Grouse shooting: Hartside Moor lives in a small pocket of northern grouse moors where, along with its immediate neighbours of Hartshead, Melmerby, Ousby and Rotherham moors, grouse numbers remain in remarkable stead irrespective of the national trend.
At an elevation of 1,903ft it also one of the highest, which means that whilst the grouse enjoy a truly varied climate, so do the guns.
Gathering at the Hartside Top café, the immediate weather and the first row of butts can be surveyed across a welcome plate of bacon and eggs.
The rolling backdrop of the Cumbrian moors make Hartside a stunning venue for grouse shooting.
And whilst a good day was in prospect, if the morning was anything to go by the grouse most definitely had the edge.
The valley below was waking up to sunshine, but the moors remained shrouded in a thick, heavy mist.
“This is the great thing about grouse shooting,” said Grant Rowley, the fourth generation to take on the responsibilities of running the family grouse moor.
“Over the years we’ve instigated heather regeneration and various other improvements all to the benefit of the birds and environment, but no matter what you do or how many grouse you have, it’s the conditions that dictate how the day will go. All you can do is work alongside what you have at that moment in time.”
Grant Rowley is keeper, beater and manager on his family’s grouse moor.
There were 10 guns in the line in total, all family and friends, who enjoyed a brief safety talk from the day’s captain, Johnny Walmesley, before moving out to Hartside’s newly-refurbished butts for the first of five planned drives.
Johnny Walmesley kept the guns’ spirits high throughout the day’s grouse shooting.
Since each drive is laid out for 12 or more guns the first two butts were left empty, concentrating the guns towards the centre of the line.
The first two drives demanded quick wits and lightning reactions as the small, fast coveys exploded out of the heavy mist, dripping muzzles leaving vapour trails as they attempted to locate their quarry.
Whilst left and rights were rare, some seriously demanding singletons ensured Tim Rowley’s quad had more than enough birds to keep both man and machine occupied.
As on many smaller moors, the third drive was the complete reverse of the second, the guns doing little more than turning through 180 degrees.
This alternate view gave an inkling that the sun had at last gained the upper hand, the moor unfolding in front of them with Hartside’s bothy now visible away in the distance.
Bruce Sheppard explained how the drive and the day would progress. Originally a student when he first visited Hartside, Bruce has been involved with the moor over many years as both beater and gun, learning shoot and moorland management along the way.
Alastair Quine awaits his first taste of grouse shooting of the day.
“The third drive is usually a good one, as some of the birds pushed across from the second drive produce larger coveys when they’re driven back. The mist is starting to lift, which means the afternoon’s drives should enjoy some clear weather. The afternoon will start on the far side before we move down to the point where Hartside and the two other big moors join together.”
Apart from the short drive down to the butts for the last drive, use of vehicles is kept to a minimum.
Apart from the long but easy walk from the third drive back to the cars, all the butts are in easy reach, each drive flowing naturally from the last.
Hartside is about grouse shooting not walking, making it one of the most friendly moors you’ll encounter.
It also has a reputation as the venue for many shooters’ first grouse, and after lunch Alastair Quine, Amanda Walmesley and Guy Lewis all discovered for themselves the addictive lure of the bird.
Bright sunshine was a welcome change from the drizzle but did not make the afternoon’s grouse shooting any easier.
Pushing the fourth drive in a long semi-circle, both beaters and birds could be seen approaching.
Johnny Walmesley decided this was the perfect moment for his daughter, Amanda, to see for herself why grouse truly are the ultimate sporting bird.
And William Marshall had asked Guy to hold the gun for a moment. Guy had otherwise been enjoying the day as an onlooker and relishing the chance to work his labrador.
Terry Lusby and his dogs are a familiar sight on Hartside.
Both added a single bird to the bag, accompanied by the elation every sporting shot feels as they see their first grouse fold in mid-air.
Alastair, meanwhile, found himself in the farthest butt, the most exciting of the drive.
A strong covey that had shown initial intent of crossing the middle of the line suddenly changed direction to give him the opportunity of two perfectly executed shots, folding two birds out in front.
“I’m hooked!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never shot grouse before, and to shoot a left and right on my first outing is beyond anything I could have hoped for. This certainly won’t be my last time going grouse shooting.”
The fifth and final drive saw the guns make their way along one of the River Eden’s tributaries, which divides Hartside from Melmerby.
Some of the beaters take a well-earned break.
An extension of the second and third drives, the beating line brought the moor down from its farthest point, pushing the birds at 90 degrees to the earlier drives.
In fact they cover the most part of Hartside’s 1,500 acres as they walk slowly forwards.
With spectacular views across the entire moor, the final drive of the day allowed all 10 guns to add at least one if not two more birds to the bag.
The presentation of the coveys was classic in every interpretation of the word, and it was the perfect end to the day’s sport.
With the guns gathered back at the big house ready to inspect the day’s bag over a traditional afternoon tea, Grant summed up the day as the others relaxed.
“You couldn’t hope to see a day with more contrast, especially with the weather as it was. We knew the sun was there early on when the mist lifted to reveal the valley below, but for some reason it didn’t lift higher up until much later.
No matter what the conditions, Major Malise Graham thoroughly enjoys his day’s grouse shooting on Hartside.
That said, although the tally is down to 37½ brace the sport was excellent. The afternoon developed into a classic day and the ratio of young to old birds is more or less three to one, which means all the grouse are in good condition, healthy and as ready for us as we are for them.”
The moor is shot around six days a season, with two reserved for the family and the remainder being let, though numbers can be increased dependant on the season. The average bag is around 50 brace, but the intention is to increase the numbers to 70-80 in the next year or so. Hartside’s season starts on August 12 and ends between the middle and end of October, dependant on conditions. More can be added for what Grant Rowley calls “mixed species” days, which are predominantly walked-up days that tend to be as social as they are sporting. A 45 brace day will cost around £5,000 for parties of 10- 12 guns, and a catered lunch provided by Grant’s sister, Anna, is available at the bothy. If the feast provided on the day of our visit was anything to go by, it’s more than worth taking the opportunity of sampling some of Hartside’s wholesome fare.
For more information about grouse shooting on Hartside Moor contact Grant Rowley on 07851 976641.