Grinkle Park, near Whitby, is in possession of possibly the ultimate sporting hotel and superb, testing birds shown across stunning terrain.
Set some 14 miles from the coastal town of Whitby, Grinkle Park is billed as one of North Yorkshire’s premier shooting destinations and rumoured to be the only commercial shooting estate with an integrated hotel in the country. The estate, which pre-dates the Industrial Revolution, is the former home of the noted Liberal MP Sir Charles Mark Palmer, a man of considerable influence in the Victorian north east with interests in shipbuilding and coal mining. Sir Charles arrived at the fairly dilapidated estate in 1865, eventually transforming its fortunes and extending it to the 748 acres that shooting parties enjoy today. It was also he who commissioned Alfred Waterhouse to create the current baronial mansion after the original house’s demolition in 1881 (the Palmer family coat of arms can still be found in the entrance porch) and it is here guns and guests can now choose between almost two dozen bedrooms which all have understated luxury as their by-word.
The same can also be said for personal service. Such is the loyalty shown to the estate by shooting parties that general manager Richard Ibbott almost insists they lift no finger during their stay and he tries to share as much of it as he can. “As general manager it’s very important for me to attend as many shoot days as possible,” he explained. “Many of our clientele have been shooting at Grinkle Park for a considerable number of years and I regard them as friends as well as guests and therefore feel it would be rude not join them in the field.”
A varied terrain at Grinkle Park
Grinkle Park is carpeted by vast tracts of grassland, its darker nooks and corners that cannot see the smudge of the moorland in the distance layered by narrow, meandering ravines and valleys where modest becks flow towards the North Sea. These becks were fuller and faster on the day of our visit thanks to heavy rain, the kind though long forecast and indeed prepared for, can still unpick even the most tightly sewn preparative stitching with ease.
Sir Charles Palmer’s stirring motto of par sit fortuna labor (let the success be equal to the labour) is fitting in this instance for the Grinkle Park keepering team, lead by Scott Breckon, who had to contend with conditions as testing as the sport it was trying to present. The decision was taken to reduce the number of drives to four, and from what I’d read previously, the selection of Keeper’s Bank, Stonecliffe, Nine Chimneys and Sunny Banks was a quartet that was nothing if not a statement of intent. The drives were a mixture of forested ravines and open fields facing tree-lined banks, and correspondence with gun Mark Rigby following our November day proved that long-time visitors to Grinkle Park love talking about the shoot almost as much as they do setting foot on it.
Mark has been taking days at Grinkle Park since 1996 when the Bass brewery held the lease, and struggled to recall a day there that didn’t meet his expectations. “High, screaming pheasant, tremendous to see”, was his way of describing the sport on Keeper’s Bank, adding that our photographer’s stunned expression following its end was further (if silent) evidence of its resilience in harsh conditions.
The taps had been turned on when the guns reached the forested depths of Stonecliffe, but any raindrops falling into barrels were returned to the clouds with interest, the same going for the snap shooting of Nine Chimneys, which was appreciated by the guns’ other halves who had joined the party to load or just watch and listen as gunfire punctuated the sound of the becks roaring headlong towards the coast. It was the day’s longest drive, and as one gun commented afterwards “they never seemed to stop coming”.
As so often on rain interrupted shoot days the clouds were completely drained by the time guns took to their pegs on the saturated finale at the oft described “difficult” Sunny Banks – “always a favourite” according to Richard – and thanks to being a mere quarter mile from the hotel the guns were soon able to concentrate on drying off once the woods had been exhausted of their high, quartering birds. Rain or no rain, though, the team knows only redoubled efforts are required to keep the standards high.
“Scott and his team are always looking at new drives and flushing points in order to keep the birds challenging and high,” explained Richard, now in his eighth year as general manager. “Not a year goes by where Scott has not managed to put his unique mark on the quality of the drives. In the past three years a significant amount of woodland clearance has taken place in order to open up valleys which have never been accessible for shooting, thus creating some new and exciting drives. This on-going programme of development and indeed woodland management and re-planting is high on the agenda and further demonstrates our long-term commitment to providing continued quality shooting.”
