Catching sight of an otter is something most of us treasure. Just a few centuries ago these animals were hunted on the Whiteadder Water. In his book ‘The Gateway of Scotland or East Lothian, Lammermoor and the Merse’ (1912), writer Arthur Granville Bradley (1850-1943) describes an unsuccessful hunt, although arguably successful for the otters themselves.
By the time Bradley was writing about the area, in the early years of the 1900s, otter hunting was already in decline. He describes them as being not unlike fox hunts with packs of dogs. By then he suggests there were probably only six such packs anywhere in Britain.
Bradley describes the owner of once such pack, one of very few in the North, a quiet Edinburgh man who regularly hunted in the Borders. He says he was a ‘lean, wiry, six-foot septuagenarian of prodigious vitality’. He would tour around the Lothian area in the still of the night and the early hours of morning in his hound van, and even sometimes slept in it. Bradley says his sole topic of conversation was ‘hounds and topography, so far as the latter related to the pursuit of otters.’
What struck Bradley most about this man was his pace. He recalls a June morning, setting out from Ellemford at dawn and walking to Chirnside some eight miles away:
‘Here the old gentleman and his hounds were already on the river, and we followed them for many miles up and for many miles down. Two successive otters, I note by the journal, defied the old man, and by the time we got back to our mutton, about three o’clock, I see the distance covered set down by the same author at thirty miles.’
Having walked this unusually long distance by mid-afternoon the pair then went out fishing on the Dye Water for the rest of their day.