This 5,500 acre shoot lies in the attractive rolling agricultural land of east Dorset in a triangle between Shaftesbury, Salisbury and Bournemouth. With an aesthetically pleasing combination of woodland, parkland, mixed arable and dairy fields, it’s the sort of place any game shooter would like to spend a day at the early season partridge. And the River Allen winds its way through the land to provide an extra element of rural charm.
This day was hosted by Paul Graham of Pol Roger champagne.
I joined a day which had been put together by Paul Graham of Pol Roger champagne, and he had invited some eminent members of the wine trade to enjoy the sport on the Earl of Shaftesbury’s estate. With this company I felt sure the catering would be good, and I wasn’t to be disappointed.
However, on a calm day with balmy early September conditions forecast to dominate, the likelihood of testing birds was low. This was classic early season, shirts sleeves weather – to the extent we were able to enjoy a summer picnic lunch in the park surrounding St. Giles House.
Headkeeper Ron Thorpe has been at Wimborne St. Giles for 40 years.
But Ron Thorpe has been headkeeper here for 40 years and this old hand of the Dorset soil was to demonstrate that good birds can be shown, whatever the weather. As he explained to me in his genial manner: “We have a reliable team of first-class beaters, stops and pickers-up. They are all regulars and this makes a great difference when running a shoot. I have complete confidence in them.”
A gentle morning of partridge shooting
The three morning drives were Framptons, Tinks and Frogmore and saw the team move from one idyllic rural scene to another. On Framptons, the dairy herd was almost completely unperturbed by their armed visitors and barely flinched as some rapid birds exploded out of the cover crop behind a hedge to the front. As they curled on the slight breeze they became typically testing lowland partridge.
Tinks saw the guns lined out on a stubble field as the sun started to make its presence felt. However there were some good birds here too and it was clear that John Palmer had benefited from some grouse days already as he effortlessly knocked down the best birds from a covey.
John Palmer is spoilt for choice on the first drive of the day, Framptons.
Frogmore saw the team split in half either side of the eponymous lane, which could be straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel. Take away the telegraph poles and not much has changed around here for a century or more. It’s not hard to imagine Jude the Obscure or Tess wandering around this countryside. And the gently paced morning was one for letting the mind wander and relaxing. There is no rush on a five-drive early-season day and it’s a completely different experience from a high octane, towering pheasant day in the wilds of Devon or Wales in November.
After the sort of picnic lunch you never want to end, with pies and cheese and a glass of good wine, the team moved away from the land immediately around the park to some more serious terrain, with steeper hills and bigger fields.
On this early-season day, a relaxed picnic in the park in shirt sleeves was the perfect lunchtime option.
It was clear there was going to be a change of tempo here. Whereas the morning had been laid back to the point of horizontal, there was a bag to be shot and it was time for business.
The first of the two afternoon drives was Lower Plain and here the whole line was tested by a steady stream of birds as they burst over the high hedge in front. Some curled, some soared and some hugged the ground, but all accelerated over the line and provided exhilarating sport. Gone was the hazy dream of the morning.
And Yew Tree, the final drive, provided further challenges for the whole line, with the rolling hills of Dorset dominating a picturesque backdrop. The final bag was 135 and I wasn’t surprised to discover that this coming season is all sold out, bar a couple of smaller 100 bird days.
A happy partridge shooting host
Paul Graham of Pol Roger said: “The day was never meant to be a serious corporate event but a thank you to our loyal and long-term friends in the wine trade. We decided to look for a day where a traditional and fun atmosphere was the rule of thumb. And we were extremely pleased to be able to enjoy a day when the weather and sport came together almost perfectly, culminating in a thrilling early partridge shooting day.
“Ron Thorpe and his team ensured that our guests found the most difficult part of the day was to stop smiling. It was great to see a number of the guns on fine form, with Hew Blair from Justerini & Brooks clearly picking the most sporting birds and John Palmer making the most of his recent practice on grouse. A first rate afternoon of partridge shooting was made all the more special by Lord Shaftesbury inviting us for tea and cakes at the end of a truly wonderful final drive. There are few times you can shoot in shirt sleeves and I think we made the most of it.”
Following the shoot day the team retired to the Beckford Arms in Fonthill Gifford for a superb grouse dinner, accompanied by the finest wines. What more could a team of guns ask for?
St. Giles House
The estate belongs to the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, Nicholas, 32, who inherited when his older brother Anthony died suddenly of a heart attack in 2005. At the time Nicholas was working as a DJ in New York, so he has experienced a fairly dramatic change of lifestyle. However he has embraced the challenge and major renovation work is being undertaken on St Giles House to restore it to its former glory. It was originally built in 1651 but has now been empty for some decades since it was requisitioned as a school during the Second World War. The cost of renovation will no doubt be huge but the value of bringing the main house back into use as a residence on an historic estate like this is hard to put a price on.
For more information about the shoot contact Ron Thorpe on 01725 517311.