Game shooting at Ragley Hall, Warwickshire.
Ragley Hall has as its centerpiece a Palladian house designed by Robert Hooke in 1680.
Home to the Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford, the hall commands a magnificent view over parkland put together by Capability Brown and welcomes thousands of visitors each year.
It is easy to see why.
The estate has been thoughtfully arranged, and surrounding the main house are 400 acres of immaculate formal grounds.
On top of that there is Ragley Home Farm, Ragley Woodlands and Sawmill, Ragley Estate Meats, and Ragley Property Management and Maintenance.
The meet for this day’s shooting was in the yard at Mudwalls Farm, off which stands a shoot room which was converted to accommodate shoot lunches.
It acts as a welcome and comfortable place for the guns to draw pegs and mull over the day’s events. A syndicate, the Ragley Kennels Shoot, has the shooting on the estate and has done for many seasons.
There are private days enjoyed by the family, but by and large the syndicate shoots the majority, and there is no commercial aspect associated with the shoot.
Ragley Young Guns is the ‘junior syndicate’ and I was made to feel at home by all of the Young Guns and listened in as shoot captain, Richard Beach, explained the order of the day.
Richard has been captain of the shoot for 25 years and during that time has seen it develop and grow. He treats every season as a special occasion and this is easy to see when he talks about the shoot.
The day kicked off on Quarry, where a long strip of game cover runs from left to right above the guns.
It was on this particular drive that I met two stalwarts of the shoot, John Reynolds and John Paddock – aged 40 and 69 respectively. Both are local men and have been involved with the shoot for a long time, John Paddock since childhood.
The drive got off to a flyer and it wasn’t long before the air was filled with partridges, coming out of the game cover at regular intervals and orchestrated by gamekeeper, Paul Baker.
Once in flight, they really powered over the line and it took every bit of the guns shooting skills to add any to the bag.
The pheasants followed later in the drive and again made for very sporting game.
With smiles on every face, it was with much excitement that the party moved to the second drive, The Springs.
The setting for the drive couldn’t have been better, and with a smattering of snow on the ground and a wonderful blue sky, the team made their way into the woods to pit their wits against some more sport.
Standing in the middle of the line I witnessed towering birds climbing over the woodland trees to their release pen beyond.
There was also some excellent dog work taking place, a challenge further enhanced by the wood’s ground cover.
Drive number three, Hollis’ Sunken Field, saw host Alan Granger fell some high pheasants and zipping partridges before the team retired to tuck into some salmon sandwiches and a nip or two of sloe gin.
At the time of publication Ragley Hall was getting ready to host its first ever CLA Game Fair.
I later bent Alan’s ear on the work that has been in full flow for the Game Fair: “It’s a real privilege to be asked to host a Game Fair,” he began.
“Here at Ragley we have been working hard to ensure that all runs smoothly. Of the already existing entrances to the estate, we have carried out repair work to further increase their ability to handle the huge numbers of vehicles that will pass through our gates.
“The lake to the front of the main house will host the fishing area and we feel that its position so close to the house will add to its appeal.
On top of that, we have also put in place some new entrances and roadways.”
Access to Game Fairs is an issue that greets every hosting estate, and Alan assured me that everything in their power was being done to make this aspect of the fair run to plan.
Over 140,000 people will descend on the estate and will want to be safe in the knowledge that they can get in and out with relative ease.
“People who live in and around the estate have been very co-operative, and it’s a real credit to them that they are looking forward with pride to the event taking place on their doorstep,” said Alan.
Suitably fortified we then moved on to the fourth drive of the day – Weethley Bank. This drive consisted mainly of partridges, and to some people, me included, this game flying well is a sight to behold.
There wasn’t a mad rush of game, just a trickle every now and again that saw all of the line in on the action.
The sport was a joy to behold for the guns on the day.
It was decided that the guns would be shooting through – a decision which many shoots incorporate to keep the day flowing – and drives five and six, Mudwalls Farm and Ennister Wood respectively, carried the same theme as those that went previously, with the intervals between them giving Alan the opportunity to show me more areas of the estate.
Having not met the family personally, it was, however, easy to see that they take great pride in the land that they are holding in trust.
In an age when financial pressures squeeze many of us tightly, the Marquess has, with the help of his team, maintained a formal yet welcome atmosphere on the estate, and has taken the opportunity to host the Game Fair very seriously.
That, and the fact that he has not been afraid to invest money to maintain the estate in its traditional state.
Alan said that the family are approachable people and I certainly know from experience that it is a joy to see the hosting family mingling with fair goers and taking a very personal approach to the event.
Having such a mass of people on your estate must be a daunting prospect at the best of times, but there was nothing but optimism emanating from Alan, accentuated clearly by the proactive involvement of the Marquess and Marchioness.
The end of the day saw us back where we began and it wasn’t long before we were tucking into a delicious meal, washed down by fine wine and finished off with a generous cheese board that had to be wrestled away from one person to the next, such was its popularity.
And if that wasn’t enough to demonstrate the hospitality I was also given 30 brace of pheasants to bring back to a hotel close to the Shooting Gazette offices in Stamford.
If this same care and attention is shown at the 2010 CLA Game Fair, I am in no doubt that it will be a resounding success.
For more information on Ragley Hall visit www.ragleyhall.com
Game shooting at Ragley Hall, Warwickshire.