Ugbrooke House and Gardens are set in a rather serene Devonshire valley near Chudleigh, between Exeter and Newton Abbot.
Referred to as a ‘small manor house’ in the Domesday Book, Ugbrooke has a long and illustrious history spanning almost a thousand years.
Before The Reformation, the lands around Ugbrooke belonged to the Church and were occupied by the staff to the Bishop of Exeter; other former residents include the Lord High Treasurer to Charles II and a master of espionage during the French Revolution.
Since 1672, Ugbrooke has been synonymous with the Lords Clifford of Chudleigh.
The 14th Lord Clifford, Captain Tom Clifford is its current resident.
The house, redesigned by Robert Adam in 1760, is set in exquisite parkland finished some 20 years later by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.
Pheasant shooting at Ugbrooke Park.
Typified by his ‘New English’ style of trademark knots and avenues of trees, one of Brown’s most enduring and arresting vistas is the complete mirror image of Ugbrooke House glittering in the lake before it.
After a drive, with marked birds to be picked, I have seen many a gun suddenly sidetracked by this enchanting view.
Ugbrooke’s beauty is matched evenly by the sport to be had there and Charles Grime, his family and friends had taken this chilly December day.
The Grime, Keen and Saunders family shoot has become a firm fixture in their calendar for some five or six years now, and having been let down by an estate in Berkshire, I was delighted to put them in touch with Ugbrooke.
Lady Clifford mingled with the guns during the breaks throughout the day.
A warm welcome
As Lord and Lady Clifford welcomed the guests with tea and bacon sandwiches, it made such a lovely change to see toddlers crawling in and out of legs, chirruping away to smiles all round.
With his limitless enthusiasm for every part of the day, it’s hard to believe that Tom Clifford no longer goes pheasant shooting; he takes a genuine pleasure in watching the pheasant shooting at Ugbrooke, whoever happens to be doing it.
Despite a filthy virus, which had until that morning kept him in bed for almost a week, he insisted on delivering his usual phesant shooting briefing before handing the hosting duties to Martin Partridge, a chirpy Devonian with years of experience on the estate.
With pegs drawn, the line of eight were soon picking the best from the pheasants flagged from Sampson’s Kale, a drive based on a part of the estate seldom shot over.
One true archangel, taken to the host’s left, seemed to take minutes to land after wheeling down like a sycamore seed.
Morgan Krone, Charlie Grime’s neighbouring gun on Winstow Bottom, seemed at ease amongst the action, folding two storming hens which were well clear of the tree tops.
Guns enjoyed fine pheasant shooting on the day.
Tinker, a typically loopy cocker spaniel, handled by Charlie’s wife, Lou, had plenty of birds to pick.
As we took elevenses, which included Ugbrooke’s famous sausage rolls, we transferred from vehicles into the estate gun trailer, transport it simply wasn’t safe to use for the opening two drives due to the deeply frozen ground.
Lady Clifford joined us for the nibbles; the timing of the warming, spicy soup was perfect as it was very cold.
A solid backbone
Well fortified, the team headed off to the third drive, Babcombe Kale.
As the blanking manoeuvre came to an end, I grabbed a few words with headkeeper Alan Easterbrook.
Alan, aided by assistant keeper Andy Duncum, oversees a healthy mix of private and let days at Ugbrooke, having started there at the age of 16.
Guns found some of Ugbrooke Park’s best birds at Sampson’s Kale.
Alan, who is six months younger than Lord Clifford, is almost entirely self-taught, although his father was headkeeper to the Hoare family at Luscombe for many years.
Together, Alan and Andy look after the thousand or so acres that are shot over.
The estate is approximately 3,000 acres in total; from this the keepers can call on 14-16 different drives a season, with birds holding well in kale, maize, sorghum and artichokes.
Of the estate’s acreage, around 300 is occupied by ancient woodland – predominantly oak, ash and beech trees, although there are wonderful service trees, giant redwoods as well as Lucombe Oaks.
When pressed for highlights in his career, mindful of many respected guests, Alan said:
“It’s been a gradual highlight for me, lasting 40-odd years; building the pheasant shooting to what it is today. You see when I started here we’d only shoot 25 birds in a day, mostly wild. So, with Lord Clifford, I’ve come a fair way. I like to see the children out pheasant shooting – that does mean a lot to me. Lord Clifford’s boys, Alexander and Edward, it’s lovely to see them shoot. Georgina, their sister, she comes out too, which is so nice too.”
Charles Grime’s family was one of three pheasant shooting on this December day.
With the fourth drive, Burrows Park, which is often the opening first drive, an absolute cobweb-blower of a drive, the tone took on a slightly different feel – the birds were fewer in numbers, but higher in presentation.
They curled and sailed, wings set, absolutely beautifully.
My position in the middle gave me a perfect view of the whole line and it was a fine display of pheasant shooting on the last drive before an excellent lunch.
With one eye on the clock, fearing the fading light, we were a shade longer drinking Bloody Marys than we were at the cheese end of matters – Lady Clifford’s heart-stopping secret weapon, a brace of ripe, oozing Eppoisses cheeses, were hastily scooped at, slathered onto biscuits and hurriedly nibbled.
And soon we were out again, ready for the final drives, Smoothway and Edwards, or Edward’s Plantation, named after Lord Clifford’s youngest son.
Guns and guests of all ages joined together between drives.
As the light drained into another inky, freezing night, Alan turned the trailer towards the house for the last time that day and for tea.
Bumping along the track by the lake, the talk turned to the crazy, almost never ending salvo of the last drive and the insanely high duck on Smoothway.
The excited, half-interrupted chat, chorused agreements, mischievous mocking, wide-eyed rebuttals, lively blather and theatrical comforting were a joy to listen to.
Hosting shoot days as I do, one can become a little battle-hardened by the more corporate atmosphere of a business-orientated day in the field, so to be involved in a true family and friends day is a pretty rare and wonderful thing.
For more information on pheasant shooting opportunities at Ugbrooke Park email Robert Cuthbert