Fishing Lines: What's 24 miles long and hard to wrap?

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The Independent Online

The worst Christmas present I ever received was a shoe-cleaning set. Romance never really went a lot further after that deep token of devotion. But over the years, many other less-than-memorable ones have hidden beneath the paper robins: a crossword book, a calendar of British trees, a saucepan and even two sugar mice (nicely wrapped, too) from a mad relative.

Is it really that hard to buy presents for a fisherman? Angling, after all, has more accessories than all other sports put together. But talking to fellow fishers, it seems the gift issue baffles everyone who is not of the piscatorial persuasion.

So for all wives, girlfriends, doting parents and lovers, let me suggest just the thing for those who would like to give something memorable and lasting this Christmas: a complete river.

I'll admit that the Thurso is a bit remote. It's in Caithness, which, if your geography is a little wobbly, is John O'Groats country. More sheep than people up there, so there's no need to leap out of bed at dawn to bag the best spots. You won't have it quite to yourself - a quarter-share is up for grabs - but with more than 24 miles of river to fish, there's every chance you won't see another person all day.

The Thurso isn't as good as it used to be. According to Jock Scott in Game Fish Records (1936), a total of 2,560 salmon were netted in one day from the Cruive pool in 1736. The first Viscount Thurso holds the river record, with 21 salmon in a day between midday and 7pm, when he had to go home for tea.

The golden days of the last century will probably never be repeated, such as the 1927 haul, when 2,245 salmon were captured. But the Thurso is still very good. A total of 1,075 salmon were landed in 2004. That's pretty spectacular for a small river where even duff casters can chuck a line to the opposite bank. And it produces salmon right from the start of the season on 11 January to the end, 5 October.

What makes the river unique is that it is entirely in the hands of one owner, Lord Thurso. The Sinclairs of Ulbster have held it since 1704, courtesy of a royal charter ("Thanks for the help. Have a river"). Quite why Lord Thurso lets others on his private river, I don't know. Perhaps he's just a generous chap. Perhaps he just doesn't like salmon. Best not to question his altruism. Why, the lease even gives you netting rights, though these are suspended for the next five years. More fish for the anglers that way.

The rights come with the chance to build your own fishing lodge, though we're not talking a hut with a kettle here. Drawings in the prospectus show a suggested lodge that is grander than most people's homes. It has six bedrooms, a housekeeper's room and dining hall. Clearly Lord Thurso's idea of one step up from a gardening shed.

On the downside, the asking price is "offers in excess of £800,000", with the site for that fishing "lodge" costing another £50,000. Then again, you can share the 99-year lease with five friends. Now that's what I call a Christmas present.

Details from Savills: 01356 628 600