Lady Fairhaven runs the estate and hosts the Kirtling Tower shoot, near Newmarket, with huge energy and enthusiasm. Shoot days begin in a small yard just up from the headkeeper’s cottage with views out over the undulating terrain and to the tower below. On the morning of my visit in early October the moon was still hanging in the bright blue sky, a light breeze suggesting conditions could be favourable for a good day’s partridge shooting.
Beaters, pickers-up, guns and dogs alike were greeted with stares from various chickens and guinea fowl strutting around the yard, disturbed by the rumbling of vehicles and the buzz of excited conversation.
The impressive quality of Kirtling Tower’s convertible gun bus underlines its keen eye for detail.
As with any enterprise of this scale, the mark of quality comes in attention to detail. The gun bus towed by a huge tractor is a convertible – the roof can be withdrawn for those hot early-season days. There are chilling cabinets for drinks and snacks and built-in bins for spent cartridges, as well as plenty of stowage space.
The beaters are similarly well catered for, having a tractor and trailer transport of their own, and are among the best turned out I have seen. Lady Fairhaven and headkeeper Andrew James both place great emphasis on having the right people around them and this loyalty has been repaid: one beater was embarking on his 30th season on the estate.
Lady Fairhaven in action.
Lady Fairhaven caught the shooting bug from her husband. Lord Fairhaven was once a keen shot but illness brought an end to his shooting in 1992. Lady Fairhaven had been loading for him and was distraught at the thought of giving up the action, so bought herself a 28 bore and resolved to take up shooting more seriously. She proved so successful that Lord Fairhaven’s friends soon began to invite her to shoot.
A woman of seemingly boundless energy, her enthusiasm comes through in every facet of the day, whether it’s chivvying on her charges at the beginning of the day or calling encouragement from her favoured position as back gun, where she can also get the best view of a drive and keep Andrew informed of its progress.
How the shoot was brought back to life…
As we sat on the gun bus moving to the first drive, Lady Fairhaven told me about the running of the Kirtling estate.
“I have lots of babies and this shoot is one. There are two stone masonry businesses, a construction company and the shoot. I enjoy shooting and I like to come out on our let days unless I am shooting elsewhere. I think it’s rather rude to have people shooting on the estate but not have anyone there to greet them.
“We’ve been shooting here since 1975. Back then it was completely run down – there wasn’t a shoot here. The first day out I think they shot a rabbit, a pheasant, a rat and a squirrel! We’ve planted a lot of woods, but before the war there was a wonderful partridge shoot here. At the Officers’ Mess at Knightsbridge they’ve got a screen with pictures of partridge shooting at Kirtling Tower, and we are doing what we can to bring a bit of that history back.
Kirtling Tower’s headkeeper Andrew James.
“It’s tricky being a woman running an estate, because a lot of men don’t like it. Gender doesn’t come into it as far as I’m concerned – it’s a job that needs to be done and there’s no reason I can’t do it. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by people who are able to get on and get things done.”
As the trailer rumbled to a halt and the roar of the tractor sighed away, Lady Fairhaven was suddenly on her feet, seemingly more eager than her team of guns to take to the field. “Is anybody interested in shooting?” came the question, greeted with a polite murmur of assent from her youngest son the Hon. Henry Broughton and his team. “Good, let’s go then!” came the reply.
A few agonising moments of anticipation were brought to a delightful peak, and then the first covey powered over the guns. The flag men moved seemingly without instruction, finding the best spots to keep the whole line covered. Once satisfied the drive was in full swing, Lady Fairhaven brought up her gun to take some birds of her own.
The only irritation evident on the guns’ faces after the end of a cracking start was caused by the high pheasants flying through the line – birds the guns were under orders to leave well alone.
Kirtling Tower and conservation
“We do everything we can and should do conservation-wise,” said Lady Fairhaven. “Andrew is a very conscientious keeper and he does a really wonderful job.”
Success in this area is evident from the wide variety of wildlife on display including numerous hares that made sporadic appearances throughout the day, bolting from cover and tearing across the fields seemingly as fast as the birds above. Lord and Lady Fairhaven also share a passion for dendrology and have spent much of their time together travelling the world to study trees.
When you shoot at Kirtling Tower you have more than a millennium of hunting history beneath your wellies.
Lord Fairhaven used to live at the family seat at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire, now a National Trust property. On one occasion he gave a tour of the house to the World Dendrology Society but was embarrassed not to be able to tell them anything about the estate’s numerous trees. His passion for trees began there and he now takes regular trips to study rare varieties and grows numerous interesting samples in the parkland behind the tower.
Being something of a birthday celebration, the shoot lunch menu was selected by Henry, and the rich lasagne and delicious plum crumble were served up in the magnificent surroundings of the dining room. Spirits were high afterwards, anticipation mounting for the afternoon’s activities. Anyone expecting a sedate start after a good feed was in for a shock, with Henry telling me with a mischievous grin, “you have got to keep the team on their toes.”
Lunch was taken in the magnificent surroundings of the dining room.
Long Ten was obviously a drive the guns remembered. Jonathan Elkington recalled: “It was this drive last year when my barrels got so hot I had to take a sock off and use it as a glove!”
Writing as someone who is not entirely comfortable with large bags on shoot days, it must be said that Lady Fairhaven and Andrew James are owed an enormous amount of credit for creating a day where nearly 400 birds doesn’t feel like too large a number.
To provide sport of such high quality in such a welcoming and relaxed manner is an impressive feat, and one of which all at Kirtling Tower should be rightfully proud.
Kirtling: a brief history
The Kirtling estate near Newmarket had been a royal deer park for hundreds of years before the Norman Conquest. After a famine in 1005, Kirtling was given to Earl Harold, later Harold II of England. After the conquest, William I presented the land to his niece, passing down the De Tony family line until 1530 when the estate came into the hands of Edward North, the first Baron North. An impressive politician, North served as Clerk of the Parliaments and treasurer of the Court of Augmentations. He was also a member of the Privy Council of England for King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Mary I. The first Baron North owned the London Charterhouse, too, hosting Queen Elizabeth I’s court at both Charterhouse and Kirtling, where he built an imposing hall.
The Hon. Henry Broughton, the Hon. Melanie Broughton & Lady Fairhaven.
Much of Earl North’s original hall was pulled down in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, leaving behind the original gatehouse from which Kirtling Tower now takes its name. Two wings were added in the Victorian era, and in 2004 the present owners Lord and Lady Fairhaven built a library and west wing through Lady Fairhaven’s own construction company.
As befits a former royal deer park, Kirtling has been a sporting estate for over 40 generations. Lord and Lady Fairhaven have run a traditional driven shoot on the estate for almost 40 years. Eight days are let each season on average, with teams of eight guns taking on pheasant and partridge over 1,500 acres. Six drives are shot each day from a possible 20, personally selected by Lady Fairhaven and headkeeper Andrew James.
For more information on the Kirtling Tower shoot contact Greg Milne of the Field & Game Shooting Agency via www.fieldandgame.co.uk