Every morning Isaac "Spike" Dixon would leave his pebble dash flat at 9.10am to catch a lift up to the farms above Egremont.
A tall, lanky figure, Mr Dixon was a shy man who said little to strangers. But to the farmers in this part of West Cumbria, the 65-year-old was a godsend, a man who would rid their fields of moles.
"They contaminate the soil and damage the machinery. Spike would get rid of them with traps. He was always helping," explained the farmer John Wilson.
While it might sound quirky to many, being a "mowdy" catcher, as they call them in Cumbria, came naturally to a boy who had grown up in the fells working on his father's farm along with his two brothers and two sisters.
"As children we just played among the fields and helped out on the farm with the cows, pigs and hens. There was this fella who would come round all the farms and he would line the mole carcasses up on the wire fence so we knew how much to pay him," explained his sister Margaret Earl, 72. Not that Mr Dixon charged: apart from the odd gift his services were free, even to the local town council where he helped keep the cemetery tidy.
After a few hours' work he would head home over the fields and reappear back in Egremont, waving at his neighbours as he walked up the path. Checking on his chickens, all of which he had named, he would take eggs around to friends and offer to do odd jobs, often walking their dogs out in the fields.
"I couldn't have asked for a better neighbour if I had hand-picked him. He would change my electrical bulbs. When he cut his lawn, he would cut mine. When he washed the windows, he would do mine. I never had to ask. He was always stopping by to help," said a 78-year-old lady. "He was special to me. He was special to everyone around here."
Sometimes in the evening he would head down to the local Conservative Club, where yesterday the flag was flying at half mast.
"He would stand on the door and take entrance fees on big nights, wash windows or clean the tables. Tonight he was supposed to be washing glasses at an 18th birthday party," explained the club's chairman, Ned Doran. "Once we had a blocked drain and you have never seen anything like it – he was down there like a ferret. He would do anything to help."
"He never drank, just soda water. He was very quietly spoken. When he first came he never said a word, not until he got to know us," explained Mr Doran's wife Georgina. "But he loved country and western and used to come down for those nights. If you talked to him he would always turn the conversation around to country and western."
Only recently he had hosted just such a music night to raise a £1,000 for Help for Heroes, a charity he had chosen because his girlfriend Pat Shaw's grandson was a soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan.
He was just seven when his father moved him, Margaret, Jean, Thomas and Dennis – who died a few years ago – from near Carlisle to a farm in the shadow of Sellafield Power Plant. When he left the local country school at 15, he started off as a farmer before working on the roads for the former county council, where he met the man who would eventually end his life, Derrick Bird.
"They actually knew each from the council but that is not the reason it happened. He would not have recognised him after so many years," said Mrs Earl.
The two men also worked at Sellafield at the same time. Mr Dixon dedicated 31 years of his life from 1971 to the plant, as a process worker.
"He was always a good worker when we were at Sellafield. Everything he did, he put his heart and soul into it," explained Mr Doran.
He married and had two sons, Martin, now 41, and Wayne, but later divorced. It was to prove a devastating blow for him and led to periods of deep depression. To this day, friends said, the relationship with that side of his family was strained and he was not invited to Wayne's wedding nor had had the chance even to meet his sixth grandchild, born just weeks ago.
After he moved to Egremont, he met his girlfriend Pat Shaw, 63, who described him as a "warm and funny man", on holiday in Ireland and discovered she too was from Cumbria. It was to prove a happy turning point in his life, his sister explained.
"Once he settled in Egremont, he made lots of friends, and he was a different person when he met Pat. They would go on holiday to Canada and Ireland."
He loved to take long walks or bicycle around the fells and in the woods and, despite "eating like a horse", was always thin, a fact that earned him his nickname.
"Spike enjoyed going away for 'turkey and tinsel' weekends with Pat and they could often be found around Egremont, Country and Western dancing. Spike was a very meticulous person – everything had to have its place and had to be just so. When he was younger he was an active member of the Eskdale and Ennerdale hunt and had recently been involved in collecting for the Help for Heroes charity around his town," his family said yesterday.
All that would end at 11.02am on Wednesday as he walked home from Haile down the quiet country lanes after a spot of mole catching. As he chatted to a farmer, Bird shot and killed him.
At that idyllic spot yesterday, friends had left flowers, which paid tribute to a "country gentleman". One read: "Such a sweet man". Someone had even left a small mole caught in a trap.
The family had not decided where to scatter his ashes, Mrs Earl explained, before adding with a smile: "It should be somewhere up on the fells with the moles."Reuse content