A lifetime of memories at Grinkle Park
Someone once told me that on their wedding day the happy couple should take a moment to stand together in silence and just watch from the side as family and friends enjoy themselves. It’s what they’ve worked for and the day is soon over. Savoring the moment is something guns, beaters, pickers-up and gamekeepers can lose sight of during passages of high adrenaline and even anxiousness, but not for Mark, who sees more than just birds in the sky.
“There is something about the magic of a well-organised shoot taking place before your eyes,” he explained. “The speed and efficiency of the dog team at work, obediently standing quietly still during the drive, watching, noting where birds have dropped, and on command scurrying off to pick-up the quarry as called in by short blasts of a master’s whistle with an occasional piece of encouragement, with beaters and pickers-up calling to one another as they guide each other towards the drop scene. It is fascinating to watch and a joy to be involved in, making a large part of the attraction of the event itself. As many of us have been shooting here for many years, we are seeing how the once young faces of local boys and girls, family of the gamekeepering team, are growing up to become skilled men and women in their own right, and in some cases the new headkeeper or head of the beating team.”
Like Mark, Richard Winter is another one of the shoot “friends” that Richard Ibbott referred to earlier, and the way he speaks of Grinkle Park tallies with his peer’s experiences.
“The first time I visited was as one of the hosts for guests from the brewing industry. Then very new to shooting and having borrowed a gun, I was nevertheless made to feel welcome by my colleagues and experienced guests alike. In those days, shoots were almost always two days (Friday and Saturday) and partners were always invited too (as they still are). I soon realised that Grinkle Park was a very special place to very many people and so it has become for me.”
A former Bass employee, Richard has been making the annual pilgrimage to Grinkle Park since 1996, and like so many guns throughout the country, looks forward to inking the days at his favourite shoot into the diary. Much like reacquainting with seldom-seen friends or family after a long absence, the wait for a red letter day like this one to arrive can playfully taunt you at inopportune moments, and you have to put your mind to other matters to halt the weekly ritual of quickly working out how many days there are until the day finally arrives.
“Grinkle Park is one of the few shoots I know where I am sure the wives of my shooting guests look forward to the occasion and seeing each other again just as much as the guns themselves,” he explained.
In the near 20 years since his arrival Richard has become an enthusiastic flag waver for the estate, the shoot and its people. He, like so many others, has a great affinity for this pocket of North Yorkshire, and is able to provide an insight from both sides of the line. Although many whom I have spoken to during my time on this magazine often refer to the ‘good old days’ of shooting, Grinkle Park has not, in Richard’s view, lost any of the sheen which first drew him in almost two decades ago. Everyone from the headkeeper to the bar staff has created an atmosphere that makes the “hotel feel more like a country home”, and although no one will have to take their boots off before passing through the front door, there is a deep respect for what has been, what is and what will come in the future. Richard singled out Richard Ibbott, Scott Breckon and Nick Barnard for special praise straight away, and while that might sound obvious on first reading you might be surprised to learn that shooting parties have been known to break out into spontaneous applause at the end of the day in appreciation of the triumvirate’s efforts. How often does that happen?
Memories of our shooting days are shaped by a broad church of characters and Richard’s Grinkle Park stories include the lady who once turned out for her first ever drive in bright yellow sailing wellies and his friend Robert (now ‘Woodcock’) Ireland, who pines for woodcock season after season and who always somehow manages to bag one or two. There is also the gundog graveyard in the woods and the historic (but now defunct) tradition of first-time guns being presented with a Grinkle Park tie which hosts were always required to wear for dinner in the hotel’s Verandah restaurant. “Those were the days” he joked, though he knows, as do so many others, that these are the days at Grinkle Park.