bridge Pool, Peter’s Pool, Weaver’s Pool (near MacGregor’s Leap), Rock Pool, Invervar Bridge Pool, Still Waters, Roro Bridge Pool, Lower Wall and Wall Pool.

The river can be com­fortably fished from the bank. When fishing Platform Pool it is helpful to have a fellow angler “spot” the fish for you from the opposite bank. The wooden platform that gives the pool its name is unsafe and should be avoided. The upper river, Chesthill, Invervar, Innerwick and Meggerine, is easily covered using a l2ft rod, and, in low water conditions a trout rod would be more appropriate. Contact the Fortingall Hotel (tel: 01887 830319) for further information.

The river was in full spate when we visited and the peat-stained flood reminded me of the golden glow that radiates from a glass sparkling with uisge-beatha, the water of life, and of a famous story about Tommy Dewar when visiting America to promote the Dewar brand. At a prestigious gathering of the great and good, Tommy was introduced to “Mrs Porter-Porter, with a hyphen,” to which he responded, “And my name is Dewar Dewar, with a siphon.”

As we turned to leave Macgregor’s Leap and the white-foamed river, Ann stopped and said to me: ‘if you are so keen to see someone perform that long-jump, why don’t you do it? Not scared are we?’  “Not at all,” I lied. “Under other circumstances I wouldn’t hesitate” ‘So why not today then?’ she asked. “I should have thought that was obvious,” I retorted, “I am not wearing the kilt.”