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Pheasant and partridge shooting in Northumberland

Pheasant and partridge shooting in Northumberland.
Scrainwood has enjoyed a couple of guises since its inception in December 1998, and can even count Lord James Percy of Linhope fame as an advisor in its development.

Originally called Coquetdale, this shoot – 15 minutes from the village of Rothbury and north west of Newcastle – is now called the Scrainwood estate shoot and is under the supervision and ownership of Simon Halbert.

I first met Simon on Williamston grouse moor (this shoot is to be featured in the August edition) and it wasn’t long before he was offering me the chance to shoot at Scrainwood, having bought the operation in 2005 with a view to maintaining the quality that was already evident when the shoot was first covered in 2000 by Shooting Gazette.

Although not much has changed in the past two seasons, it is Simon’s remit, along with headkeeper Jim Fair and shoot manager, Jon Blakey, to increase the number of drives, enhance the habitat, and add more acres of game cover to improve the holding ground.

Simon started off his working life as a journalist on Metro radio in Newcastle – the first station to inspire commercial radio before joining the family company, Kilfrost Ltd., a business that started life in the early 1930s in London and then moved operations to Haltwhistle in Northumberland.

For the past 75 years, Kilfrost has remained at the forefront of making de-icing, and subsequently antiicing, fluids for the aircraft industry. But now, having worked hard, Simon has stepped away from the company and concentrates his energies on his family and the Scrainwood farm estate, previously owned by the Snaith family – a household who had lived in or around the area since the 1800s.

Following its acquisition two years ago, Simon has had to fully refurbish the farmhouse, a beautiful building with wonderful views over the surrounding countryside, and the shooting lodge – a tastefully decorated set of rooms that take in a kitchen, downstairs bathroom, dining room full with fireplace, and a upstairs room perfect for pre-dinner drinks and graced with every tipple a true sporting gent could wish for.

Having stayed the previous night in the wonderful Anglers Arms in Longframlington, I was suitably fortified and enjoyed a short drive to the shoot lodge where the meet was taking place, paralleling the River Coquet in the process.

“Heartily welcomed by Simon, it was a cup of hot coffee, or two, a brief chat and then a saddle up to the first drive – Clarkys.”

The shoot was originally the brainchild of a group of local landowners and farmers, keen shooting men, who decided to create a shoot on the edge of the Coquetdale Valley.

This shared passion brought the parties involved – Derek Edwards, Thomas and George Snaith and Jon Blakey – a joint resource of approximately 3,000 acres and a company by the name of Coquetdale Sporting Ltd. Other farmers gave over land but did not become part of the new venture.

One of the estate’s major features is its outstanding and exciting topography, taking in everything from conifer belts and rocky outcrops to rolling grassland. All these have helped to nurture the shoot, and with Simon and Jim’s new programme of game cover planting – amounting to around 80 acres at present – it won’t be long before the eight main drives the estate possesses will be increased to around 12.

Jim continues: “At the moment we have kale, tick beans, and maize, but we’ve already got some canary grass planted in preparation for the start of the 2007 season. The whole idea is for us to develop the shoot, and at the moment things are being put in place to do this.”

“There is no doubt Simon’s business acumen holds him in good stead to make this operation work, and, with Jim’s enthusiasm, and the dedicated team of beaters, pickers-up and back room staff, this success is sure to come.”

The first drive, Clarkys, was to be our start and I, along with fellow gun, Peter Stott, enjoyed back gun positions. The forward line arced around a tree plantation in front of us as first partridges broke cover and then pheasants of the highest quality filled the crisp Northumberland sky. The majority climbed high overhead to fight another day, but there was some commendable shooting that brought down real angels.

The weather conditions on the day were spectacular, if not conducive to good shooting, with a bright sun and deep blue sky the order for the proceedings. Although it has to be said that such meteorological delights did not prove detrimental to the quality on show, and, if anything, provided a scenic backdrop.

The second drive, L Plot, found me on the far left of the line with a 300 metre bank to the fore and aft, and the rest of the guns curled round the base of the bank.

Clarkys had really warmed the barrels and it was with great excitement that I envisaged what the birds would be like on this drive. So, with the beating line advancing, I saw specks of partridges making their way along the top of the bank before reaching the flushing point and making a bid for freedom to the bank behind. With pickers-up strategically placed to the rear, the show began, with the end result very much in line with the opening performance.

“As the second drive drew to a close, we made our way to the vehicles for a few nibbles and some gin and tonics that had scant regard for imperial measures, yet slipped down sweeter than the finest refreshments.”

The lull in proceedings gave me the chance to have a chat with one Mike Anton, a charming man who runs an estate agency business, Mike Anton & Associates, in the beautiful market town of Corbridge, and who, amongst other notables, found our very own Jonny Wilkinson, of Newcastle Falcons fame, a house to rest his rugby battered body.

His estate agency company deals in fine houses and having spoken to him not yet three minutes, it was easy to see how his sales pitch rarely, if ever, fails: “You see the thing about it is,” said Mike, “that we as Northumbrians are very proud of our heritage and also the wonderful surroundings in which we live. Ever since I have been a member of this shoot, it never ceases to amaze me how picturesque it actually is. Sometimes you just want to keep it for yourself, away from prying eyes, but that just can’t be the case, and we really wouldn’t want it to be either.”

Shooting with a best English side-by-side, Mike shot admirably and the obvious traditions that go hand-in-hand with shooting are as important to him as they are to Simon.

Following the break, we made our way to the third drive, Pace Hill. On this drive we made our way towards an area of grassy upland, which not only exposed us to a sharp, strong wind but also views over the Cheviot Hills. The guns, again in an arc, ranged from the highest part of the upland to a lowland valley area, that saw their birds come over at a stratospheric height, bearing in mind they were already high and fast over the upland part of the line.

“Zipping over us, it was a true test of line and lead for these beauties, as partridges and pheasants got up and powered over us, fully utilising the tail wind at their disposal – Northumbrian sport at its very best.”

Sleeving the guns and combing the area behind for our well-deserved quarry, it was away in the vehicles to the newly converted shooting lodge, laid out with meats of all varieties, cheeses, piping hot jacket spuds, wine, and condiments the world over, that was after a wee tipple in the drinks room upstairs, of course.

The lunchtime chat was jovial, there were no airs and graces, and I felt absolutely at home in the room of men, ranging from wine merchants to estate agents, land owners to farmers – the majority from Northumbria, and all with a friendly word. The conservation flitted from the future of shooting to the choice of wine, and, as is often the case, was over far too soon. But we were on to the last drive of the day and no-one wanted to miss that.

As the day drew to a close we lined-up for the Gully drive, this time with Simon as back gun. For this drive we were positioned in a small valley and advised that the quarry could come from the front and behind, and we were free to take the shots – as long as they were safe – at all times. The drive didn’t disappoint, and, as the sun set and provided a beautiful, yet surreal, end to the day, the waft of Simon’s cigar smoke filled the air and we walked back to the vehicles.

“Simon showed us a thing or two with his shotgun on the Gully drive, and you could sense his pleasure in the knowledge that everyone had enjoyed themselves.”

The Scrainwood chapter, although beginning back in 1998, is yet to be completed, and with Simon’s vision and flair, Jim’s dedication, and a little help from their friends, the ending is sure to be an absolute knockout.

The final bag for the day was 115 pheasants and 223 partridges. Here’s to an invite in 2010 – keep watching this space.

For more information on the Scrainwood Estate shoot email [email protected]