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Is Yorkshire the ultimate fieldsports county?

Whether you're looking for the finest game shooting, fly fishing, hotels or country attire, Yorkshire has something for all tastes. By Giles Catchpole.

walked-up grouse shooting

Yorkshire offers a myriad sporting opportunities, and its grouse moors are among the UK's best.

Glorious grouse

Let us start with the grouse. Ripley, Danby, Bolton Abbey, Dallowgill and almost anything with dale or moor or gill in the name will do. The moors in Yorkshire might not have the Celtic romance of the Highlands but they have a cracking population of grouse with less of the political risk. And they are prolific. Brave and ambitious new owners are using the most up-to-date restoration techniques and management systems to produce significant bags not seen for decades. And there is no shortage of sportsmen and women to achieve them. So don’t expect the price of driven grouse shooting to come tumbling down any time soon. We can all dream, however, and in the meantime it is still possible to secure the odd day of walked-up sport with or without pointers, on sensible terms.

Fizzing partridge

On the partridge front there are many shoots that can show thoroughly sporting birds the length and breadth of the county. However there are also some that make a speciality of showing their partridges over and across their moorland fringes, which makes for the most exciting and challenging shooting. You could think of them as driven grouse without the eye-watering bill but I think that does them a disservice. They are not being shown in the classical lowland style from stubbles and across hedges, they are partridges that are shown fizzing and flitting across rills and gills.

High pheasants

In recent years the West Country has become synonymous with extreme high pheasants. Well, here’s the thing: in Yorkshire they have been doing this stuff forever. They didn’t invent the high pheasant. They didn’t need to. It’s the way pheasants come round here. They just didn’t make it into a cult. Probably because they thought that was the way everyone did it. Rievaulx and Jervaulx, Warter Priory and Studley Royal. Riccal Dale. The list goes on and on. And on. This is, after all, the county of Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, who studied the high pheasant in theory and practice, and Lord Ripon, who just shot them at astonishing altitudes and with metronomic regularity.

Sporting inns

The birds are not, as we all know, the be all and end all of the sporting undertaking. There is a need to cater for the inner sportsperson too. And the proliferation of high quality sporting opportunities has resulted in a generous slab of inns, pubs and hotels. The Feversham Arms and the Devonshire Arms spring to mind, but only because I have stayed at both, which may or may not encourage you to do the same. But there are scores of establishments offering warm hospitality the length and breadth of the Ridings, and all are only a few clicks away.

Beer round ‘ere

While we are on the subject of hospitality, let us think about beer. The Scots have their dram but here we have beer. Warm bitter beer. And why not? John Smith’s is, I believe, the most extensively consumed bitter beer in the country, which says something. But if it is not to your taste you could try Sam Smith’s instead. Or Taylor’s of Keighley. Then there’s Theakston; not just bitter and not just Peculier, but a diverse menu of ales for all tastes and occasions.

On the riverbank

One of those occasions might easily be on a riverbank. The Esk and the Ure are the principal rivers of the county, and salmon and trout are accessible and offer out-of-season opportunities to the passing sportsman. The period between February 1 and August 12 can be difficult for some shooting people and fishing is as good a way to allay the hunting urge as any, I find. And you won’t find a much prettier river in the whole of the land than the glorious Ure as it passes through its rapidly changing landscape. From its wild origins high up in the Dales it carves through Wensleydale, eventually joining the Ouse before it reaches the grand old city of York.

Saltwater dangling

But if a fresh run spring salmon or a vigorous brownie doesn’t do it for you, there is always the coast. Never let it be forgotten that the largest fish ever caught on a rod and line in British waters was a blue-fin tuna – or tunny as they were called here – landed off Scarborough by Lorenzo “Lawrie” Mitchell Henry in 1933. It weighed in at 851lbs. Colonel Henn, the chief constable of Gloucestershire, was towed four miles in his skiff by a 707lb tunny, which is how we invented water skiing. The tunny seem to have either died out in the 50s alongside the herring being fished out, or moved on in search of richer feeding grounds, but the whispers in the harbours are that the herring are back about the Dogger Bank and if that is true, can the tunny be far behind?

Wildfowl and deer

And while we are at the seaside we could, of course, contemplate the myriad wildfowling opportunities. With a strong emphasis on the wild, of course. Down in the south-east of the area, the lads on the Humber know a thing or two about wild birds; after all, WAGBI founder Stanley Duncan hailed from this neck of the woods. Inland once more there is stalking for roe and fallow deer in the dales and on the woodland fringes as well as in the deer parks of the great estates. And on the hills, naturally.

Retail therapy Yorkshire style

Another way to while away a day or so might be a visit to the Aladdin’s Cave that is Henry Krank’s in Pudsey in the west. If muzzle loading is your thing or if you perhaps just have a fancy for a replica 16-bore howdah pistol in case of a tiger attack on the A1, then Henry Krank’s is a go-to destination. Or York Guns or the Yorkshire Gun Room, both of which are York-based as their names imply, which puts them more or less in the middle. Did I mention the tweed mills? Or the Yorkshire Clothing Company? You’ve seen them at the shows, I’m sure. The list goes on and on. Or if you want a spot of practice before the real thing, then Park Lodge Shooting School in the east would not be a wasted journey, with its magnificent clubhouse.

Perfect picnic treats

All of which might reasonably bring us to lunch. Now there is never an easy answer to the best bacon and hams. Norfolk cure battles Suffolk beer-brined. Wiltshire dry-cure competes with a Shropshire gammon. And the arguments over the best sausage recipes have split families and fuelled vendettas that last generations. York hams were very good indeed but sadly the last curer in York itself closed a while ago. However, there is still a ham producer near Ripon called Taste Traditional where it is possible to get a dry-cured Yorkshire joint, which while not brined within a spit of the Minster is still local and still tasty. Cheese, on the other hand, still thrives. Wensleydale – obviously. But there is more: Ribblesdale Sheepsmilk, Cotherstone – salty, crumbly, yummy; Swaledale Blue, and why not a dab of rhubarb chutney to round that off? I could add in a decent cuppa of strong Yorkshire tea. And toffee from Farrah’s of Harrogate and black pudding from Hinchliffe’s of Huddersfield?