Stornoway Gazette, 4th June 2009
People from many backgrounds, united by fly fishing and companionship, take turns to tell their stories in a new book just published. The Angler’s Retreat is a legendary guesthouse in South Uist where fishermen gather each evening to tell stories of their exploits – and many a story they have to tell.
Of the book edited by Matthew Crampton and David Peutherer, the publishers say: ‘Some tales may be tall. Many involve mishaps. Some are hilarious, others wistful. Together they offer unexpected insight into fishing, Scottish islands, and how men behave when practising their passion.’
David, a Glaswegian, and Matthew, a Londoner, are regular visitors to The Angler’s Retreat and say they owe their fishing abiliity to the ‘robust instruction’ of proprietor Billy Felton annd owe some of their waistlines to the ‘abundant cooking’ of his wife Marion.
The authors point out that the Feltons have created what many regard as the ideal guesthouse for fishermen- that’s why the same names appear time and again the visitor’s book.
Asks Matthew: ‘What draws the fickle breed of fishermen to this pebble-dashed bungalow in the Western Isles?’
The answer is simple, he says. You can depend on The Angler’s Retreat. ‘Billy and Marion have taken a lot of time to think about what anglers need, and don’t need, then fashioned their hospitality accordingly. Anglers being largely creatures of habit, these needs revolve around straightforward things, like fishing, food and conviviality.’
He says that when it comes to fishing, the guesthouse is well placed at the top end of South Uist, handy for the island and neighbouring Benbecula. ‘A short drive brings you to some of Britain’s finest trout lochs,’ he says, adding: ‘When fishing falters on one loch, you can easily move to another.’
Adds Matthew: ‘Billy’s skill as proprietor is not just to know the local fishing, but to steer his guests appropriately. After breakfast each day, you’ll find him poring over maps with a small knot of anglers – advising where’s best for today’s wind, how to fish each loch, where to drift and where to wade safely – patiently giving suggestions and alternatives until everyone is happy with their itinerary.’
David asks the question: ‘What is it about South Uist and Benbecula that drives so many anglers back there time after time?’
‘For some,’ he says, ‘it is the fishing, which is indeed excellent. But for others, including myself, it is the chance to combine this remarkable fishing with an inspiring and convivial setting.’
‘Quite simply’, he adds, ‘there are few other places, if any, where you can fish for Scotland’s native brown trout by wading, bank and boat fishing, in so many lochs, most easily accessible, with such good prospects of success, and in such a beautiful place with proximity to so much wildlife and history.’
As well as the brown trout, he says: ‘Add the possibility of a salmon, sea trout fishing which some experts rate among the finest in Europe, the fast-changing weather, the companionship of friends, and the hospitality of Marion and Billy Felton – and the result is an experience not just special but, in many ways, unique.’
Billy and Marion arrived in the Western Isles during 1981 when Billy – than a Sergeant Major in the Royal Artillery – was posted to the artillery range on Benbecula. In 1984 they went to live on a croft in Iochdar at the north end of South Uist. On returing from the army in 1995, they converted the house into a guesthouse and established The Angler’s Retreat.
Billy says that the availability of good fishing and shooting on the islands was one of the reasons he was happy to accept a posting to the army range. He tells many tales of fishing on the lochs in South Uist and Benbecula.
‘I have caught so many fish of all sizes that to enjoy fishing now I don’t need to catch anything, let alone anything big. I enjoy helping my guests to catch fish, of course, but my favourite lochs are ones which have other qualities, particularly peace and isolation, and interesting plants, birds and other wildlife,’ says Billy.
The book also contains maps and indexes and includes recommended flies and fly patterns for South Uist. In addition to being a tribute to The Angler’s Retreat guesthouse, the book should be of interest to anyone who enjoys fly fishing for wild fish, especially in the Western Isles.
There is also plenty in the 160 page book for non-anglers – many stories along with historical accounts of fishing in the Western Isles and other insights into life on the islands.