Lord Carnarvon: Interview with the earl from the real Downton Abbey
So, Lord Carnarvon, do you think the traditionally presented partridge is something we are losing?
“I think we are a little, where people have been shooting in the West Country, which is all great fun and fantastic but a little artificial. The partridges, when they were wild, used to fizz across those hedges. They were not presented as specks in the sky. We have both here because we have valley shooting. They are an incredibly challenging bird. The warmer weather partridge days in September and early October – they’re pretty special. You may even still be in shirtsleeves and that’s just lovely… the leaves are beginning to turn and the sun may only give you a fleeting chance.”
Who would you consider your usual shooting buddies, year in, year out?
“Al Margadale (Lord Margadale) definitely. We often find it difficult to get to each other because we are all so busy hosting shoots. Ed Dashwood, he’s another.”
Any pleasant surprises in your invitations this year?
“I’m actually doing something I haven’t done for a bit, I am going grouse shooting; a little walked-up day in Scotland first and then a rather smarter, very traditional day’s driven grouse shooting in Yorkshire. I’m going over to Candover for a day; that is very similar shooting to Highclere. I’m also going down to Devon for a day for one of the traditional high ones, where I know I will probably get stressed because they’re so high it’s not true.”
Are you an anorak, in that you drastically change guns or choking for seriously high birds?
“I’m a bit boring and I’ve had so many discussions over the years with friends who are passionate about getting this sort of thing right. I choose whatever suits partridges and I don’t change anything that much. If I put it in the right place it still seems to bring the birds down. I like shooting with my son’s 20 bore because it is much lighter, but I haven’t got round to buying anything exciting like that, although I do consider it.”
Which guns do you usually use?
“Twelves, built by an English manufacturer. They call themselves Windsor but I’m not even sure you can get them anymore; a good little pair of guns, actually. Our headkeeper Eddie had them and never ever used them, so I bought them off him.”
What were the highlights last season?
“One amazing day early in the season, down in Devon, which was as exciting as ever, and one day at Barney Stratton’s shoot in Wiltshire. I also had some fun smaller days locally, on the other side of Alton. To be honest, I am just as happy on a small day where everyone is content as on a grand, formal shoot. I had a fun day last year on a small shoot in south Cornwall where things either appear or don’t and there’s no time to shoot because you’ve stepped back into the muddy river and there are trees all around you. That kind of thing is just as amusing as a big day somewhere. The best thing is variety, really. I’ve had wonderful times over the years up on Islay with Al Margadale shooting woodcock in January in the howling wind and rain… total bliss. I’ve been very spoilt.”
I get the feeling that Scotland is special to you?
“I’ve been stalking in Scotland many times. I’m going up again this year. I really enjoy it; it’s such a good physical workout, as well as the pure thrill of the stalk. Last year I had two really memorable stalks on Strath Bran, near Inverness.”
Aside from Lord Carnavon, other Robert Cuthbert interviewees for Shooting Stars include:
Tom Parker Bowles