Loch a’ Chlaidheimh

Loch a’ Chlaidheimh

3 April 2020 0 By Fred Carrie

What does fishing mean to you? Catching your ‘limit’? Catching big fish irrespective of their provenance? Convenience? If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions then Loch a’ Chlaidheimh is probably not for you. However, if you don’t mind a hike, enjoy a bit of peace and quiet, or appreciate finding out a bit about the history of the places you cast a fly then read on.

Loch a’ Chlaidheimh (loch of the sword), is about a 45 minute walk from Rannoch Station, north-west along the route of the West Highland Railway. It is worth remembering, at this point, that it is both dangerous and illegal to walk on a railway line, so stay off the track and don’t even think about attempting to cross the viaduct just outside Rannoch Station! Climb down the steep bank and up the other side.

The loch is stuffed with small, eager trout that rise readily to the fly. This would be a great loch to take someone new to fly fishing as success is pretty much guaranteed. You won’t need waders, especially on the north east bank where the water drops off sharply into the depths. The fish, loads of them, tend to lie close in anyway. Don’t be expecting any glass case specimens here. The fish are small, four or more to the pound, but there are plenty of them and they are as wild as the wind.

Size is not everything.

This is a loch of historical significance. Many centuries ago, Cameron of Lochiel and the Earl of Atholl had a dispute regarding the boundaries of their respective lands and so arranged to meet at this, as yet unnamed, loch to settle the controversy. Beforehand, it was mutually agreed that each should be accompanied by one man only. Lochiel set out from Achnacarry, but had not travelled far when he was met by the Witch of Moy who warned that treachery was afoot. He knew to take heed of the witch and at her suggestion took more men with him. As it transpired Atholl did, in fact, have many men with him and seeing he was outnumbered relented; a deal on the boundaries was struck without bloodshed. As custom dictated, a sword was thrown into the loch to ratify the agreement. From that day on the loch was named Loch a’ Chlaidheimh – loch of the sword in English. A glance at the map will confirm that the current boundary, between Tayside and Highland regions, runs straight through the middle of the loch!

For centuries the sword remained there, until in 1812, it was found in an odd manner. Back in those days there were shielings on the moor, where the highlanders, usually the women and children, would take their livestock in summer, both to exploit the fresh grazing in the upper glens and to free up the land at home for the cultivation of crops. One summer’s day, when children were paddling in the loch, a girl cut her foot on some sharp object. A search was made and the old claymore, rusty and peat-stained, was found. It was taken to Fort William, but when the leading men of the town heard what had happened they decided the claymore must be returned to the loch immediately. It was therefore carried back with fitting ceremony and thrown far out over the waters. There it remains to this day.

The fish may be small, but the history and the setting are immense. Now, honestly, which would you rather catch? A small fish in a fabulous setting where you can feel the history run back over the centuries, or a ½ tame farm animal whose history goes back a few days to a stew pond at a fish farm? To each his own for sure, but I know where I stand!

Even although there is a railway track to follow, don’t even think about venturing out onto this wild, windswept misty moor without a map, compass AND the ability to use them. If the mist comes down suddenly, as it often does, you might think you know where you are, but then again you might not. Better to be safe than sorry and anyway, can you imagine the embarrassment of appearing on the 6 o’clock news being ushered into the back of a rescue landrover? It doesn’t bear thinking about! Make sure someone knows where you are going and when to expect you back.

No permit information is available – most people consider this and many other lochs on the moor as free fishing although this is by no means certain and certainly not claimed to be or encouraged by this writer. If concerned about this enquires should be made locally. In these circumstances one must make one’s own arrangements according to conscience and within the civil law of the land which seems to be, at best, rather vague on this issue.

If you go, respect the rights of others and the environment. Leave only footprints and take only photographs. Above all, please respect the Loch of the Sword and make sure its story never dies.