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Greystoke Castle shoot over day

WCSS Shoot Over Clumber Day

Greystoke Castle Estates Wednesday 10th November 2021

Smiles, laughter and excitement had begun the day in earnest as members of the Working Clumber Spaniel Society gathered outside The Boot and Shoe, the local public house in Greystoke, Cumbria. The plan, to set out over Greystoke Castle Estate for a day of shooting over their beloved Clumber Spaniels by kind permission of Chris Hetherington, Greystoke Estates Shoot. Just as our spaniels are big in character so too are their owners and as such it wasn’t long before the party of dog handlers and guns were soon chatting as if amongst friends long known – such is the spirit of The Working Clumber Society.

Greystoke Castle Estate, situated 30 miles south of the Scottish border, extends across 3,500 acres nestled between the Northern Cumbrian Fells to the West and the Northern Penines to the East. Greystoke Castle is steeped in history having been in the in existence since the Normans granted Llyulph de Greystoke the right to build a wooden tower and stockade over 900 years ago and subsequently replaced by a stone castle in 1346. Since 1571 the Howard family have resided at Greystoke Castle, when Anne Dacre inherited Greystoke and married Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. The castle has been rebuilt and restored a number of times in it’s varied history, having been destroyed by Cromwell during the English Civil War in 1660 and following a fire in 1868. But 2021 would perhaps be the first year Clumber Spaniels would be worked in any number across the grounds of this prestigious sporting estate.

We set off to gather just below Summerground Crags, one of the highest points on the estate at 1,184 ft taking in a stunning vista of Northern Fells including Helvelyn, the Mell Fells and Blencathra. The morning promised to be crisp and clear and after a welcome and safety briefing from Michael Colclough, Head Keeper, we surveyed the walk out for the morning. A new game crop tucked against a lengthy dry stone wall, held both partridge and pheasant with a number pushing out onto Greystoke Moor. The ground extending beyond this wall onto the moorland was perfect spaniel ground, allowing for methodical hunting through sieves to flush partridge, pheasant and snipe. The party had a range of both experienced and novice dogs and handlers and as such we required enough sporting birds to hunt and flush to shot without large coveys of partridge or pheasant flushes getting up. Michael had expertly guided us to an area that was perfect for this task. As the line set off with 5 guns running 3 dogs at any one time, on the left was a long dry stone wall abutting a cover crop situated 250 yards ahead, and on the right, Greystoke Moor extending to Greystoke Forest. The clumber spaniels relished the opportunity to hunt the sieves gifted to them and within minutes of setting off the first hen pheasant had been flushed, expertly shot and retrieved to hand and so the morning continued in similar vein presenting ample opportunity for handlers, dogs and guns to enjoy a steady walk up. Steadiness was the order of the morning running 3-4 dogs across the moorland at any one time. Birds shot and landing on the opposite side of the wall on grazing ground or within the cover crop gave great opportunity for a number of dogs and handlers to develop their working partnerships and retrieving skills. Upon reaching a fence line and meeting the stops, the first session for the morning was complete and judged a success by guns and handlers alike. The second half of the morning would take in Greystoke Moor working from the plantation edge back to the Greystoke Park boundary wall. This ground had patches of marsh holding quick witted snipe and a number of fleeing pheasants. It also ran the risk for spaniels to extend upon their questing nature as it was much more open ground with less cover however proved it’s potential to develop natural hunting patterns as it was laden heavy in scent. A number of pheasant were expertly taken during this walk out and a snipe dispatched by a keen shot offering a retrieve of a “new” gamebird for a number of spaniels. Upon reaching the wall we made for a hearty lunch and following soup, sandwich, cheeseboard and cake we made our way back onto the estate to the “Bracken Beds”.

This ground consisted of a bank with steady incline dense with bracken just going over, similar in colour to the patches on many of our Clumber Spaniels. The bank was headed by a dry stone wall on the right hand side with sieves, bracken and occasional gorse extending to rough grazing on the opposite side. 2 guns and 2 dogs running were positioned on the far side of the wall with 3 guns and 3 dogs running along the bankside. This proved to be exceptional ground abundant in game for the needs of our party. Watching working clumber spaniels in this environment is a wonder to behold as they truly come into their own, with noses down and intense tail action, enjoying the hunting for which they are bred. Bustling, brisk, bold and hard driving they covered ground efficiently with no fear of cover. Retrieves continued to be efficient and as we approached the final section of the bracken beds by a small woodland of silver birch, where guns were afforded a number of sporting shots as Michael and fellow beater Philip Chaffey pushed odd birds back from their position on stop. The fading light signalled conclusion to our day having walked over 8km across moorland and fell with 10 brace of pheasant, 3 partridge and a snipe in the bag we walked back to our vehicles whilst admiring panoramic views of the Northern Pennines.

Lastly I must add a word of thanks, it is testament to the expertise and thorough preparations of Head Keeper Michael Colclough that it proved no challenge to produce game required to test the dogs and guns throughout the day. In addition a number of handlers and spaniels were in attendance in preparation to the Minority Breed Field Trial in Newtown the following Saturday and yet the comradery and advice shared across WCSS members during the day, despite being competitors within a few days time, was admirable and a testament to the inclusive and nurturing culture embraced by the WCSS. In addition to thanking the handlers, guns and gamekeeper special thanks must be given to Chris Hetherington for granting us the invitation for the day at Greystoke Estate, Shona Mouncey for providing a salubrious lunch, Amy Moscrop for expertly photographing the afternoon session and Philip Chaffey for his assistance throughout the day and entertaining our party with reminiscence of his childhood memories of Clumbers hunting up hedgerows in Dorset as we supped a few Guinness in the Boot and Shoe at close of play.

Head Keeper: M. Colclough, Assistant Keeper: P. Chaffey

Guns: N.Curtis, C. Raper, G. Davidson, G. Watkins, A. Hales

Handlers: A. Parker, V.Parker, N. Stock, A. Curtis, Robert John, S. Watters-Carver, R. Ellershaw, C. Raper, J. Mouncey

Written by Jon Mouncey

Edited by Sarah Watters-Carver and David Chilvers

Photos by Amy Moscrop

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