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Solway Revisited
Eric Begbie returns after an absence of more than 20 years

There are probably two British fowling grounds that feature more than most in the annals of the sport. In England the Wash must hold pride of place while north of the border in Scotland, Solway’s shore was for many years the pre-eminent destination for visiting wildfowlers. 

It had been more than 20 years since my wadered feet last trod the merse of Dumfriesshire but, growing discontent with the familiarity of Scotia’s east-coast estuaries, I decided to make a return visit this season to renew an acquaintance with the Pinkfooted geese of the Solway. 

In the ways of bygone years I should, I suppose, have simply set off and engaged upon a “do-it-yourself” expedition. That would certainly have accorded with the traditions of the sport and replicated many visits I made in the 60s and 70s. On the other hand, there seemed to be some merit in using a resident Solway guide, not least because the normal access arrangements are somewhat disrupted by Foot and Mouth precautions. Using a guide also makes it easier to enjoy the fellowship of other fowlers and quickly get up-to-date with local knowledge. 

In the event, I was attracted by the “all-in” package offered by BASC-registered guide Gavin Hunt. Three nights of dinner, bed and breakfast at his very comfortable “Wild Tides” guest house, three morning goose flights, a couple of evening flights, a “mini” driven pheasant day and a day’s roughshooting seemed exceptionally good value for a price of £325. Even at that figure I was not expecting the supremely comfortable accommodation or the terrific meals that were provided. 

My overall impression of the wildfowling was better than expected. It is clear that the Solway Wildfowlers Association is doing a good job in terms of policing the marsh and, although there was some out of range shooting, it was far less prevalent than I remembered from previous visits. 

The situation of the Solway between Powfoot and the Caerlaverock reserve boundary is that, in common with most of Scotland, there is unrestricted public shooting on the foreshore. It is worth mentioning that, because of the Scottish definition of foreshore, this includes substantial portions of the green merse that are covered by ordinary spring tides. It certainly includes the creeks that wind into the merse and are filled with water at high tide. 

Where the local Association exerts a welcome element of influence is in controlling the accesses to the merse. By arrangement with several local farmers and landowners, they effectively restrict access to permit-holders or clients of their accredited guides. This may seem anathema to old-time fowlers but it has undoubtedly led to a better standard of conduct on the foreshore. 

What about the wildfowling? Well, it has to be said that there were many more pinks around than I had anticipated. Maybe not so many as in the Solway’s halcyon years but a big improvement on the trough of the 90s. There are also plenty of protected barnacle geese around but they are sufficiently distinctive to prevent identification errors. There are also a fair number of Canada geese to add some variety. 

That said, it is no easier to get under the flightline than I remembered from bygone years. With several miles of shoreline from which to choose, the geese still have an uncanny knack of getting past the Guns. On every morning I was out, one or two wildfowlers were lucky enough to be in the right place but I guess that to play the averages, one might reasonably expect a shot once in every five or six visits. In that respect, not much has changed. 



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