Lindsay Waddell is the chairman of the National Gamekeepers' Organisation (NGO) and headkeeper at Upper Teesdale Estate.
Robert Cuthbert: Did you find shooting or vice versa?
Lindsay Waddell: “I spent a lot of my formative years with my aunt and uncle, a shepherd in the Angus Glens of Scotland, and “attached” myself to the local keeper, Dick Barrett. From the age of seven or eight, I spent a huge amount of time with him, a dear man, sadly no longer with us. That’s really where my interest in this world came from. Dick was a grouse keeper on Glenprosen and of course then most of the glen was for grouse. Sadly, now, a lot of the glen is covered with trees. I saw a lot planted, but I haven’t been back to see them come to fruition. My uncle had a gun, he just didn’t take it out very often, but I’m now the proud owner of his beautiful Belgian hammer gun, well over 100 years old and still with some of the original case hardening. It’s still in immaculate condition and I do use it occasionally.”
RC: Do you ever get the chance to shoot recreationally?
LW: “Believe it or not, time just does not permit it. I had a little day in December and that’s the first in a very long time. It was a little end of season grouse day, just five people walking-up a few hundred acres for about eight brace and a pheasant. That was our day and it was a thoroughly pleasant one in great company. This was in Weardale, adjacent to us in Teesdale. I can go years without raising my gun to any game.
Working as a keeper, 50 years ago, you really didn’t get many of those opportunities. Life has changed an awful lot for keepers these days; financially, we weren’t so well off as we are now, so we certainly didn’t all chip in with other keepers and go and take an “away day” somewhere different. We just couldn’t afford it then. Barring the odd keeper’s day, where you’d get a shot or two, I didn’t stand at my own peg, as it were, until I was well into my 40s.”
RC: How has the nature of the job changed with technology over the years?
LW: “I think it is. My, you would not want to go back to the days when I started, when everything had to be carried everywhere. It was a different regime, a different world. It was very hard work. Keepers, like farmers back then, really suffered with their joints, but now…hey, I’m running on two new hip joints! Over my lifetime, I would have carried thousands of tons of wheat and grit, too. And although I’ve never worked as a stalker, I was asked stalking for a good number of years to an estate called Fealar, which used to be part of the Atholl Estate. If I were fit enough now, I’d do so much more stalking. It’s one of the things that I seriously enjoy. On the hill, pitting my wits against some of the best eyes and noses our countryside has.”
RC: You must have seen scores, hundreds of guests in your time. For you, what makes the perfect gun/ the perfect guest to host?
LW: “Someone with a complete appreciation of where they are. Regardless of where their life happens to take them, they just enjoy being where they are at that moment in time… by a stream, watching pheasants on the wing or out on the moor in August, with bees buzzing and the smell of the pollen, they enjoy the whole day. They don’t really care about volume, in any respect.”
RC: What would stand out as your most cherished sporting memory?
LW: “There would be two or three. I once shot 17 cock pheasants as a back gun, right at the end of January. I must confess I shot rather better then than I do now; they were good pheasants, too, coming back on a good wind and I didn’t miss one. I shall remember them for the rest of my life. I had two little tricoloured cockers – I was trialling at the time – sitting like little treasures with me at the peg. When I was finished, they picked them all up for me. I also remember almost all of the deer on Fealar too. I can clearly remember crawling, with my host, along the top of a 3,000ft mountain, as the wind had picked up and we were in danger of being blown off our feet. When Mother Nature does that you can only bow down. I’ll never forget it and as the thick fog came down with a little snow blowing through, this single ptarmigan landed next to us. He looked at us, made a noise like an old wooden football rattle and then just walked quietly off into the gloom. An amazing sight.”
RC: If there is a bucket list…
LW: “Honestly, I’ve been very fortunate. Last year, I did something I’ve thought about doing for a long time and that’s fishing in Iceland. We caught sea char, lake char and some tremendous brown trout. I also had relatives with a huge landholding in Zimbabwe for many years until the Mugabe regime relieved them of it and I’d many invitations to go there for the big game, but, you know what, it’s never really held quite the same fascination for me. There’s something about home… Scotland, the hill, the deer and so many other things; it’s here and part of us… and it means rather more to me than going anywhere else.”