Ganton is a grand estate with spectacular game shooting and a relaxed atmosphere. By Scott Wicking.
The Wolds of Yorkshire is a distinctive landscape – topographically unique in fact. The meandering dry valleys and rolling hills of the most northerly chalk downs in Europe give the whole area a strong identity. You’d be forgiven for thinking the plethora of deep valleys with perfectly flat bottoms, so beloved by shooting folk, were formed by glaciers. In fact the Wolds remained ice free during the glacial period. However, they were surrounded to the west by a huge glacier and to the east by the ice sheet coming down the North Sea from Scandinavia. Where the two met a huge lake formed (now the Vale of Pickering) and it was this water being pushed by the advancing ice sheet, displacing itself through the soft chalk of the Wolds, which created the valleys. Indeed, so perfect are these valleys for shooting, it’s little wonder England’s largest county is known as “God’s own country”, for the almighty must have had driven game in mind when he cast his hand over the terrain.
As with a lot of our more recent history we have quite a lot to thank the men and women of the 19th century for. Their adventurous spirit and grand ideas led to rapid development at home and abroad, whether in terms of industrial revolution or the more recreational world of sporting development. And it was our Victorian forebears who were the first to cotton on to the driven shooting potential of this area, and it’s no coincidence the Wolds have perhaps more than their fair share of grand estates, many dating back to this period.
Most are well known and are run on a commercial basis. However, quite a few are run as strictly family affairs and one classic example is The Ganton Estate. Situated a few miles west of Scarborough along the wide Derwent valley and spreading upwards into the Wolds, the estate has been lovingly fashioned by the Wrigley family for more than 100 years and the shooting still remains very much a family concern today.
A laid-back atmosphere at Ganton
There is a relaxed vibe at this shoot, which was evident from the off when headkeeper Neil Barnes briefed me on the day’s drives: “We’ll just have to see how the first drive goes, as I’ve not done it before,” he confessed. “It’s one of the border drives, so it’s not often shot. We’ll be right, I’m sure.” Having been at Grinkle Park for many years, working his way up to headkeeper, he’d only moved to Ganton a few months prior. However, he’s no stranger to the estate, for it turns out this is something of a homecoming for him, having begun his career here as 16-year-old on a Youth Training Scheme.
Although he’s only been back for a few months, Neil had already begun to make his mark by increasing the cover crops in an attempt to attract more English partridge. But in terms of conservation work on the estate, this is merely the tip of the iceberg, as current incumbent Nicholas Wrigley has gone to extraordinary lengths to improve the environment. And this is not just for the benefit of the game birds, but for many different species. His commitment has even gone so far as to create a not insubstantial lake near the Manor House. When you consider that all the ground here is chalk, which is permeable, the amount of effort to create a lake is mightily impressive.
An unusual gundog
It’s pretty much guaranteed that one or more of the team of guns will have brought their own dog along. Yet it came as something of a surprise to see our host, Nicholas, arrive with a Staffordshire bull terrier named Bodger. It was even more surprising when, after the usual safety briefing and picking of pegs, Bodger was first in the gun bus and obviously keen to get going.
After the briefest of journeys, we arrived at the aptly named Hillsides, where the land begins to rise to the wold tops, offering stunning views across the Derwent Valley. As the birds began to trickle over the tree tops further down towards the end of the line, the obvious question soon began to form: if this is one of the lesser drives, then what must the others be like? The birds come off the tops and are pushed up and over the tree tops, just as the land steeply drops, giving some incredibly sporting shooting. When they began to come over the end of the line where I was stationed near our host, I was flabbergasted to witness Nicholas swing into action with birds falling all around, whilst Bodger the Staffie sat patiently by his side behaving like the perfect, seasoned peg labrador. After the drive finished, Nicholas cast Bodger out to retrieve his master’s birds, without ever putting a foot wrong. “I’ve had him since he was a pup and he’s always come out shooting with me. In fact he taught himself by watching the labs and spaniels. I’m sure in his mind he is a lab,” said Nicholas.
As the guns’ reconvened after the drive there were some big grins. The best of the action had been further down the line, especially for Iceland’s Agust Gudmundsson, who shot a right and left early on and was in the hotspot with the best of the birds.
The King of Tonga?
From here it was onwards and literally upwards as the gun bus climbed to the top of the hill and a sharp right turn took us to a classic Wolds valley, which cuts and twists snake-like through the landscape. The drive provided plenty of shooting for the whole team and from my vantage point it couldn’t have been clearer why the Wolds is so famed for shooting. These perfect valleys are just the right height for sporting birds and the flat bottoms make it easy to peg the guns out. Again the team enjoyed plenty of shooting and light-hearted camaraderie before refreshments.
After the delicious homemade elevenses, made by Nicholas’ wife Venetice, the team moved off further up the same valley for the third drive, where the land opens out onto the Wold tops with a magnificent stand of trees, from which the birds are driven. As the team lined out, Nicholas placed himself close to his friend Bobby who, as Nicholas constantly reminded him, bears a striking resemblance to the King of Tonga. Indeed, as he’d been calling him that all morning, I actually began to think he was the King of Tonga. As the opportunities for ribbing him when he missed were few and far between, Nicholas resolved to try to put him off with what might be best described as ‘friendly’ banter.
Even before a magnificent lunch, anticipation was rising for the last drive of the day – universally described as the best drive on the estate. Conveniently situated within strolling distance of the house, as we approached, the depth and sheer-sidedness of the valley didn’t fully reveal itself until the last moment.
One can only imagine the natural drama that created this mighty dale. It is so vast it easily accommodates two banks of guns, one above the other on the same hillside, without any safety issues. Once the birds started to show, it became clear what a spectacular finale this makes. The birds curl over a stand of trees, then sail over the guns whilst only slightly dropping towards the wood on the far side. What started as a trickle soon became a flood, testing all guns to the limit. It was a remarkable finish to a remarkable day on a gem of an estate in this special part of England.