Adrian Blackmore, Countryside Alliance's Director of Shooting, takes a look back at this years Glorious Twelfth, which he spent on a small moor on the Durham-Northumberland border, where a day's grouse shooting is celebrated by the entire village.
What a difference a year can make. It's Monday 12th August, and the day that so many have been waiting for has finally come. The village square in Blanchland, on the Durham-Northumberland border, is alive with people of all ages as they wait for the beaters' wagons that will be taking them up on to the surrounding moors for the first day's grouse shooting of the season. The feeling of excitement is palpable, not just from them, but also from the Guns that are staying in the Lord Crewe Arms, which, along with the Village Stores and Post Office, is at the centre of village life. The fact that moors in the area are shooting this year is welcome news, not just for these village businesses, but also for all those who will be going out on to the fells. Whether it's as a beater, flanker, loader, or picker-up with dogs, every day's shooting is important, not just economically, but also socially. It's about whole communities, bringing together, as it does, people from all walks of life.
In 2018, numerous moors were unable to shoot due to low grouse numbers, with 70 per cent of shoot days cancelled in the North of England. As a result, the Lord Crewe was empty, and the village square was dead. Today is therefore a day to celebrate, and everyone is hoping there will be many more days to follow. The Newbiggin and Hunstanworth Estate comprises three moors, which also includes Nookton. Though this year's grouse counts look promising, it is only when first driving the moor with beaters in line that the true picture becomes clear. There will be anxious moments today for Rob and his team.
This is a family-run moor, on which most days are let to help cover management costs, and the emphasis is on everyone have a great time in beautiful surroundings. The first day of the season has always been kept for the family, and while a few of those invited to shoot have only come a few miles, there are others who have travelled a lot further to be there. Among these are Alistair Shepherd-Cross, who is over from Canada with his family, Jack and Rebecca Allen from South Georgia - where they shoot bobwhite quail over pointers; and Coen and Catherine Stork who have come over from Burgundy, where they have a lovely shoot at Villette. From a bit closer to home there are Charles and Lizzie Williams from Caerhays in Cornwall, and Ben and Sara Herbert from Monmouthshire. Most of the Guns know the estate well, having shot here before, and all have one thing in common: a love of shooting and all that a day on a grouse moor entails.
Newbiggin moor is the smallest of the three, and one on which it is possible to walk from one drive to another, with a stone lunch hut where everyone gathers at the start of the day, and Guns meet up with their loaders. After a week when heavy rain and low cloud would have made shooting impossible until late morning, the 12th dawned with nigh-on perfect conditions: an overcast sky and a gentle breeze from the north west, with the sun breaking through as the day went on. The day started with two drives in the "Raw Hill" sunken stone butts. For the first drive, the ground is brought in from Hope Fell, the return being from Reeding Edge, to the north west. Though everyone got some shooting, for both drives it was those Guns in the centre of the line that were in the hot seats, with coveys of grouse flying fast and furious from all directions. The return drive also has the benefit of filling the third drive, with Guns in the "Peat Syke Hurdles", another line of sunken butts, this time wooden, that were put in three years ago. There has been old wooden butts here, but these were moved for a new drive that we would be shooting as the last of the day.
The third drive was particularly productive, and there was some excellent sport, with the flankers doing a brilliant job of preventing the birds from breaking out, with the result that everyone got some shooting. The fourth, from the moor's boundary with Blanchland moor, was only a short one, but again showed lots of grouse.
With two more drives to follow in the afternoon, the Guns make their way back to the lunch hut with its lovely views across to Hexham Racecourse in the distance. Like the moor, this is the smallest of the three lunch huts and with Guns, their partners, and other friends who were out for the day, there were 22 people sitting down for lunch. This has been prepared by Tom, with the help of Sue Paterson, who has been coming to cook during shooting seasons and at other times of year for 30 years. Lorraine Bainbridge, who has lived in Blanchland all her life, was also helping, and like Sue, she is also part of the family, having been with them for 34 years. Another long-standing member of the shoot days here is John, who has been coming to Newbiggin and Hunstanworth for more than 35 years, first beating, then picking-up, and now loading. He loves meeting the different Guns on each day; people he would not normally expect to meet, and many of whom he now regards as friends.
Lunch is an important part of the day, and no-one wants to be rushed, providing as it does a great opportunity to share stories on the morning's sport. Once over, it is back to the Raw Hill butts for a repeat of the first drive of the day which, although not as productive, does help to move some birds to where they can be driven for the final drive to the Reeding Edge Hurdles, a great swathe of moorland being brought in. And what a truly memorable end to the day this drive turned out to be, with masses of grouse coming through the line. Not surprisingly, as the final horn of the day was blown, there were smiles all round, not just from the Guns who could not have asked for a more enjoyable day, but also from the 46 who have been employed on the moor in one guise or another, and without whom the day would not have been possible,
For Shane, all his hopes and expectations have been fully realised, and what better reward for all the hard work he has put into managing Newbiggin moor during the course of the year. Rob and Darren will have to wait a few more days to see if the hard work they have also put into their beats pays similar dividends.