Friday, 27 August 2010


I can scarcely believe that I've now been doing this blog for a year. I remembered the anniversary only because I was creosoting a footbridge over the river. It's a beautiful spot and I remember waxing lyrical about it when I worked on the same bridge at the same time last year. And I remember I didn't drop anything in the river last time either.

Those of you who are regular visitors will now have a pretty good idea of what a year in my life entails. However I'm very aware of all the things I haven't yet told you about. I guess you'll just have to keep watching this space!

I'd also like to thank you all for your continued support. Those of you 'followers' who are visitors to the estate, I hope we'll be seeing you sometime in the coming weeks. But there are others I'd also like to say a big thank you to.

For example, my 'stats counter' tells me that I have a regular visit from someone in the San Francisco area ? and another looking in from Rio de Janeiro (or thereabouts). The very idea of it blows me away. I'd just like to say 'hi' guys, I hope you've enjoyed it- and continue to do so. And that goes for all of you visitors out there in Wwwebland.

A handful of blogs ago, I mentioned that I'd been offered a column in a magazine. Partly because of these blogs, as it happens.(This blows me even further away!) The magazine is called 'The Scots' and my first piece is in the latest (September) edition.

Now that I've seen it, the reality has struck home. And I'm finding it really rather scary. No, make that terrifying. Now, if I can keep my hands from trembling for long enough, I'll post you some pics of what is turning out to be our best grouse season for over 20 years.

I hope you'll drop in again soon.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Walking a Fine Line

You'd hardly credit it. It's grouse season- our most important time of the year, financially speaking- and you've heard not a dicky-bird from me. And to make matters worse, I've no pics for you either.

The truth is that a day of driving grouse is pretty full-on.

My day starts by making sure I have all the gear I'll be needing- clean suit with clean shirt and tie, waterproofs, lunch, flag, stick, fully charged radio and spare batteries, horn, dogs, whistle, lead, fuel in the 'rover. And I also have to make sure my dogs have a chance to do their business before they go into the back. (You only forget this once.)

Then we all meet at the bothies and take the beaters (making sure nobody is left behind) to the lodge.

At the lodge a decision is made as to which part of the estate we are going to. Then all the keepers head off with all the beaters (making sure nobody is left behind) to that area. Once there, we walk out then line out for the first drive. This can involve a 2 mile walk.

Once the guns are in place we get the shout to start the drive. We'll march the beating line back to the butts- another 2 miles. As we go, we have to ensure the line is kept orientated correctly (according to wind direction and topography), that beaters keep their spacing and keep in line. We also have to watch our dogs to make sure they're behaving and warn flankers (they 'funnel' the grouse over the butts) of approaching grouse on the radio. And we have to make sure nobody is left behind.

Once we get to the butts, those of us with dogs spend as much time as we dare helping with picking the shot birds. Then we march off with the beaters to line out for the next drive- another 2 miles- making sure that nobody is left behind.

And so it goes on, with a brief break for lunch somewhere in the middle of the day. Most of our shooting days involves 4 or 5 drives but sometimes there are 6. And at the end of the day, once the beaters (well, the ones we didn't leave behind) are returned to the bothies, we keepers sort out all the grouse into 'young' and 'old' and hang them in the chiller.

It's a day that's as mentally demanding as it is physically. (Except it's not.)

And that's why I haven't posted a blog until now. How's that for an excuse?

Monday, 16 August 2010

A Bit of a Shock

A week ago, I was ghillieing on the river for a group of guests. As they fished, the skies darkened until it was nigh on twilight. Then the rain started and we decided to beat a retreat back to the landrover. As we arrived at the vehicle there was an almighty crackling flash immediately followed by one of those crashes of thunder that seems to come from every part of the sky.
Despite the fact that we all had a carbon fibre rod in our clutches, Thor decided that today wasn't the day for smiting us with his big celestial hammer. No, instead he smote dozens of phones, satellite boxes, TVs, and computers up and down the glen, the b****rd.
And that's why, dear reader, I haven't posted a blog for so long.
The 'Glorious 12th' arrived on the Thursday and we went to the Northern extremes of the estate to do a bit of walked-up grouse shooting. As it was the weather was far from glorious, with prolonged showers of driving rain and heavy cloud just above head-height for most of the day. But it didn't dampen any spirits and everybody had a damnp fine time. I include a pic of one young lady who shot her first grouse. Unfortunately I had to wait so long for a break in the weather that her 'blooding' was just about entirely washed off by the rain. Congratulations, anyway!
It's always a fun week with this group, and usually with plenty of variety. It's also a nice gentle breaking-in for the start of the shooting season. Today, in contrast, was our first day of hardcore.
Organising a line of rookie beaters to drive grouse to guns; 5 drives in a day; with flukey winds and ever-dropping cloud base? No wonder I can hardly tpye a lien.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Not Out of the Woods Yet

I turned up for work yesterday hoping that I would get the chance to catch up on a few of these jobs that I've been harping on about. I think I'm going to have to change my harp for a bugle.

No, instead I was told we were all going to cut firewood for the bothies. Fair enough, it's another job that has to be done, and we're fast running out of time in which to do them. We start with guests in the lodge next week and will be busy with them from then on until the end of October.

So we put on our clumsy great steel-toecapped safety wellies, don our extra-thick chainsaw-resistant safety overtrousers, pop on our chainsaw helmets with integral visor and earmuffs and clump off into the rainforest. At least, it feels like a rainforest on this airless, muggy day.

Unfortunately, so distracted was I with getting my extra-thick, chainsaw-resistant safety overtrousers on, that I drew the short straw and landed the long saw. And that's the heaviest one. Within minutes of starting, wielding this brute has me soaking in sweat. And the midges are biting.

We saw and saw and by the time we have our 'piece', my back is nagging like I forgot our anniversary. (I guess thats why they call it lumbar pain.) Then we saw for another 4 hours.

We decide enough is enough and pull up stumps (har!) at 5 o'clock. And that's when our boss springs a little surprise on us. It turns out there's a delivery of hay bales due imminently- and they'll all need to be unloaded and stacked into our hayloft.

We arrive at the stables as the bales arrive. All 365 of them. That's somewhere just shy of 8 tonnes.

An hour later, they're all safely squirreled away and my back now thinks I slept with its sister.

I'd planned to write this blog yesterday evening, but after all that, I couldn't summon the strength to lift the lid of my laptop. And guess what we were doing again today.