By Linda Mellor

St Andrews-based deepwater marine archaeologist, Neil Cunningham Dobson, turned 60 in July and wanted to mark his milestone year by doing something different. 
He had spent a lifetime at sea and enjoyed being one of the main characters on the Discovery Channel show, “Treasure Quest”. 
After seeing his son go salmon fishing on the River Tay, he wondered if a new hobby, like fishing, would be the thing he was needed. 
Neil said: “All sailors come ashore at some point. I wanted to start winding down on sea adventures and rekindle my childhood love of the countryside.”
When Neil was growing up, he enjoyed hill walking, orienteering and camping holidays with his parents in the Lake District but a busy career at sea meant he was frequently on a ship in some far away place with no opportunity to explore the outdoors. After a little research, he found many activities interested him so he decided he would like to try out as many countryside sports as possible.
Firstly, he had to get himself kitted out with some appropriate countryside clothing and footwear as friends had told him he would need to replace his bright yellow fisherman’s wellies as they would not blend in too well. 
“Most of my outdoor gear was grey, black or blue and what you wear at sea does not work in the countryside,” said Neil, laughing. After a trip to Fife Country, in Strathmiglo, his countryside wardrobe began to take shape with the addition of a green outdoor coat and a pair of green wellies. 
His first fishing trip was a day’s fly fishing at the scenic Tinto Trout Fishery in the Clyde Valley. Experienced angler and fishery owner, Munro Reid, started Neil casting on grass and perfecting his technique. In less than two hours he was out on the loch unaided. 
“I enjoyed it, and managed to grasp the basics of fly fishing on still water where you had to ‘match the hatch’. It was interesting watching the water for fish rising and casting your fly over them. Thankfully, I also avoided getting the hook stuck in my ear!” 
Neil’s next fishing experience was on the River Nith to fish the beats on the Drumlanrig Estate. River manager, Erin Hunter, guided him and quickly had him casting out across the river with confidence.
 “Casting with a two-handed fly rod was different and a challenge, but I got into it. The Nith was my first salmon and sea trout river and what a beautiful river it is. The access into the river was good, and it was an excellent place to learn. I had a real sense of being out in the countryside.
“On my birthday I wanted to do something very different, so I went ice-climbing at the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven and found I was the oldest one there.” 
The following day, one of the hottest of the summer, Neil went shore fishing on Loch Leven followed by boat fishing on Loch Linnhe, catching mackerel with Kevin Purvis of the Tools and Tackle fishing shop in Ballachulish. Kevin supplied the rods and knew all the best spots to fish.
“It was an experience to fish surrounded by the stunning scenery of Glencoe on the horizon. It was also thought-provoking to be back in the area because it is where I started my deepwater marine archaeology career and did my ROV (remotely operated vehicle) training at Fort William in 2000.”  
Later that day, Neil experienced getting close and observing a small herd of red deer on the steep sides of the glen.
In August, he visited Moy Fieldsports Fair. “It was my first experience of a Game Fair, and I was surprised by the diversity on display. I had the opportunity to shoot some targets with an air rifle and found I was not too bad. The entire day was great fun; everyone was welcoming and friendly.”
Keen to progress his shooting, Neil joined SACS (Scottish Association for Country Sports), bought himself an air gun and visited Cloybank Phoenix Air Rifle and Pistol Club at Banknock. Davie Scott helped Neil set up his rifle sights then took him out to the HFT (Hunter Field Target) course to take a few shots with Davie’s Hammerli AR20 FT.  
Neil said: “It was good to be in a safe shooting environment and shoot many different targets including some on the HFT course. There really should be more ranges like Cloybank as they give people a chance to try out air rifles safely and they encourage responsibility.”
Much closer to home, local anglers Graham and Fiona Guest, introduced Neil to the River Eden, near Dairsie Castle, Fife. Fiona caught a 16lb salmon on the river during a previous season. 
The narrow and tree-lined river is local to Neil, but he had never fished it. 
“It was interesting being out on the river only a few miles from home. Graham taught me how to master the ‘Eden Flick’ (a local technique designed to get your lure moving without getting caught up in the trees).  Fiona and Graham were very helpful in showing me the best places to fish and great company on the river.” 
“My 60th year has been a memorable one. I have fished a loch, river and the sea, shot air-rifles and attended my first game fair. All the experiences brought back memories of when I was a small boy. There’s a genuine warmth from everyone I have met involved in country sports. People have been so welcoming and generous in sharing their knowledge and showing me there are no barriers to age or lack of experience. 
“I have benefited from being outdoors in many ways and it has taken me away from the stresses of work.”
I asked Neil what was next. He replied: “Getting to grips with a shotgun, falconry and deer stalking, oh, and I would love to do a countryside TV show!”