Game shooting in Wrackleford, Dorset.
Oliver Pope, scion of the brewing and wine importing family, and the sixth generation of Popes to steward the Wrackleford estate, runs a tidy show.
With 1,700 acres to shoot over and four miles of double bank fishing, he is in his element and no more so than when hosting visiting guns.
Even an overcast day with a forecast of rain and a gun ill with flu did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm.
Two Land Rovers disgorged the shooting team, and as they booted up, their host bounded into the Shooting Box, and having seen coffee dispensed, began a detailed briefing of the picking-up team.
You get the impression Oliver likes to be organised and his service with the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars probably accounts for this.
With six pickers-up engrossed in conversation, Oliver read the rules of engagement to the guns.
He then handed them a pair of cards each, one for the gun and one for his loader, listing the drives, peg numbers, names of guns and in a particularly nice touch, the names of the pickers-up.
Briefing over, and in a trice, the beaters dissipated like mist on a May morning and we were off to the farthest edge of the estate.
Cric’s is on Langford Farm, the most recently acquired parcel of land, comprising 130 acres of sweeping valley that neatly completes the north western corner of the holding.
It shows some of the best birds at Wrackleford, where headkeeper Mark Valder has been plying his trade for 30 years.
Gifted to Winchester College by Henry VIII in 1549, the Popes are only the fourth owners of this land.
“Had my father not had the foresight to plan his inheritance correctly, I would have been faced by similarly destructive forces of inheritance tax that he had wrestled with,” said Oliver.
“Rather than being able to buy this adjacent land, I might have been forced into selling what we already owned. It required great confidence on father’s part to plan as he did, but the land really resonated for him and he protected it fiercely.”
By now we were out of the vehicles and walking to pegs on a wide grassy valley floor facing a deceptively gentle slope rising to its scrub-clad crest ahead of the American guns who were eager to begin.