It was with a packed Caddonfoot church and a good number of mourners having to stand outside also, that we said goodbye to Wattie on Wednesday. The large turnout bore testament to the love and respect with which Wattie was held by everyone, with people attending from far and wide to pay their last respects to the man.
Johhny Loch and Stephen Dean have sent us a copy of the appreciation which was read in church. It was a true reflection of Wattie and it is with thanks to them we repeat it here.
We are all here to share and enjoy our memories of Wattie and to support June and the family with stories of how Wattie touched our lives, for it is through these stories that we keep our friends alive in our hearts.
Wattie was born on 12th October 1930 at 11 Bridge Street, Selkirk – a fact he kept secret, as the rumour in those days was that people born on that side of the river were not true “Souters” and thus he always classed himself as “Frae Gala”.
He came to Fairnilee in 1936 after his father moved as keeper from Peel. Wattie did national service with the KOSB and served in Korea in 1952/3. In 1954 while courting June in the kitchen at Fairnilee House, the Deans were at dinner and the 8 year old Stephen was in bed upstairs. Wattie spotted a fox in the yard and fired both barrels at once. Stephen woke, decanters rattled, the fox died and June fell.
Wattie married June in Caddonfoot church on the 13th March 1957. In January of that year, I first met Wattie and got my first telling off from Wattie’s father for shooting a hen on a cock’s only day. For the next 50 years, I was told off by Wattie for missing. Telling’s off by Wattie were always memorable.
Whilst my own time with Wattie was largely out shooting, I suspect that his primary interest and skill was in fishing. During his time here, the fishing developed from a casual license to a highly commercial venture, producing the top catch of 289 salmon and trout in 2010. Fishermen came from far and wide to fish at Fairnilee, not because the fishing was exceptional, reliable or easy but because of the character of Wattie himself.
Year after year, the same people came because it was Wattie who made the Fairnilee experience so unforgettable. His knowledge of the river and where the Salmon lie are now sadly lost. I would argue that there isn’t a Ghillie with more knowledge than Wattie.
His attention to the welfare of his fishing friends prevented him from watching Peter captain Scotland against Zimbabwe even though he was always so very proud of Pete and Mikes achievements on the rugby field. He travelled to Australia to watch Pete play for the British Lions, watched the Scotland Grand Slam in 84, watched Mike’s 1st cap along with following both their successes on the Borders Sevens circuit and one of the proudest moments was when Gala won the Melrose Tournament in 1994 when Mike was captain and Peter was coach.
In the shooting field, Winton Dean encouraged us to achieve the biggest possible bag. Mr Dean was adamant that there were Birds down and had lists of dozens that had been supposedly shot. Wattie was never in agreement with Winton and would always argue that he had in fact picked the bird up on the shoot day…..to counter this Wattie always carried a bird of each sex in his game bag (Unknown to Mr Dean) and these miraculously appeared in the dogs mouth on the Sunday morning after much searching. Particularly when the clock was nearing lunchtime as it was time to go to the Clovenfords pub for a lunchtime Dram.
He once met the famous Naked Rambler as he hiked up the river bank, he was sent quick sharpish from the Fairnilee estate. I can’t tell you what he said as it isn’t politically correct.
You will know that a keeper’s life can be hard and lonely. To make up for these times Wattie occasionally sought company. On one such occasion, he was sitting in a Landrover with Bob Cummings, waiting for foxes. A wiring fault started a small fire in the dashboard. Bob grabbed a bottle of water and was about to douse the flames when Wattie stopped him because that water was for the whisky.
Wattie had a large circle of loyal friends as this gathering indicates. However, it may be that one or two of these friends may have on occasion led Wattie away from sober reflection. Loyalty prevents me from telling you any stories in this category.
Because Wattie worked all hours he had little time for himself. However, on Sunday mornings he encouraged the footballers in Clovenfords and for the 30 years that the civic week ran, Wattie organised the clay pigeon shoot.
Wattie will always remain for me one of nature’s gentlemen and above all one of its greatest characters. Largely self-taught, he was a mine of country knowledge. An enthusiast in many fields, highly sociable and (he would hate me for saying this) charming. He loved his job and deep down he loved Fairnilee, the estate, the people, the river, everything about it….this was his life!
I wonder whether he has been taken from us now because the almighty has a bit of a fox problem.