Lockdown robbed Jack Tobin of his love of water. His lifeline legacy will now help keep others safe.

For father of two Jack Tobin, being beside the river near his Callander home, and sitting in the shadow of Ben Ledi fishing, brought a particular kind of comfort.

But when lockdown restrictions hit, the flies that he would spend hours tying and his fishing rods remained packed away.

With his ‘lifeline’ of being by the water gone, his mental health unravelled and Jack, described by his grieving wife Carron as “a proud, typical 57-year-old man who never wanted to admit that there was a problem”, fell into rapid decline.

Now the plaque on the bench which has now been placed in his memory at Norman’s Pool, in Callander, one of his favourite fishing spots, reads simply: “Gone fishing, gone too soon”.

While alongside and at spots along the River Teith in the Trossachs town is a series of new lifebuoy housings, belts and lines. The result of donations given by friends and family in his memory, they are poignant symbols of the lifeline the water represented for him, and potentially lifesaving for anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in trouble in the water.

Tragically, the importance of staying safe by the water has just been highlighted only a few miles away in Bridge of Allan, where the very same body of water, the River Teith, was the scene of yet another heartbreaking loss of life.

Despite a frantic rescue effort to pull her from the water, 14-year-old Nieve McIsaac died in hospital four days later.

Just days earlier, a 24-year-old man died after getting into difficulties at the Falls of Falloch near Crianlarich in Stirlingshire, and further north, in the River Spey, where in recent days a 51-year-old kayaker died after capsizing near Fochabers.

While recent summer weather has brought a spate of incidents, according to The National Water Safety Forum, Scotland is witnessing rising annual numbers of water-related deaths. There were 105 water-related fatalities in Scotland 2021, compared to 99 in 2020 and 96 in 2019.

Scotland also has the highest rate of accidental drownings of all the UK nations, with 10 drownings per million people last year – more than three times the rate of England.

The warmer weather is peak time for water-related accidents: in July last year, seven died in a single weekend that included the loss of a 29-year-old mother, her nine-year-old son and a family friend in a one incident on Loch Lomond.

Many incidents are said to be due to everyday occurrences such as a trip or fall, or underestimating the effect of swimming in cold open water that can cause ‘cold water shock’.

Stirling Council – which covers Callander and the Trossachs – has now launched a major summer safety campaign urging people to be aware of the hidden dangers in the area’s beauty spots, lochs, rivers and reservoirs and warning of the risks of cold water.

A key part of the campaign has been highlighting water safety to young people and in schools through its swimming programme.

According to Jack’s wife, Carron, he was first to acknowledge the need to be aware of the dangers presented by open water.

“He loved the water. He loved fishing, snorkelling, wild swimming. He taught our sons, Gil and Ian, to swim and was doing stand-up paddleboard before it was a ‘thing’,” she says.

“But he also had a huge respect for water and would wear a buoyancy aid.

“We were touched by the donations people made in his memory, and rather than spend money on something that looks nice, we wanted something that has purpose.”

Jack’s mental health unravelled during lockdown when tight restrictions meant he could no longer spend time exercising at the gym or fishing on the river close to his home in the Trossachs town.

As deep depression set in, Jack began to drink too much.

“Going to the gym and the river to fish were the things that kept him going,” adds Carron.

“What happened to Jack is one of the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic.

“He couldn’t decide he needed help and just turn up at the GP surgery. Then when he did acknowledge he needed help, it was all online.

“The support that was on offer wasn’t working for him.

“When you turn up to a church hall it’s with real people; when it’s on a Zoom call, you don’t know who is there or how to relate to them.”

Jack set up a mini-gym in his shed at home, threw himself into the local community’s efforts to spread help to people isolating during the worst of the pandemic, and, hopeful that he could return to his love of fishing, continued to tie his flies.

“But it wasn’t the same,” she adds. “Things spiralled for him and he withdrew into himself. He was in a dark place - it was brutal, he was not eating, his body couldn’t cope and eventually his organs failed.”

Jack’s family liaised with Stirling Council’s fishery officer at the River Teith in Callander to have the new safety belts and lines installed, hoping his legacy would come in protecting others.

Convener of Stirling Council’s Environment and Housing Committee, Cllr Jen Preston said: “We know Jack loved the River Teith and was a huge supporter of Stirling Council Fisheries so it’s fitting that these generous donations have allowed the Council to upgrade the life-saving equipment along the banks of the river in Callander.

“Open water safety is such an important issue during the summer months when more people head to our rivers, lochs and reservoirs, and this vital rescue equipment can be the difference between life and death.

“At the same time, we must continue to raise awareness of how families can enjoy the water safely and the Council is running a summer campaign to remind everyone of the hidden dangers of open water so we can avoid more tragic stories of people drowning.”

Kenny Auld, Head of Visitor Services at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, said: “Being close to or going into the water is very appealing during these warmer summer months, whether that’s just a picnic with friends on the loch shores, a dip to cool down or enjoying activities like swimming or paddle boarding.

“It is important though to understand the risks and to know how to enjoy the water safely.

“Even when it’s hot, the water in lochs is very cold and can cause cold water shock, even in experienced swimmers.”