I was delighted to receive a copy of A Speyside Odyssey by Norman Matheson and having read it this week, I have a deeper respect for a fish that I have eaten all my life and its incredible life cycle.
About A Speyside Odyssey
Filled with beautiful illustrations, “A Speyside Odyssey” details the fascinating life story of the Atlantic Salmon as it undertakes one of the most remarkable, and most deadly, journeys in nature.
The story begins with conception in a remote highland burn, and follows the hazardous journey the salmon take through small tributaries, to the River Spey, and from the estuary on to distant oceanic feeding grounds.
After gorging for one or more years on the prolific food sources of the North Atlantic, the odyssey draws to its conclusion as, with remarkable accuracy, the salmon complete the long journey home, to spawn in the burn of their origin.
The salmon’s life-cycle provides a unique background for a natural history of Speyside. As the year unfolds, the changing topography of the landscape and river, the details of bird and animal life, wild flowers and salmon fishing lore are brought to life in words and beautiful watercolour illustrations.
“A Speyside Odyssey” is an emotive celebration of natural history in a breathtaking and captivatingly beautiful area of north-east Scotland.
The book took Mr Matheson almost three years to write, and he also delicately painted more than 40 watercolour illustrations of sea creatures, birds, wildlife, natural flowers and, of course, the Atlantic Salmon to illustrate it.
Profits from the book’s sale will go to the Atlantic Salmon Trust.
My review for the book July 24th 2021
Salmon is a fish that many of us enjoy eating, but unless you live near to one of the salmon rivers of Scotland, Ireland or North America, it is likely to be commercially farmed fish. A different taste completely.
Packaged on the shelves of the supermarket in convenient fillets, does not promote an appreciation or respect for the Salmon and its arduous life cycle. A perspective that is common to all the meat, fish and poultry that millions buy each day, distanced from the process that is required to put food on to our tables.
Norman Matheson has not just created a beautifully illustrated guide to the life cycle of the wild salmon in the rivers of the Scottish Highlands, but has shared his deep respect for the fish and the deep rooted instinct that drives it to return to its place of origin to reproduce.
From the moment a hen fish swishes her tail and deposits thousands of eggs in the gravel of a pool created in the river as it rushes towards the sea, there is danger that will reduce the numbers dramatically that survive to adulthood. It will be two or three years before the salmon parr is mature enough to make the long and dangerous journey to the sea, and during those years they continuously fall prey to brown trout and predatory birds.
Eventually as smolts they head down the 100 kilometres to the sea, still only around 15 cms long, but now transformed with a bright silvery sheen, as they prepare to move from their fresh water environment to the salt of the sea. From there they will travel north to the rich feeding grounds, sometimes travelling thousands of miles to the Faroes, Greenland and beyond. The small percentage that make it to those feeding grounds will face a new danger.. fishing trawlers.
When fat and sleek the salmon return to their home rivers to spawn, enduring sometimes months of navigating falling water levels, changes in temperature, anglers and otters.
Running parallel to the life-cycle of the fish, and in particular the story of a hen salmon’s return to the gravelled pool to lay her eggs, are wonderful illustrations and observations of the other fauna and flora that adorn and grace the Scottish Highlands throughout the year.
These observations, along with the imparted wisdom from a lifetime of salmon fishing these rivers, and a love and respect for the natural environment, creates an incredible and beautiful book. The author’s words flow as clear and smoothly as the water down to the sea and his artwork is spectacular.
Also by Norman Matheson
About the book
This book by Norman Matheson follows on as a companion volume to his highly regarded A Speyside Odyssey (Matador 2019). It is a compilation of eleven autobiographical short stories. These stories begin with the author’s childhood wartime experiences of life on a small farm in upper Speyside. The description of the rather harsh existence, with utilities limited to a trickle of cold water, is relieved by pervading humour, brought to life by the author’s numerous cartoons, which enliven and enrich the visual attraction of the whole book
Picture by Jim Irvine 10-1-20 – Press and Journal UK
About Norman Matheson by editor Alison Williams
I began working with Norman Matheson in 2018 when he contacted me regarding a book he was writing about the fascinating and dangerous journey of the Atlantic Salmon – ‘A Speyside Odyssey’. I was so impressed by the manuscript and the illustrations, and knew the book, and the author, were very special – not least because he is eighty-eight.
Working with Norman, I came to know what a fascinating and talented man he is. A retired consultant surgeon, with many years of working in the NHS behind him, he was awarded an MBE for his involvement in an art project at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary aimed at making the hospital a more welcoming and relaxing place for patients and visitors.
He has also been a keen supporter of the Ballater Highland Games, receiving an award from Prince Charles to mark 45 years of continuous service as a piping judge.
Both books are absolutely beautiful, and testaments to this very special gentlemen, who is an absolute pleasure to work with, and to know.
If you would like to listen to this review
Thank you for dropping in today and I hope you have enjoyed my review… It is also in audio on my podcast on Soundcloud.