William Peake, a English ghillie in Scotland

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During our stay, we met William. He is English but lives in Scotland where he is a salmon fisherman. 

He decided to come and live in the middle of nowhere, also known as Aberdeenshire, because he was searching for a sporty and wild lifestyle: fishing or hunting, it is way easier here according to him. He has even managed to make his passion his job, isn’t that wonderful? William is a ghillie… A ghillie you say? What?

Traditionally, in Britain, noble’s family possessed a castle and a wide land that would include the surrounding villages. That’s what we call an estate. Those who watch Downton Abbey are familiar with the term. A ghillie or a gillie was then the word used to designate the person who would accompany the land owners and his guests during sporting activities, like fishing or hunting.

Today, anyone can go hunting or fishing on the estate, in exchange for a certain amount of money. Scotland is well known worldwide for that. Some people are ready to pay more to get these guides but also to practice their sport in a preserved but tame nature. William and his colleagues are in charge of the maintenance of property. They handle between 2 and 5 miles of riverbank, that’s about 3 to 8 km.

« I asked a guest once, he described to me the role of a ghillie as a fisherman’s companion which I thought was a quite good analogy for a ghillie. We are their friends but then we are there to help at the same time. »

William’s work is mostly to know the river so he can guide the fishermen and give them more chances to catch fish.

« You got to think that the river is not like a lake, it’s not like the sea, it’s not like a pond, the river is a living thing. It’s moving, it’s constantly changing, one week it might be 5 feet and really, really big and brown and raging torrents and another week, maybe in the summer, it might be more of a trickle and you can walk your way across it so… These different heights and temperatures as well, how the river behaves, where the salmon will be determined by that. »


William thinks that the best quality of a good ghillie is to be perceptive. Some people want to be assisted at every moment while others want to do their thing by themselves. He is perfectly happy to do one or the other but he told us that his biggest joy was when a person caught his first fish thanks to his advice. It’s a big moment, for the fisherman but also for him.

« Somebody once said to me that there are four stages in your fishing life. First of all, you want to catch a fish. Second of all, you want to catch as many fish as possible and then after that, you want to catch the biggest fish. Usually, this takes twenty to thirty years. And then the final stage of fishing is you just enjoy fishing. You don’t mind if you catch, you don’t mind if you don’t, you just enjoy being out and doing it. (…) I’m lucky with my job because I get just as much pleasure out of seeing other people catch fish, I really do. Saying that I still need my time to fish. This year we went to Sweden and I was fishing, I wasn’t teaching, I wasn’t guiding. It was my fishing time, we fished for twenty hours a day and it was really good fun. But when I’m working, I’m not fishing, I’m fishing through my guest. I’m seeing what his technique is like I’m seeing what his style is like and then I try and use that to catch the fish. So I’m fishing through my fisherman if that makes sense. »

Our host says that the same people return every year during the good season. They come back with the sunny days.

« I would trade ten fish for myself, for one first fish for someone else, it’s a big moment. Even when I see guys that are well into their 80’s. They have caught hundreds of fish before in their lives, a lot of them are very, very respectable business men, they probably don’t let the guard down very often in the society and yet, you see them catching a fish and maybe if it’s a tough week, it might be only fish of the week and you see them turning into a teenage boy. Honestly, it is brilliant, it is brilliant. »

William only works 8 months a year. So when the season is over and Scotland becomes cold and grey, he goes abroad. Right now His twin brother and him (because yes, there are two of them and they are identical) are in New Zealand and Patagonia respectively during their holiday. It’s the best of both worlds. You can follow them on TwinPeakesMedia  where they share their lives as “globe-fishermen” with their community.

Unfortunately, the season was over when we arrived in Scotland, so we didn’t see them in their element. We still made a short clip, with footage that they gathered, just to give you a glimpse (don’t thank us it’s a pleasure).

If we have decided to dedicate this first portrait to William it’s because he gives the impression that he has found what we are all looking for. He is really happy with the life he lives and he enjoys every day. However, to get there he had to take a step back for a few years.

« I spent 3 years out of this job, I spent 3 years working in offices and I’m really glad I did that because, what it did for me is that it made me realize what I had when I worked on the river. I had to go away from it to appreciate it even more. It is kind of like having a really good woman and then letting her go but then she comes back again, (…) She takes you back. »

Is that the secret? Do you need to lose something to know its value? Maybe you are living the perfect life and you don’t even know it. Let’s all meditate on that…


Julie Marchand

Julie Marchand

Founder of @Wheresthef/ Professional wanderer : doing videos and photography. Looking for new adventures, experiences and amazing stories / Check out my flickr!
Julie Marchand

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