River where salmon cost pounds 8,000 each

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THE WEIRD and wonderful world of Highland sporting economics was highlighted this week when 1.65 miles of fishing on the River Spey went on the market. Offers of more than pounds 600,000 are invited, putting a value of more than pounds 8,000 on each of the 75 salmon caught in the stretch in an average year.

The beat, including a traditional angler's hut, is being sold by James Dunbar and his sister, whose family have owned it since 1928.

The secluded Spey beat is being described as a "fisherman's dream come true". But there is also a more ambitious pitch in which the fishing becomes a tasty complement to a neighbouring sporting estate looking for a would- be laird with pounds 7m to spend. The joint Revack and Dorback estates, totalling 28,300 acres on the edge of the Cairngorm mountains, have been put on the market by Lady Pauline Ogilvie-Grant Nicholson after being in her family for 800 years.

The twin estates have a deer forest and grouse moors where on average 1,100 brace are shot each season, as well as lowland pheasant shooting, 15 tenanted farms, a garden centre and a 12-bedroom lodge. But though the estates are close to the Spey they lack its prime salmon fishing and in recent years have rented the beat now on the market.

John Bound, of selling agents Finlayson and Hughes, Inverness, sees a great opportunity for someone to complete the sporting package. "As a piece of a jigsaw it could turn Revack and Dorback into an all-round sporting estate rivalled by few," he said.

The Spey is arguably the finest salmon river in Britain and the Kincardine Beat, as it is called, provides a mix of classic fly water pools and fast running streams for up to five rods. Its banks are lined with willow and alder, backed by rolling pasture and birch woods with the Cairngorms beyond. The biggest fish caught was a 33lb salmon from the deep Kinchurdy pool, one of 19 named pools on the beat, in 1978.

But catches on the Spey have fallen, as they have throughout Scotland, and the pounds 600,000 asking price can be represented as steep, or competitive, depending on the years considered. The average number of salmon and grisle (young salmon yet to spawn) caught over the past five years is 75, but this year the figure was down to 47. Dividing price by catch, the beat can be valued at between pounds 8,000 and pounds 12,765 per fish. "Anything over pounds 10,000 would be on the steep side," said one experienced salmon angler. Mr Bound said this year's low return was partly due to the death of the beat's experienced ghillie. Sea trout returns averaged 109 for the past five years but were down this season, also to 47.

Revack and Dorback is the first big estate to come on the market in the new climate of land reform. Though it is not a candidate for any community "buy-out", there have been suggestions the 8,500 acres of "in-hand" land - farmed by the estate rather than tenanted - could be sub-divided into small-holdings for new entrants to agriculture. The estate could also fall within the proposed national park for the Cairngorms.

Any new owner is unlikely to be as colourful as Lady Pauline, dubbed "Scotland's Lady Chatterley" when she confessed to an affair with her gamekeeper, Jamie Gordon, in 1982.

The four-times-married sister of the Earl of Seafield has lived at Revack since 1969. She and her husband David Nicholson, a former hotelier, opened their gardens to the public and built the biggest orchid-growing business in Scotland.

Selling Revack was said to be "heart breaking" for the 54-year-old aristocrat, but after a battle against breast cancer she and Mr Nicholson are bound for a new life on Tobago in the West Indies.