Game shooting: My destination was the secluded Hopsrigg, residence of Julian Cotterell, my host for the weekend.
I had been invited by Fred Stroyan to join the team of guns for game shooting at Langholm the following day for some early season partridge in the picturesque Dumfries and Galloway in the Scottish Borders.
Fred had informed me that the birds were fast, high and testing – a comment which was obviously meant to put me at my ease.
Hopsrigg marked the starting point of the day.
That evening I met up with my companions for the following day’s sport over the pre-shoot dinner hosted by Julian.
In the morning we gathered at Holmhead, which is at the centre of the shoot, and the home of headkeeper Andrew Denton, who heads up the team of four keepers.
I drew peg nine and we would be numbering from the right and moving up two each time.
This meant I would have guns Suhail Rebiez to my left and Philip Swatman to my right for most of the day.
There would be three drives before lunch and two afterwards.
Swingill was the first drive of the morning and the scenery as we made our way up Meikledale, one of the shoot’s three valleys, leaving habitation behind, was spectacular in early September.
My first peg was at the bottom of the small gully.
The mid-morning break in beautiful scenery.
As I looked along the gun line I could only see a few of my fellow guns. I had Adele Wood with four of her Deluska labradors picking-up behind me.
To my right was an ancient stone bothy.
There were also other derelict stone structures dotted about, which was an indication of just how populated these remote areas had been in the past.
While this is no longer the case the partridges benefit from this seclusion.
I hoped I would connect with some birds and give Adele and her dogs something to do.
I could hear shots coming from further along the line, so I knew the birds were on the move.
A few came whizzing down the gully at head height or hugging the tops of the bracken bank behind me, but did not present a safe shot.
Then they began to pass higher in front and I was up and running.
Due to the sheer difference in terrain, the beaters, flankers and pickers-up here all need to be considerably fitter than their lowland counterparts.
Picker-up Adele Wood with her team of labradors.
For one minute they were down at our level, the next high up on the skyline.
Andy managed the day with precision, putting some fantastic birds over the line.
The second drive was Black Cleuch.
While I was getting myself set up, a dipper came darting down; we don’t see many of them back home in Sussex.
In front of my peg there was a thick bracken bank and I was standing down in the gully with a stream behind me.
Due to the proximity of the bracken bank both my neighbour, Philip, and I would have to be very quick taking our shots as the birds presented themselves.
Some seriously high birds came over during Black Cleuch, but they didn’t present a problem for Philip.
Julian’s son, Eddie, was also game shooting in the team, and there seemed to be a friendly rivalry between father and son regarding their respective game shooting performances.
Headkeeper Andrew Denton.
The third drive, and last before lunch, was Green Cleuch – ‘cleuch’ is a local expression for a ‘place’.
The gun line was more open for this drive, meaning it was possible to see the others in action, and I witnessed the guns taking some stunning birds.
For lunch we went to Moss Peebles for a welcome pork casserole.
After the meal Julian passed around his wonderful homemade orange brandy.
After lunch we drove to another part of the shoot for the fourth drive – Barraman’s Cleuch.
This is a wider valley, but with high hills to both the front and rear.
The dense bracken held a significant number of birds, which Andy flushed over us in regular coveys with everyone having some game shooting.
The fifth and final drive of the day was White Hill, which looks like classic high bird territory.
I saw the beaters’ dogs methodically working their way along the face of the hill.
The birds really sat tight similar to grouse.
The guns assemble at the end of a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Once on the wing they actually resembled grouse, hugging the contours of the landscape as they swooped down towards us before steaming overhead.
One problem I have is the longer I have to think about taking the shot as the bird approaches, the greater likelihood of a clean miss behind.
I have heard other guns say the same.
This is especially embarrassing on smaller shoots with fellow guns, beaters and pickers-up all watching.
It seems to take ages as the bird turns towards your position, and as you miss, it seems to happen in slow motion.
Having picked my birds from the game larder down the drive and said farewell I began my journey south, taking with me great memories of the day’s events, and of my first day on game birds in Scotland.