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The History of a “MacNab”

February 14, 2018

Many people believe that John MacNab actually existed. However John Macnab is actually a novel by John Buchan (also author of The Thirty Nine Steps), published in 1925.

The story is based around three successful, but bored friends, in their mid-forties who decide to turn to poaching. They are Sir Edward Leithen, lawyer, Tory Member of Parliament (MP), and ex-Attorney General; John Palliser-Yeates, banker and sportsman; and Charles, Earl of Lamancha, former adventurer and Tory Cabinet Minister. Under the collective name of ‘John Macnab’, they set up in the Highland home of Sir Archie Roylance, a disabled war hero who wishes to be a Conservative MP.

They issue a challenge to three of Roylance’s neighbours: first the Radens, who are an old-established family, about to die out; next, the Bandicotts: an American archaeologist and his son, who are renting a grand estate for the summer; and lastly the Claybodys, vulgar, bekilted nouveaux riches. These neighbours are forewarned that ‘John Macnab’ will poach a salmon or a stag from their land and return it to them undetected. The outcome is that the men’s boredom is dispelled with the assistance of helpers (including a homeless waif, ‘Fish Benjie’ and an athletic journalist, Crossby), and Archie Roylance marries Janet Raden, daughter of the grandee.

The three champions are consummate sportsmen, essential when engaging in enemy territory. Palliser-Yeates is an excellent shot, having stalked nearly every forest in Scotland. Leithen is an artist on the river, and Lamancha no mean shot himself. Leithen’s straight delicate casts and skill with the fly are vindicated as he is the only one of the allies who brings off John Macnab’s dare!

The novel is derived from the real-life derring-do of Captain James Brander Dunbar. In a letter to The Field of 17 November, 1951 he clarified just what had given Buchan the idea. A dearth of shooting invitations and the assertion that he could kill a beast in any forest in Scotland was duly challenged by Lord Abinger. A .303 carbine rifle hidden inside a golf bag was his only attempt at mustering a semblance of stealth. After two blank mornings and on the verge of chucking in he took a six-pointer in the Iverlochy Forest (not quite a match for the Earl of Lamancha’s 13-pointer). He evaded pursuit by crossing the River Spean and carried off the head and neck ready for mounting. Presenting himself at the castle in the afternoon he received a cheque made payable to J. B-D., POACHER. After the book was published Buchan wrote to Brander apologising for failing to get his permission to use the story, but his vim was a great hook for the tale.

Today the competitive spirit outranks boredom as the driving factor for those taking to the hills in pursuit of the accepted modern version of a Macnab. It pits skill and endurance against the clock and unpredictable quarry. Anyone can stand in the line and crumple a stately pheasant, but to take three species in one day requires another type of expertise altogether – and good fortune if a stag, salmon and brace of grouse are to be taken within 24 hours. Perhaps a little less thrilling than Buchan’s original, it’s still a sporting feat that can delight the most jaded sportsman. Many sporting lodges offer the chance to notch up the Highland triple in return for an appropriately serious certificate and sporting satisfaction.

Today a “MacNab” can (legally) be achieved on many of George Goldsmith’s sporting estates … We would heartily encourage everyone to have a go!

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Executive Retreat and Corporate Hospitality

With the stresses and strains of modern day working it is becoming more important to take time out with your team and build on your working relationship. It is proven that the best way to increase your team’s camaraderie, engage productive relationships and improve communication and cooperation is to get out of the office.

What could be better than getting out of the office for a couple of days, or a long weekend, and spending it outside in stunning surroundings miles away from the hustle and bustle  of modern day living. Scotland has always had the enviable reputation of having the best salmon fishing, challenging walks and the tastiest larder! Why not do something that little bit different and more memorable than simply a round of golf, or an outing to a rugby international.

Combining a day’s team building with a couple of nights at one of our beautiful sporting lodges and being catered for by their chef using the best local produce would be a talking point at your team meetings for months to come! We can tailor-make a package according to your groups’ requirements.

For example combine a day’s fishing on the River Spey followed by a tutored Malt Whisky Tasting in the comfort of your lodge.  Alternatively try your hand at clay pigeon shooting or a “mock stalk” with your camera out on the hill  to get shots of red deer, black or red grouse, or mountain hares – you might even see a Golden Eagle. Whisky tasting, poetry reading, or you could host your own Mini Highland Games or a cruise on Loch Ness followed by an overnight stay in a Castle! The opportunities and options are limitless. We work with some of Scotland’s top sporting estates, handpicked by us for their excellent reputation, hospitable welcome and experienced staff, to ensure your stay is nothing short of a memorable experience.

There are excellent air links between Stornoway, Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and the London Airports so transporting your team couldn’t easier. We can even assist with organising 4WD hire, chefs and entertainment.

Why not speak to us and talk about an event with a difference.

New Properties & Estates for the 2018 season!

We are now busy with bookings for the 2018 season.   We have added some new properties and estates to the website for the coming year including some delightful salmon fishing on the north west of Scotland.  All these new properties and estates can be viewed on the website or better still discussed with us personally.  Do call us on 0131 476 6500.


Open Seasons – Salmon Rivers

Alness / Ayr / Baldnock / Broom / Deveron / Dionard / Don / Ewe / Forss / Inver / Kirkaig / Laxford / Shiel11 Feb – 31 Oct
Annan25 Feb – 15 Nov
Awe / Beauly / Orchy 11 Feb – 15 Oct
Borgie12 Jan – 31 Oct
Brora1 Feb – 15 Oct
Conon26 Jan – 30 Sep
Cree1 Mar – 14 Oct
Dee1 Feb – 30 Sep
Echaig1 May – 31 Oct
Earn / Esk (Border) / Gruinard / Teith 1 Feb – 31 Oct
Esk (north & south)16 Feb – 31 Oct
Findhorn / Oykel / Shin / Cassley11 Feb – 30 Sep
Carron / Spey11 Feb – 30 Sep
Grimersta1 Jun – 30 Sep
Halladale / Naver12 Jan – 30 Sep
Helmsdale11 Jan – 30 Sep
Laggan / Luce / Stinchar25 Feb – 31 Oct
Lyon15 Jan – 15 Oct
Nairn11 Feb – 7 Oct
Ness15 Jan – 15 Oct
Nith / Cairn25 Feb – 30 Nov
Strathy12 Jan – 30 Sep
Tay15 Jan – 15 Oct
Thurso11 Jan – 5 Oct
Teviot / Tweed / Wick11 Feb – 30 Nov

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